MovieMonday: The Rise of Skywalker

It’s just possible we’re seeing a bit of Star Wars fatigue here.

This final movie in the third Star Wars trilogy had a great opening weekend, selling $176 million of tickets in the U.S. and Canada.    But that total was 20 percent lower than sales for its predecessor, The Last Jedi, which itself generated less enthusiasm than the 2015 film, The Force Awakens.

Let’s remember the history:  The first trilogy, which opened in 1977, was the product of George Lucas’ absorption in classic mythical ideas:  the hero’s journey, the forces of good and evil battling for the soul/identity of a warrior and battles between oppressors and resistance fighters.  There are themes of family lost and found, and of the responsibility of a given soldier to colleagues in battle.  There is also the occasional consideration of redemption.

All these are found in this new movie — and in this latest trilogy — but without the focus that Lucas brought to the original story.  It feels like a machine assembled of old, once-useful parts, but to less effect.

So, while The Rise of Skywalker looks good and was made by people who know how to make movies, it’s striving for something that it cannot achieve.  It’s a bit of a clunker.

Counting the Ways

The plot is labored, convoluted, incongruent with the plot of 2017’s The Last Jedi and, effectively, incoherent.  I am not going to discuss it here.  Those who want to know more can find internet discussion boards where devotees have been dissecting its elements in great detail for days now.

(One missing point is an examination of what death means to the human-looking looking residents of that galaxy far, far away; one character flat-out admits he’s already died at least once, and two or three others seemed to have expired in earlier movies, only to reappear, conveniently, here to juice up the narrative.)

The characters are well-played, but in roles don’t demand much of them.  The exceptions are valiant, wonderful, noble Rey (Daisy Ridley) and, more, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).  Each is challenged, sort of, to answer the most basic existential question:  Who am I?

The movie clocks in at two hours and 22 minutes.  At least twice in the second half, there comes a climactic scene that leads the viewer to think, okay, so that’s the resolution and we’re near the end.  But it isn’t near the end. In fact, this long movie feels longer than it is.

Familiar 

The filmmakers have gone to some lengths to gratify the nostalgia of Star Wars aficionados.  Some points:

— Light sabers.  These are passed around with the reverence traditionally accorded to crown jewels.
In addition, there are many, many light saber duels, which tend to make a cynic (okay, moi) think, why don’t these characters use their revolver-like blasters to blow holes in their enemies and just kill them instead?

— The Millennium Falcon.   This main vehicle of the Resistance is well into its second generation and, yes, there is an emotional association because Han Solo won the MF in a card game with Lando Calrissian.  Meanwhile, the bad guys (thoughtfully outfitted in black to help viewers keep things straight) have assembled several massive Death Stars and many, many fleets of newer space vehicles over the course of three trilogies.   Couldn’t technical mismatches like those prove troubling over the course of time?
Luke Skywalker’s X-wing fighter also makes an appearance, and so do enemy TIE fighters.
On the plus side, Billy Dee Williams returns as Gen. Calrissian, which is rather nice.

— Tatooine.  Star Wars heroes land several times on the dry planet where Luke Skywalker was raised, including on one occasion when Tatooinians(?) just happen to be celebrating a once-every-44-years celebration of their ancestors.

— Chewbacca, the big furry friend who doesn’t talk but is a crack mechanic and wingman who can revive long-abandoned space vehicles, without fuel and on a moment’s notice.  Plus R2D2, C3PO, BB-8 and Babu Frik, a new small furry mascot with attitude that has been described in some reviews as “adorable.”  Adorable?

And Another Thing

There are also derivative elements at work.  As was the case in this year’s Avengers: Endgame, the Resistance fighters must hunt down a needed item to help them find the bad guys’ hidden redoubt.  This search takes them to a low, dark reality that owes a lot to the dark street scenes in Blade Runner.

In addition, there are references to gunfights in old Westerns: Resistance fighters make their way into enemy strongholds and dart around, unnoticed by cameras or sensors, as they peek from behind corners to see storm troopers and either avoid them or confront them with their blasters.  This might have worked in 1977, but even century-old houses are outfitted with security cameras, Alexas and/or Ring doorbells now.  It seems fair to wonder how long audiences will go along with the idea that high-tech death stars manned by paranoid enemies will not be similarly equipped.

—–

As much as I admire the Star Wars movies overall, if Lucasfilm (now a Disney subsidiary) launches a fourth trilogy, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to watch it.

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