[2019] Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – I Love It, But I’d Change It

Aside from the perfectly-passable-but-weightless Solo, it’s not a tough statement to say that The Rise of Skywalker is the worst (live-action, theatrical) Star Wars film. Maybe Attack of the Clones or The Force Awakens are kinda close, but it’s pretty clear to me that Episode IX is the least artistically accomplished, most flawed of the Skywalker Saga.

But I still love it anyway.

Rewatching the movie in preparation for this article, I was struck by just how overcome with joy I was by so much of this movie. It’s such an exciting and silly experience. Never for a moment do I get bored, even when I’m rolling my eyes at the dumber parts. Honestly, that’s what it was supposed to do, anyway; provide a smashing finale to the greatest epic saga in the history of film. It’s the climax to a nine-part series and thus doesn’t exactly need to be jam packed with new storylines and deeper themes. Even though… that’s kind of what it tried to do…

What Failed

The Rise of Skywalker is a fast, FAST paced movie. There’s a reason for that–this new trilogy was forced to be three movies, when it really could not fit in that space well enough. This feels like it’s zipping along at a blinding pace because it has to make up for lost time as Episodes VII and VIII dawdled around for five hours of runtime.

That’s not to say that Episodes VII and VII didn’t provide some amazing entertainment and make some amazing strides at providing one final outer ring to the Star Wars Saga (by the way, if you haven’t read the Star Wars Ring Theory that connects the Original and Prequel trilogies, you really should!). But the fact that they took place in such a short time, just a couple weeks at most, really changed the way the finale was forced to operate.

“Godspeed, JJ.”

When The Last Jedi has wrapped up most of the plot threads and character arcs already, what is there to do? Well, start a new story arc, of course. But starting AND finishing that all in one go? Well… that’s really tough, and it’s exactly why The Rise of Skywalker is so jam-packed with story and a massive cast of characters, most of which are already done with their character arcs anyway.

The Phantom Menace faced a few of these issues, too; it was the beginning of a whole new trilogy with a completely new cast of characters, but was designed to be a standalone prologue to the entire saga, and thus had to wrap up a large number of its plot and character threads as quickly as possible. Luckily, as the first movie, it was able to tell a small-scale tale with stakes that seem pretty low at first glance (but are obviously much higher when the whole work is put into context). The Rise of Skywalker, as the finale, didn’t have that luxury. It had to go BIG.

And BIG it went. Sometimes to amazing results, sometimes to idiotic results.

Carrie… :'(

I’ll get out of the way my biggest complaints with the movie now, the things I think hurt the movie the most:

  • Princess Leia was far too prominent in this film, and the spliced-in footage feels awkward and stilted. Maybe this feeling will decrease over time, but I’m not sure it will. I’m also not sure how they could have gone about it without her, so it’s a pretty tragic flaw that may not have been curable.
  • What the hell is that part in the second-to-last scene where Lando talks to the Stormtrooper lady about where he came from? What did that have to do with anything?
  • They did my boy Ben Solo dirty. I don’t think it was necessary to kill him in the end, and I don’t think it was the right decision for the story. But more than that… He didn’t even get to appear as a force ghost with his mama and uncle! What the hell!
My new life goal is to climb the corporate ladder and become CEO of the Walt Disney Company solely so that I can mandate a Special Edition that adds Ben solo to this shot. Then I will resign and retire a billionaire.

Those things I think were crap and stupid. They are not the only thing I wish they didn’t do, but I am able to separate my wishes versus the final product.

Flaws vs. Dashed Hopes

This is actually something I see disturbingly a lot in criticism (positive and negative) of blockbuster films: an inability to separate these two elements: “The thing that happened is not what I wanted to see happen” and “I dislike this and think it harms the story.” It’s a pretty basic division. But for blockbusters, and ESPECIALLY the Star Wars franchise, it’s very hard for people to distinguish these feelings when they talk about the movies.

The Last Jedi was infamously filled with “I didn’t want this” moments, which is how it became such a divisive piece of media in nerd circles. They changed Luke Skywalker, they gave an unexpected ending to Rey’s origin story (or so we thought), they killed off minor characters that fans liked, and they basically pushed the entire cast to the limit with some really dark emotions not seen in any other movie in the series except Revenge of the Sith. So many people despise the movie but it really seems to be based on this idea that because something happened that isn’t what you were hoping for, that means that it’s bad.

I kind of like that. I like stories that challenge you and shock you. Not like gruesome displays of massacring characters left and right or being relentlessly depressing (that’s what the Legacy of the Force book series is for), but movies that force you to confront things in storytelling that can feel uncomfortable or upsetting. Emotions like hopelessness, regret, guilt, self-pity. That kind of thing. Other extremely divisive movies like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (which I did not care for) and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (which I adore) do very similar things to The Last Jedi and I really respect the artistic bravery there.

None of those films are bad because of the things we weren’t hoping for. Though, you can argue each of them have flaws that hurt their stories, and that’s what film criticism is actually about. But it’s extremely tough to have that conversation because of the almost perfect mixture between complaints about what fans would have changed, versus complaints about actual flaws.

Inversely, you can talk about the fact that just because a film delivers on a promise or a twist that you DID enjoy, doesn’t make that film good as a result. It can be very entertaining, but it can actually cover up discussion about some of the major flaws of a film. The most recent Avengers films are a pretty great example of that.

Oh no! The big twist is he actually got all the gems! Even though in the narrative, every single thing had built up to this and there was no chance that it wouldn’t happen.
A tragic twist! One that is completely antithetical to this dude’s entire character arc even just within the movie itself, but still, a twist!
OK, this one is narratively weightless but it’s still the most badass thing ever

Where does The Rise of Skywalker fit in here, though? Because this movie most certainly does NOT have any challenging emotions for us to struggle through, and it definitely didn’t cover up any major flaws through sheer fan-pleasing spectacle, considering the mixed reception overall.

It fits in because I myself felt that struggle.

The Last Jedi was the same way on a first watch, where I disagreed with so many of the story choices on a base fangirl level, but ultimately I came to appreciate and love everything about the film after reflecting and rewatching. But The Rise of Skywalker is different, I think. Because it’s the finale to the entire Skywalker Saga and because I am so deeply in love with this franchise, I expected so many things out of the film, and it just did not deliver in the way I wanted.

Locations like Coruscant, Kashyyyk, Bespin, Tatooine, and Naboo go completely or mostly absent from the film despite their integral nature to the saga and parts of the story that could have easily fit them in. Characters like Wedge Antilles, Rose Tico, Caluan Ematt, and Mon Mothma are shafted or don’t appear at all. And despite this being the finale to the Skywalker Saga, Anakin Skywalker doesn’t appear besides a voice cameo alongside a bunch of other Jedi! the Knights of Ren did practically nothing!

…Those aren’t flaws with the movie, though. Those are just things that I am extremely disappointed didn’t make it in. It’s tough for me to accept that, though, even after three watches.

But for the sake of not bumming myself out about missed opportunities, I’d like to focus on the parts of this story that I outright love.

The Energy! The Visuals! The Music!

For everything stupid about The Rise of Skywalker, it’s impossible not to admit that the craft is excellent.

People undervalue visuals and music in movies all the time, and it’s a damn shame, because this movie is of the top of the top when it comes to all technical elements.

The movie has superb kinetic energy throughout the film, not only because of how fast the plot moves, but because of the snappy editing and cinematography and amazing soundtrack.

JJ Abrams seemed to play it a bit safe with The Force Awakens, eschewing some of his trademark directoral flairs in order to keep the movie closer in feeling to the George Lucas movies. Sure, there were a lot of dutch angles and some spicy lens flares, but it seems he really let himself express his own style with this one, because it goes overboard with speed and style. There’s oners all over the place, the camera is constantly moving around with snap zooms and quick visual gags… it’s a lot to take in and it’s a big departure from a lot of other Star Wars movies, but I gotta admit I love it.

Luckily, while Abrams likes to go flashy with a lot of elements, he still respects the fundamental part of Star Wars, which is that visual storytelling trumps everything.

Some of the franchise’s most striking and interesting shots are littered throughout the movie, and help weave the story better than the script could ever manage.

This is a very blue movie, I have realized

Also, it’s basically a footnote to mention “lol John Williams did a good score” but, as usual, this man brought his AAA-game to Star Wars and crafted one of the best movie soundtracks out there. For the ninth time in a row.

The newest main theme is absolutely gorgeous:

And a fitting final battle that really nails it:

High-octane blockbusters that are actually good at what they do, actually compelling in every way, are increasingly rare as time goes on. We saw from Solo how Star Wars movies go when they’re not really trying. They’re fun but forgettable. The Rise of Skywalker, thanks to its skill in visuals and music, is definitely not forgettable.

Palpatine’s Plot

It annoyed a lot of people that Palpatine ended up being Rey’s grandpappy, but the sheer convolusion of this main plot is massively impressive.

We start with this zombie Palpatine gross looking dude and find out he’s been pulling the strings all along, basically the last vestiges of evil trying to gain some final victory after being 85% defeated (more on that in the next section). He wants revenge and he wants power again, and he lost the granddaughter he was gonna use as a weird sacrifice or something to regain it.

So what does he do instead of coming back with his grand army and trying to conquer everything and then revive himself?

He goes full-on arrogant Sith Lord chessmaster, just like he’s always done in this franchise. The pure incarnation of evil, at this point, but still gonna do Palpatine stuff.

He first seduces Ben Solo to the Dark Side and eventually reveals himself to him, telling him that he needs to kill Rey, his granddaughter, to end the Jedi for good.

Our boy Ben takes the bait immediately, and goes off to try and turn Rey to his side so that they can overthrow Palpatine, while pretending to become Palpatine’s subsurvient, and even putting his mask back on as a sign that he was no longer his own man.

But of course, Ben Solo was never under control, because he had Sith loyalist General Pryde, AKA Richard E. Grant, AKA Darwin Mayflower, running around behind his back making sure that the Sith would rise again regardless.

I’m using this image again because I really like it

And, of course, that led Rey to confront Palpatine, just like he wanted, and to bring Ben Solo with her, just like he wanted. Sure, Rey was going willingly because of her Jedi calling instead of her anger and hatred and confusion of her own identity, but it still worked nonetheless.

He pretended to make some big ritual where she would become the new Sith Empress and he would pass on his powers, knowing she would never do it, just to stall for time for the two best buds to unite and gain their greatest hope…

And then bam, soul sucking time.

He was so arrogant and confident in himself, so focused on restoring his own power and fucking over Anakin Skywalker’s last descendant, that he didn’t even make sure they were both dead before celebrating, and then… whoops

What a grand conclusion to an absolutely ridiculous plot. This is what Star Wars is all about.

It’s Like Poetry

The Star Wars Prequels are famous for their in-depth callbacks and mirrors with the Originals and each other, through visuals, dialogue, and story beats (seriously, if you haven’t read the Ring Theory essay, it’s excellent).

But the Sequel Trilogy has done it too, and in a very powerful way too. Each of the movies thematically rhymes with the others, with Episode VII playing as a modified Episode VI, and Episode VII playing as an inverted Episode II, and a mirrored Episode V. Here in The Rise of Skywalker, the epilogue to the entire saga, the real mirror is to that of Episode I, The Phantom Menace. The prologue and the epilogue are linked together. Furthermore, within the trilogy itself, the movie is rife with callbacks, references, and rhymes to The Force Awakens, some of them very powerful indeed. In fact, it rhymes and repeats parts of practically every single Star Wars movie in some form or fashion.

I won’t write a big essay on that section since it would deserve an article all of its own (and also I don’t think I’m skilled enough to write such a piece). But I just want to make clear that this movie isn’t just a “greatest hits playlist” like some critics seem to think. It’s poetry.

That’s why, contrary to what some may believe, I actually enjoyed Palpatine’s return in this film. The villain won in the first trilogy, then was defeated thoroughly in the second, then in the third he is a weakened husk who barely clings on and is finally eradicated for good. It’s got an epic poem kind of feeling to it, not something we see much in modern franchise media but feels happily in place beside some piece of mythological storytelling of a tale from a thousand years ago.

Here is one prominent mirror that I really thought was neat:

What I Would Change

Of course, there’s always things I would have done differently in all Star Wars movies. No matter how much I love these movies, I would probably make changes to each of them. Even Episode IV, the most fundamentally perfect one, is missing those Biggs/Luke scenes that I think would have worked really well had they edited the movie just a little differently.

The Rise of Skywalker, of course, has many, many things I would have done differently.

Without changing the story in any major way, here are a few:

  • Change the snow planet to Coruscant! Holy shit, why didn’t we get Coruscant in the new trilogy?! Seeing how the main important planet of the Prequel Trilogy had transformed under the First Order would have been an amazing way to tie the whole saga together. Also, that snow planet gets blown up. I mean… Probably shouldn’t destroy Coruscant even if you’re the evil Sith Lord but… It would be daring to do, for sure.
  • Give Wedge Antilles a slightly more prominent role, probably in the place of Maz Kanata, who seemed to only exist to give some Force-related exposition in places where Leia could not.
  • Be a bit less subtle about Lando’s character arc and why he disappeared in the first place. I can kinda guess, but… it’s too understated.
  • Do NOT make the Resistance still small and hopeless. They should be losing the war and barely getting by, but they should be in a better place than The Last Jedi, where they barely escaped with a few dozen people. The movie doesn’t make it clear how big or small the Resistance is at this point. I’d like to have seen some signs of a big war going on in places where the heroes are not, kind of as a rhyme to Episode III’s depiction of the Clone Wars.
  • Have Anakin Skywalker appear in-person as a Force Ghost somewhere in this movie, doing something. I don’t care what.
  • Change the Snoke twist thing. At least a little bit. It was kind of stupid.
  • And, finally, keep Ben Solo alive! Ugh. This one I think legitimately hurts the film overall that it didn’t happen.

…And more changes after that, but I don’t want to just rewrite the whole script because I’m certainly not as good a writer as the whole Lucasfilm Story Team, and I don’t feel confident in my ability to write a story treatment that surpasses what’s already there.

And so, that’s kind of what I mean overall by my having mixed feelings towards The Rise of Skywalker despite loving the movie. There’s so much good in here, and also so much stupid shit, and also so much stuff that disappointed me on a fan level, that it’s hard to sort out my feelings on it overall.

Hopefully this article kind of conveys my feelings. And of course, thank you to JJ Abrams and Lucasfilm for closing out the Skywalker Saga with a bang, even if it’s not the movie I specifically wanted.

[2015] Star Wars Episode VII Actually Exists… Think About That

We live in an era where Star Wars Episode VII really exists, and it’s hard to imagine now that, at the beginning of the decade, that wasn’t even a thought in anyone’s mind that that would ever come to pass.

Okay, maybe the absolute biggest turbo-nerds had kept track of all those offhand comments by Mark Hamill where he said George Lucas once wanted him to play the old man mentor character in a new Star Wars movie decades in the future. But for 99% of the population, Star Wars was a finished franchise, at least until the inevitable remake sometime after Lucas bit the dust.

But it happened. Lucasfilm was sold to Disney. JJ Abrams signed on to direct. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens was filmed and released, and not only that but it became the #1 highest-grossing movie in North America by such a wide margin that no film has even come close to breaching it since.

Continue reading “[2015] Star Wars Episode VII Actually Exists… Think About That”

[2015] Fant4stic Goes to… (pfft) Denny’s

They don’t really do fast food and junk food tie-ins with big blockbuster movies that much anymore. That was very much a product of the 90s and 00s, and after the first Avengers movie in 2012, you hardly saw it outside the inevitable Star Wars brand tie-ins, which are universal constant.

I’ve always wondered why exactly that is, but then I remember how Fant4stic went.

Their tie-in with Denny’s was just…

Geez…

Continue reading “[2015] Fant4stic Goes to… (pfft) Denny’s”

Spaceballs

As part of the Quinlan Circle’s first DVD Challenge (Sign up for our Patreon to vote for movies to make us watch!!), I watched Spaceballs, an old childhood favorite of mine for a couple years. (Here is Joi Massat’s own write-up on the movie.)

I hadn’t seen it since something like 2005, so it was a very odd experience revisiting it for how well I remembered almost every single scene. It played out exactly how I remembered.

Actually, aside from understanding all the sex jokes and making me realize I was not old enough to watch this movie at all, there was nothing new here for me to discover at all… Which is maybe a bad thing overall.

Like, I love all the slapstick comedy and the stupid nonsense jokes that go on way too far. I love all the fourth wall breaks where they skip ahead in the movie to find out plot details. But I didn’t love this as much as I expected I would.

Maybe my sense of nostalgia and knowing that it would hold up well started to override my expectations and make me think this would have so much more to offer when I watched it as an adult? It’s just a juvenile spoof movie with a bunch of good gags. It’s nothing more than that, and that should be okay with me. But it kind of disappointed me a little bit…

Spaceballs is funny, Mel Brooks is a genius, and I’m overthinking all of this by a ton. But this is a weird case where I wanted the movie to be a lot more than it was, but instead it was exactly the same.

[2014-2015] The Sundance Tintype Photos

One thing I really, really love is using old technology to create new things in a way more streamlined and successful processes can’t fully capture.

In the same way that adding digital film grain to your camcorder movie will never match actually shooting on 35mm, it’s a completely different feeling when you listen to electronic music that uses chiptune samples versus using tracker technology to make chiptunes that can actually run on the hardware they are designed for.

And one of my absolute favorite uses of old technology is ancient, antiquated 19th-century photography equipment in modern day.

Yeah, I’m sure someone with a powerful enough digital camera and enough time spent in photoshop can replicate most of the feeling of a daguerreotype or talbotypes or, as this article is about, tintypes. But with very few exceptions, it won’t be close enough to the real thing.

Case in point, in 2014 and 2015, movie stars at the Sundance Film Festival were captured with tintype cameras. The results are striking and gorgeous, and most of all completely authentic.

Continue reading “[2014-2015] The Sundance Tintype Photos”

[2018] Big Dumbass Movies

I don’t know what it was about 2018 that made movie studios stampede in and decide that this would be the year, that this would be their grand artistic statement to the masses, but for some reason, they went and did it.

They made an entire year filled to the brim with idiot movies for morons. Gigantic, mega-sized movies consisting of dumb bullshit and gleefully stupid nonsense. Blockbusters whose only purposes were to entertain and to befuddle.

And it was fairly amazing, I will admit.

Continue reading “[2018] Big Dumbass Movies”

[2012] Fantastic Visual Storytelling: The Avengers

Everyone remembers the moment Avengers came out and changed cinema forever. I’m sure it was widely expected that, after the rousing success of the first two Iron Man movies and the decent runs by the first Thor and Captain America, this whole Marvel Cinematic Universe experiment was going to work. A crossover between a bunch of popular movies into one big adventure was always going to be a hit. But just how much of a hit, I’m not sure anyone could have guessed.

Continue reading “[2012] Fantastic Visual Storytelling: The Avengers”

[2019] The Day Box Office Mojo Died

Nobody likes website redesigns. Even when the redesigns are pretty damn good and add some sorely needed features, like most of Youtube’s, there will always be a ton of complaints for a short time afterwards from people who aren’t yet used to the changes.

And it can get annoying when websites (namely those run by Google) are constantly updating, changing around visual design and icon placement and destroying your muscle memory a couple times a year for the sake of theoretically improving its layouts.

But there is one instance where a website redesign was done with malicious intent and ended up destroying an entire internet hobby, and that’s Box Office Mojo.

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[2015] An Ode to Mortdecai

The case of terrible January dump movies, file #407.

It is well-known movie lore that every January sees the release of a half-dozen or more horrible, wretched, vile movies that studios greenlit, financed, and then realized had absolutely no business being heaved onto the people of the world outside of contractual obligations.

Mortdecai was one of those movies.

Continue reading “[2015] An Ode to Mortdecai”

[2014] Fantastic Visual Storytelling: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a good movie that worked as a nice prequel to a classic film franchise while also standing alone as a sci-fi monkey drama.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was a great movie that kicked everything up a notch and went into far greater emotional depths while being a true blockbuster experience as well. However, it worked so well partially because of how standalone it was from its predecessor. The human cast does not return, and our cast from the original have character arcs independent of those they had in the original movie.

This opening scene, then, acts as a bridge between those movies, but also as its own standalone art piece of a pandemic growing and human society collapsing. The peaceful globe-spinning graphics mixed with the increased panic of the archival footage makes for an unnerving intro that firmly sets the tone for the rest of the film.

Sequels do these sorts of “recap the previous movie” intros all the time, but rarely do they succeed on an artistic level all their own. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is special.