Saturday, December 21, 2019

Did you like Star Wars Episode IX: Rise of Skywalker

You don't actually want to know whether I liked the Rise of Skywalker. You actually want to know what I will say early next year, when I have seen it a few times and feel ready to talk about Campbell and Canon and Continuity.

And anyway, you are going to go and see the movie over the weekend, and you'll decide whether you like it or not for yourself. If I liked it more than you (like Phantom Menace) that's probably because I'm overinvested in the product and can force myself to like anything with the Star Wars logo on it. Even the Holiday Special was "not quite as bad as I had been expecting." If I liked it less than you (like The Last Jedi) that's probably because I've been watching these movies for so damn long that I overthink them and worry about stuff that no sane person would even notice.

But still: I have to start off by doing a straight review. Saying if I liked it. It was a nice movie. It made me feel like I was ten years old again. It was a dreadful movie. I felt like someone had pissed on my childhood. And I have to to do that without giving away any of the twists, revelations, or surprises. I assume that you already know the big ones: the Emperor is still alive and Chewbacca is Rey's mother.

Rise of Skywalker has to justify itself as a mega-blockbuster, a blockbuster squared. (Star Wars invented the whole idea of blockbusters) There are nutters like me who went to see it in the middle of the night -- enough of us to fill at least three screens of the Bristol Showcase. And there are a lot of perfectly sane people who saw The Force Awakens and the Last Jedi and quite want to know what happens next. Never mind the dangerous doll decapitating nutters on YouTube: millions of perfectly sane not-especially-fannish people really care about what happens to these made up characters in the next two and a half hours. This isn't a niche interest any more. And they aren't just any made-up characters. They are iconic character; characters we literally grew up with; characters many of us can't imagine a world without.

Or, to be strictly accurate. These are some fairy nondescript characters; we first encountered them four years ago and we are still waiting for them to acquire back-stories. But there are cameo appearances by several iconic figures from the 1970s. One of the original actors has, very sadly, died: this casts a massive shadow over the whole endeavor. It is painfully obviously what Princess Leia's role in the movie would have been if Carrie Fisher were still alive; we have to watch Abrams tiptoeing around a script from which fate has deleted all the pivotal scenes He does a technically clever job of  pasting cutting-room-floor clips of Carrie saying "I don't agree with you" and "This is a very important mission" into scenes from the new script. But it still feels terribly awkward and conspicuous.

There are X-Wings and TIE Fighters and the Millennium Falcon. They are totally still iconical.

And this is not just any blockbuster event movie. This is the Last Star Wars Movie or at any rate the final part of the trilogy of trilogies envisaged by George Lucas.

Can The Rise of Skywalker pull all the threads together and answer the many outstanding questions?

Can Abrams provide payoffs to all the setups he created in Force Awakened while honouring some of the more outre detours introduced by Rian Johnson in Last Jedi?

Can Episode VIII generate a "sense of an ending" which feels big enough and significant enough to be the final destination of the journey we collectively embarked on in 1977?

No. No of course it can't. No one film could.

But it is still manages to be a  very, very, very good Star Wars movie.

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