The Rise (and fall) of Star Wars

It’s the end of an era.

I’m home from “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”, and I’m going to tell you my thoughts. But they are going to be spoilerific to a degree. Anyone who really truly madly deeply does not wish to know anything at all, stop reading now. I mean it. You have been warned.
There were between 20 and 30 people at the screening I was at, in a huge cinema. One of them wore a Yoda hat. I wore a Leia hairstyle. We were members of the same tribe.
The lights went down, THAT FANFARE blared, the intro started to unroll into the stars… and that was the first stab of disappointment. Honestly, for a finale, for THE finale, for the last movie in a trilogy of trilogies… the intro was entirely insipid, distracted and piecemeal, looking as though it was trying to shoehorn the stories of at least three different movies into the whole thing and make them fit, dammit, no matter what.
And then the opening sequence of the movie was just… meh. I found myself wanting to fast forward.
Here’s the kinda sorta storyline.
After the debacle of that last battle in the previous movie where the remainder of the Resistance was abandoned by EVERY ally, despite Leia’s “personal code” being used in the plea for help, things are not going particularly well. There are beautifully CGId sequences of battles amongst stars and clouds. The poor Millennium Falcon is being rather badly used by Poe, for something called “lightspeed hopping” where short bursts of lightspeed deliver the ship… somewhere… anywhere… there are glimpses of kelp like plants, of industrial pylons, of underground tunnels. They escape but are criticized for treating the Millennium Falcon that way.
There is a completely contextless slaughter led by Kylo Ren culminating in his finding and retrieving… something… that is unclear and unknown and we really don’t know if it was worth all the bloodshed and are given no chance to find out or to care. And then…

The plot? What plot?

Look the worst thing is that I can’t really clearly remember the plot at all. That is… just BAD.
When I came out of “The Force Awakens”, when I came out of “The Last Jedi”, I could have told you the story. But this story distils into “Palpatine is improbably back and just as evil as ever, there’s a great whoomp of starships in a new navy ALL of whom now have the planet-destroying potential of the Deathstar.”
The only way to find Palpatine is to go to the planet where this armada is, the only way to find out where the planet is lies in finding a Sith compass, that thing that Kylo Ren picked up in the opening fight only three of which remain in the universe. There is supposed to be a final confrontation there, but in the meantime there are episodes of Rey BECOMING and Kylo Ren UN-BECOMING.
If the second trilogy were sunk by improbabilities and the introduction of the wretched midichlorians, this movie bears a double burden of a layer of mysticism laid on with a trowel with no particular regard for finesse or meaning and a distinct lack of humor that was so pivotal to many of the earlier movies.
There are a few chuckles, but they feel like they were produced dutifully and too many of them are rehashes. There are a couple of Porgs in here for no good reason except that they were popular and funny in the prior movie; there are EVEN a couple of Ewoks glimpsed. There are a few snatches of memorable lines that bring a smile, but they feel SCRIPTED in a way that Star Wars humor never felt scripted before.

The tale is episodic

The protagonists are thrown here there and everywhere on various adventures. Kylo Ren meets the evil Emperor in an oddly irrelevant encounter. There is a colorful folk festival where creatures in bright robes dance in what is briefly an almost Bollywood number, culminating in the feel-good encounter with Lando Calrissian. What’s he doing there? Who knows. It’s a nice picturesque place to reintroduce him and hell yeah he’s gonna come back to save the world. With Han Solo gone someone’s got to fly the old Falcon, right…?
Characters get into scrapes and find peril. Chewie – uncharacteristically – goes blundering by himself and is taken prisoner and then we are given to believe that he died. But it turns out that he was on a different transport than the one that got blown up.
C-3PO gets mindwiped in order to ‘translate’ something that his programming won’t let him do but fear not, he’s resurrected too. In the meantime, there’s a new droid that looks rather like someone forgot to tell the designers about the necessity for it in time and they just grabbed the first thing that came to hand, which appears to be an old dressing room hairdryer.
poster last star warsAnd then there’s the Kylo-Rey thing, that mystical connection, which somehow worked in “The Last Jedi” but in this movie it begins to be very difficult to tell when they are actually literally in the same space together, or just mind-connected, or mind connected with benefits, like the way he reaches out and snatches a necklace from her while she is on a world presumably many light years away. They meet up several times just to fight – ah those lovely lightsabers! Can’t waste ‘em! – but the fights are oddly PURPOSELESS. They’re kinda enemies, but also kind of kin. They can’t be together and they can’t stay apart.
They fight on the starships… and they fight on ruins of a downed deathstar in both in the inside wreckage and then on exposed and conveniently flat and debris free surfaces that jut out of a picturesque storm-tossed sea.
Then Leia basically expends everything she’s got to call out to Ben and distracts him so that he can be stabbed by Rey, who then revives him through the Force. He says, I died, and she says, “Kylo Ren died. Ben is alive”.
Then there’s an oddly eloquent ‘memory’ of Han Solo coming in to tell his son a few home truths. And then we’re all off again in all directions, and now Leia is really dead (and the first glimpse of true emotion heard in the movie comes from Chewie’s genuine roar of pain when he hears the news).
It’s Poe who’s the leader now, and he decides to take the war to the death fleet waiting on Palpatine’s world – and to send the message out because the enemy wins by making people think they are alone and they are NOT and “good people will come if we lead them” – despite the resounding silence that met the cry for help the last time. The last time, when LEIA ORGANA asked. Now someone called Poe Dameron is asking, and nobody knows who the hell this dude is, at least not like they knew who Leia was, but somehow THIS time they’ll come. They will.
So it all ends up on Palpatine’s world where he tells Rey she is his granddaughter and that it is her birthright to become Empress Palpatine and rule from the Sith throne and she is almost ready to do that when Kylo Ren turns up. Damn that lad gets around. He is now the Supreme Leader; the question has to be asked, who’s actually minding the store while he’s off chasing Rey around the galaxy. They stand together against the evil Emperor, and he says thank you children that’s exactly what I needed, and vampire-sucks them dry of lifeforce and rejuvenates himself, and then yeets Kylo into the abyss.
Palpatine throws all he’s got at poor Rey, telling her that he is “All the Sith”… but she, hearing all sorts of familiar voices swirl around her (I told you about the mysticism) replies implacably, “But I am ALL THE JEDI”… and beats him back… and he melts away a la Indiana Jones mummies… and Rey collapses, dead.
But don’t count Kylo out yet, he manages to crawl up from under there and gathers up poor dead Rey into his arms and pours all the lifeforce she gave him back into her so she survives and he dies (while she tenderly calls him Ben and kisses him right before he (and then Leia too) vanish away as all good Jedi do in the end and their clothes and shrouds settle gently into the empty space where their living bodies used to be.
Oh, and by the way… they did come. They ALL came. All the people who had left Leia in the lurch the last time, they ALL turn up to face the biggest baddest armada ever – an armada of planet killer ships – in a massive messy cloud of higgledy piggledy ships that launch everything at those big bastards and because this is the ultimate fantasy actually WIN against them.
There’s a lot of hugs and tears and laughter and reunions etc … and then we’re where it all began, at that familiar desert farmstead where a still wet-behind-the-ears Luke stood watching the twin suns of Tattoine yearning for adventure.
At the abandoned homestead, Rey there buries, together, Luke’s and Leia’s lightsabers – this movie is the first time we’ve ever heard of LEIA’s lightsaber, by the way, it came out of pretty much nowhere. Rey has her own now, and it isn’t blue or green or red – it’s white, incandescent white. She meets an old woman coming out of the homestead and gets asked who she is.
“Rey,” she says. “Rey who?” the old woman demands suspiciously. And Rey turns and meets the eyes of two loving Force ghosts – Luke and Leia – and says slowly, “I’m Rey… Skywalker.”
The end.
Look, this movie had big shoes to fill. It tries but every so often it just forgets to tie its shoelaces and tries to run too fast and splats on its face.
There is way too much stuffed in here, and too much of THAT is just there for the nostalgia. There is no real reason for Billy Dee Williams to be here, for example, other than he’s the last one of the old guard so they find something for him to do.
I am unfortunately put in mind of a review attributed to Dr Samuel Johnson, among others: “Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.”
There is too much hark-back to the original Star Wars material, there to make the fans feel good; the new material that’s in there often makes no sense. The struggle between good and evil is both sharpened to Ultimate Good and Ultimate Evil (all the Sith vs. all the Jedi…) which leaves us nowhere to go, afterwards – and attenuated, at the same time, to pointlessness because I am not sure any more who’s fighting.’
The only thing that stays unchanged is that the stormtroopers really ARE the worst armed forces ever because they can’t hit the broadside of a barn at ten paces and all they’re good for is picturesquely littering corridors of spacefaring vehicles with posed white-armored homunculi.
The war in this movie seems to be fought in order to provide a context for our characters and give purpose, some purpose, ANY purpose, to their existence. But it’s so tenuous that it takes away from the solidity of the characters rather than the characters lending solidity to the war.
This movie… is a loving Force ghost of itself. It was done, with “The Last Jedi” which was a better Star Wars movie than either of the JJ Abrahams efforts bracketing it. TLJ was a story in which the characters we loved were shown to have suffered, to have GROWN.
Nothing like that is evident in “The Rise of Skywalker”. The characters are there because they are Star Wars characters and it’s a Star Wars story. It is just lazy storytelling to revive a dead emperor as the ultimate evil. It cheapens everything else. It cheapens Vader’s redemption arc. It cheapens Luke’s growth in the force. It cheapens both Sith and Jedi.
This matters. All of it matters. I wanted to love a movie that was supposed to put a closing bracket on something that shaped my childhood, that changed my worldview when I was fifteen years old. I feel oddly cheated. This was not the story that I wanted as an ending for the Star Wars saga in which all the characters from my own youth and first encounter with the story met their ultimate fates. I wanted so much more.
They did do wonders with the fact that Carrie Fisher was simply NOT IN THIS FILM except as an echo, a literal “Force ghost”, alive in scenes she shot for the first movie in the saga but which somehow never made it into that film – they work beautifully here. This is a loving memorial to my Princess.
But they are gone. Han and Luke are dead, as characters, even though the actors that created them are not; Leia is now gone both as her character and her actual self.
I am sure that Star Wars will carry on – it’s too lucrative a franchise not to, and it’s in Disney’s hands now, and they’ll want to keep making money. But I am not sure that I will follow.
The journey ended here. It began when I was fifteen years old and heard that music for the first time and the world tilted on its axis a little and nothing was ever the same again. It ends at Christmas of 2019, some four decades later, and I think I have stepped down from the starship – at least that starship – onto terra firma for the last time.
Good bye, Star Wars, it’s been fun. But I’ve watched the twin suns set on you now, and night is falling.
I will retreat into the night, with all my ghosts, which I will carry with me. And the Force… that will be with me. Always.
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