Star Wars Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker
Review by Tim
This review is in two parts. Part 1 is my initial thoughts after watching the movie the first time. Part 2 is my thoughts after watching the movie a second time. There aren’t a lot of spoilers in here, but I’m assuming by now those who are going to see the movie, have.
Part 1: Initial viewing thoughts:
Category: Cotton Candy
I watched the movie on Monday, December 23, mid-afternoon with Mike from Michigan.
I went in with minimal expectations and avoided spoilers as much as possible.
The screen goes black, the logo appears as the fanfare starts, and the hairs on my arm stand up. 42 years later and Williams’ music can still cause a physical reaction.
Then the introduction crawl starts. I flash back to episodes 1, 2, 3 and feel disappointment. Really? This is the final crawl? Fine… it does its job and fills in the action since the last movie. But as cheesy as 4, 5, 6 scrolls were, they at least set a tone of excitement. Diabolical? Rage? I am not buying into the adventure of this one.
The movie starts. I feel like I'm watching a YouTube video (is that redundant?) of someone showing the winning moves for a video game. Quick cuts, fast action, and I just keep echoing in my head, "show, don't tell." Dial down the firehose of show show show.
Somewhere along the way, I'm not sure when it happens, but I'm not watching hyper-edited winning moves of a video game anymore and start to get a movie. For the most part, I was engaged with and absorbed in the second half of the movie.
As I've discussed about JJ Abrams in the past, he has done a nice job of studying Spielberg. He leads us through all the emotions and pretty much delivers them. While I wasn’t sobbing like a little school girl during the scene after Rey battles the big bad guy there was a little school girl sitting behind us that was.
I found the movie predictable with minimal surprises. I did enjoy the layered hero's journey and getting the 'satisfaction' of seeing the hero's journey Lucas started 42 years ago conclude according to the cycle.
Could it have been better? Yes. Could it have been worse? Yes. It gives us a properly adequate ending. I think it completes the final trilogy nicely and makes episodes 7 and 8 better.
I'd go see it again. I'll get popcorn next time and try to enjoy the ride.
Part 2: Second Viewing thoughts:
I saw 9 a second time, a mid-afternoon 2D screening on Thursday, January 2 with Greg.
Category: Just a movie
On second viewing, I caught some things, comments, etcetera I missed the first time. That’s generally a good thing. The first time, the first half felt like snippets of winning moves from a video game. The second screening, I had that sense the entire movie. The entire story felt forced (no pun intended) and rushed, like the actors, sorry, characters, were rushing from scene to scene based on the script.
I’ll go back to something I learned in my creative writing classes - for a good story, you have to let the characters guide you, the writer, as the story unfolds. In this movie, I felt the entire story was driven by the writers and some pre-production ‘checklist of all the things and twists we think will make a good movie’. They let the nerds drive the movie and it could have benefited from more voices challenging the story as it developed.
In hindsight and discussions with others, it felt like 9 was trying to tell too much story in the running time they had which may be why it feels like the actors are rushing from winning move to winning move. What if 8 was never made and JJ was given two movies to tell what he wanted to tell in 9? Was it a case of him trying to cover too much material in a short period of running time? Since 8 had been made, I would have been fine with a longer movie or even a two-parter. Other epic stories were allowed two-part final chapters, they should have let Star Wars have that same dignity.
Speaking of time, the whole timeline within the movie felt forced and un-real. They have 18 hours before the Final Order ships are launched. And they still had to find the Sith Wayfinder device to lead them to Exegol, rally the troops to head to Exegol, travel to all these places, head back to the rebel planet Ajan Kloss a few times, windsurf, spelunk and parkour in the downed Death Star, go to Burning Man, roam around in quicksand caves, sneak around in the First Empire battle cruiser, and whatever else is involved. Maybe hours mean a different period of time than in our universe today.
And a thought about the hyperspace jumping. Every time Poe popped out of hyperspace they were on a planet (not in a planet) and dodging buildings or just dodging things in space. I would think the probabilities of that happening 100% of the jumps seems a bit improbable. And each time, the TIE fighters following them jump in and out in unison and formation.
Back to the characters. None of their actions felt authentic or organic. There was a lot of ‘all the good luck is on the side of the winning team’ in how things happened and evolved. I tried to talk myself into the ‘that’s the force directing the outcome of actions’ but that conversation lasted about 10 seconds before it was dismissed. There was too much convenience to help move to the next scene.
During my contemplations during the second screening of 9, a theory evolved. 9 is paced like a modern day serial - like what Lucas and Speilberg were going for in the first Indiana Jones movie. It didn’t have to make sense, it just had to be fun, full of action and movement, and lead you to a cliffhanger ending to get you to come back next week. 9 gave me the sense that was the feeling they were going for. And failed.
The 7 8 9 characters were full of self-doubt. The 4 5 6, and even 1 2 3, characters boldly did and had a sense of confidence to their actions. Han full of cocky confidence. Luke sure he can hit the kill shot on the Death Star because he can bullseye a womp rat at 40 paces back home. In comparison, the 7 8 9 characters don’t show confidence in their abilities. Yes, this shows them as human and having self doubt. Is this an effort to make them more relatable? To appeal to millennials who are battling self-doubt and their place in the world? I don't know, but we expect more from our Star Wars leaders.
By now, the surprise reveal of the cavalry coming in to save the good guys and win the war is no longer a surprise. Can we find some new plot devices? Please? How would the story have unfolded if alllllll the good guys showed up at once to confront Palpatine? A massive showing of ‘go away old man’ from the beginning? How would the final battle with Rey, Ben, and Palpatine been if Palpatine had a sense of dread and failure? Just spitballing ideas here.
Which brings me to a point that was brought up in 1 2 3 discussions. The film making and in-movie technological advances in 1 2 3 and 7 8 9 make 4 5 6 feel very old and small. I get it; it’s been 42 years. Film making and movie watching have evolved and we expect a fleet of gazillions to appear in the sky as compared to the small ragtag fleet in 4 taking on the Death Star as they defend their last base (or maybe not their last base as apparently they had many.). But in the end, it all ends the same way, just ‘more’. Yes, I understand that when 4 came out, it brought a huge increase in film making technical and visual effects. But today’s sequels (not just Star Wars) involve bigger and more.
All these ‘problems’ are why I rate it as C+ on second screening. But that’s OK. As teachers will remind you, a C is average and nothing to be ashamed of.
Overall, I think 9 does a nice job of completing the 7 8 9 trilogy and it makes 7 8 better movies. I still rate 7 8 9 as the middle trilogy (4 5 6 is favorite and 1 2 3 is least favorite). I was just wanting and expecting more. Well, better.