[Mild The Rise of Skywalker spoilers ahead]
Good news about the new hayfever tablets. I was awake all yesterday. I also drew some new cartoons and then took the evening off to watch the latest Star Wars movie.
It’s the “latest” only in the sense that I hadn’t seen it but this week’s arrival of Hamilton on Disney+ gave me the chance to piggyback on somebody else’s largesse when they bought the channel for a month.
I’m glad I didn’t pay. In nearly every sense, The Rise of Skywalker was terrible. I don’t mean objectively terrible because that would be unfair. Compared to most movies, it was descent. 6.7 on IMDB feels about right. But as a Star Wars movie, it was hugely disappointing and a reminder why I wish George Lucas hadn’t let it go.
For much of the film, the lead characters are playing around in wreckage from the original trilogy and those scenes become a metaphor for what this third trilogy has been about. It’s a shame. Daisy Ridley deserved better, though I my opinion, she would have deserved better in an Alien film. She could easily have played Ripley.
She was also better in the earlier films, which perhaps isn’t surprising. They were better films. I didn’t entirely hate the first, The Force Awakens, and quite enjoyed the second, The Last Jedi (though neither were as good as the excellent Rogue One). The problem with the Rise of Skywalker, however, is that it becomes clear that there was never a plan. The first two trilogies had arcs you knew were there from the beginning. Not so with the latest three. Nothing links back beyond the question “who is Rey” and even when they answer that (hugely underwhelming) it doesn’t make much sense. Then we have characters who are nearly all neurotic. They all walk around with the weight of the galaxy is on their shoulders. None of them are happy. None are likeable. A reason the original trilogy remains the best is that the characters were paper-thin. Han Solo was loud, cocky, slightly obnoxious, but also charming and fun. Leia was loud, cocky, slightly obnoxious, but also charming and fun. Then there was Luke who was… well… I guess he was loud, cocky, slightly obnoxious, but also charming and fun. But that was the Star Wars trick. They played it for laughs and the whole thing was loud, obnoxious, but charming fun.
The new film also reminded me why I should really prefer Star Trek. The stories have always been better. In fact, not only better, some were seriously good. Episodes would explore difficult themes. Star Wars, on the other hand, feel like they’re just pushing the same mythic tropes over and over again.
The writers sit down with the same generic pattern: person needs something; person passes through threshold; person is changed… Into that, they just drop completely random ideas which are too often cast aside. We’re suddenly in the middle of a galactic Burning Man festival for all of the 15 seconds they can be bothered to explore it. Here are some ex-Stormtroopers riding horses. We won’t explain why. Here’s a character that died many movies ago suddenly conjuring thousands of Star Destroyers out of a swamp and each with a gun that could wipe out a planet… (Which makes me wonder: why were they called Star Destroyers if they couldn’t do this before? Why did we need Death Stars? Okay, I’m probably thinking about it too much…)
The film also suffers from the Superman problem, which is what happens when magic becomes too powerful. It’s why I’ve always preferred Batman and Spiderman. Their powers are limited and there’s no need for a stupidly powerful enemy to make the stories work. Once we’ve established that Rey can pull spacecraft out of the sky, it makes it odd that she struggles to climb up some old wreckage or can’t run particularly fast. Then there’s the bringing people back to life. Or in this film bringing one person back to life with force powers so they can bring you back to life with force powers but then you can’t then bring them back to life with force powers… Makes me wonder about every film in the series when people died from relatively minor injuries. Rey now has the force powers version of penicillin.
All that said, it was watchable and there were some bits I enjoyed. And that’s really my problem with any Star Wars movie. I say I should prefer Star Trek more and, don’t get me wrong, I can be a big Trekkie when I’m in the mood. It’s just that Star Wars satisfies a different itch. It has something to do with the aesthetics and a few key tropes which I still enjoy seeing…
The receding titles, cheekily filling in slightly more story than should be allowed.
Camera pans down onto space and some ship landing on a planet.
A bar scene in which you see characters that you’ll never see elsewhere in the film.
Obligatory establishing shots of deserts where the foreground is momentarily taken up with some alien creatures.
Close ups of light sabres.
Light sabre duels.
New force powers…
The biggest shame, though, is that so much talent goes into something that fails on the fundamental level where these films should be certain to win. If you don’t invest enough time in the script, to establish why we care about characters and why they care about each other, then there’s absolutely no reason to follow their journey. The original trilogy always took time, often in lightspeed, to slow things down and have some degree of character-led drama. Urgh look at Luke! I think he fancies Leia. Ha! Hans has spotted that. Let’s see if he’ll make fun of him. He does! Great!
These new films barely give time for characters to breathe. If people aren’t shouting and running, they’re overly emoting, as though the filmmakers are trying to force us to like these characters rather than taking the time to let it happen organically. The result is a film that feels like it’s running at 10 times speed. Spaceship. Somebody running. Quirky robot. Run. Hug. Dab eyes. You mean a lot to me Rey. Explosion. Run. Somebody kiss somebody quick! Death star. Somebody in black. Narrow escape. Quick cameo from trilogy original. Quick hug. Yes, you mean a lot to me. Urgh! I’m dead. Sob. No I’m not! Fight. Run. Big explosion. Lots of people hugging. Chewie barks. Credits.
Tonight I plan to double down on my disappointment by watching Solo, though I’m largely interested to see how Donald Glover does. I’ve heard better things about The Mandalorian, which I might also watch. I also plan to make use of this one month of Disney+ to finish the Avengers films. I’m not a fan but I’d like to see Endgame, which was directed by one of the Community creators and in which I understand most of the Community cast get cameos. I’m sure to be disappointed. It might also be a long month.
As for Hamilton… I don’t plan on watching it. Love American history but the music just isn’t my cup of tea. Not that I like tea… I suppose I’m just really hard to please.