Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker - Movie Review

The Movie: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

The Director: J.J. Abrams

The Cast: Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Billie Lourd, Keri Russell, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Ian McDiarmid, Kelly Marie Tran, Billy Dee Williams, Joonas Suotamo, Lupita Nyong'o, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Greg Grunberg, Richard E. Grant

The Story: The surviving Resistance faces the First Order once more in the final chapter of the Skywalker saga.

The Review:
A long time ago, at a drive in movie theater that no longer exists, a four year old boy was first introduced to lightsabers, tie fighters, and a mystical energy known as the Force. This tale of Jedi knights, stormtroopers, princesses, and Wookies made such a lasting impact that the boy became enthralled with the related toys, comic books, video games, and what has become commonly known in a wider sense as geek culture. Much later in life, he then channeled his love of this culture and cinema into creating a website and writing reviews for all the movies he would venture to watch.

Now, over four decades later, we have come to the conclusion of the Skywalker saga that began with a young boy who became a hero and now concludes with his family lineage completing their epic journey of saving the galaxy from evil and tyranny. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is just about everything I have ever wanted a Star Wars movie to be and even a few things I never knew I wanted or dreamt might be possible. Is it a perfect movie? Far from it and I'm sure there will be a lot of people who pick it apart because it's not exactly what they wanted it to be or because they feel there are agendas at play that may or may not exist.

Star Wars is a very personal experience. We expect so much and we oh so desperately want it to be the most amazing thing ever because that's what it was the first time we ever laid eyes on it. Are those expectations unreal? Absolutely. Is it okay to have them? Yes to that as well although we should also understand that the story we see on screen is not going to match our expectations, there are corporate entities involved, and every single person that plays a part in making the movie is doing so because they love it and want it to be the best experience it can be.

You may have noticed by now that I'm not saying much about the movie itself which is completely intentional. It's not my job to tell you all about the movie, you are going to experience all the wonder, excitement, and revelations for yourself and I don't want to spoil any of it for you. My intent here is to communicate to you how I felt watching the movie and whether I enjoyed it or not while giving you some context as to the why.

Before sitting down to watch the movie, my mindset was that it would be filled with fan service and lots of emotion because that's exactly what Disney did with Avengers: Endgame. They chose connection with the audience over worrying about telling the perfect story and for the most part it worked, I mean look at the box office numbers. I will tell you that Rise turned out to be very similar in that respect and I felt like the whole thing was a very satisfying experience.

Director J.J. Abrams gives the audience all the things you want in a Star Wars movie. Lots of spaceship battles, bad ass of lightsaber fights, humor that is not over the top or out of context, and so many payoffs and answers to questions that go back all the way through every movie we have seen to this point. There is so much packed into the movie yet it never feels rushed or cluttered and the pacing is very efficient with little room for down time or unnecessary filler. Abrams and company does a great job of wrapping up the Skywalker story in a way that I felt was very satisfying.

There is a lot going on with the story that changes the overall narrative of the series which I feel a fair amount of people will reject or at least find good reason to complain about. As you know, Palpatine is back, and he plays a very big role in this movie and how other character arcs ultimately play out. As ou can imagine, Rey and Kylo Ren are both big pieces of the puzzle here as well and I believe they way it all connects was very well done, partly because it was so unexpected yet ultimately obvious once a couple of the major reveals have been opened up.

One area I will poke at a little bit is the addition of several new characters to the story, I mean, we're supposed to be wrapping things up and yet here's this steady stream of new faces which made me think they are seeds being planted for however the franchise moves forward. Not only do these new characters get short changed because there's little room to flesh them out, but they also nudge other characters to the side that should have seen more shine during these big moments.

With so many characters and so much going on, I actually wish this movie had been an hour longer than the slim 2.5 hours that we are given to close things out or maybe even another movie to top things off. Would have been fun to have a major cliffhanger at the end of this movie and then build up to a huge payoff and finale in what I guess would be episode ten. Oh well. As things are, it was great to see all the character and location callbacks to the classic films even if a lot of it was just there for fan service, it was still fun for me. My movie critic/analytical brain was completely checked out during the movie and I just let all the intended emotions flow through me like the force.

As with any Star Wars movie, the special effects are spectacular and everything looks fantastic and in context with the used universe aesthetic that goes all the way back to the original movie. The variety of visuals is also impressive as both the heroes and villains go from planet to planet completing quests, a bit of a throwback to the original trilogy, which were so fun because you never knew what crazy planet they were going to end up on next. The film makers definitely hold nothing back when it comes to both the science fiction and the fantasy elements of the movie.

There are so many moments, and I'm talking visually here, that I had only ever imagined might be possible to see play out on a movie theater screen. Some of them seem pulled right out of my imagination from reading all of the books that were released over the years and others seem like classic Ralph McQuarrie concept fully realized and fleshed out. I can't say enough about how amazing this movie looks and it's just so Star Wars, if you take my meaning.

One thought to add in after watching the movie four times. The primary issue that I have is that it's too short for the amount of story it's trying to tell and would have been better served over two movies to complete all the threads and properly introduce new characters.

The Verdict:
Star Wars; The Rise of Skywalker is the Star Wars movie I was hoping for and is a very satisfying conclusion to a story that has spanned nearly my entire lifetime. Unlearn what you have learned and go in with no expectation, just sit back with a big bucket of popcorn and prepare to enjoy. Oh, and you might want to bring some tissue as well because emotions and stuff.

Thank you J.J., you did good.

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