Sunday, 29 December 2019

Review: Star Wars - The Rise Of Skywalker (fifth-pass)

Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker (fifth-pass / 3D / SPOILERS)
Cert: 12A / 142 mins / Dir. J.J. Abrams / Trailer

Previous reviews: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

This is your spoiler-break. Courtesy rather than necessity at this late point in the year, but as anyone who's shared a cinema with me will attest, I aim to be unfailingly polite. Unless the BBFC-card has passed but the end-credits haven't yet started, and the glow of a phone lights up someone's face when they should be watching the movie in which case I'm fairly sure it's legally permissible to snatch the offending rectangle out of their hand, quickly zip out of the auditorium and drop it in one of the toilets nearby before returning to the film, punching the owner right in the corridor if challenged*1.

And with that delightful image settling over your consciousness, it's my duty to inform you (and not as forcefully as you're doubtlessly imagining) that the following article features plot-spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker. And really big ones this time, as befitting the flow of the story itself. If you haven't seen the film yet, leave the rest of this until you have. Do watch it though, it's quite remarkable. Although you'll probably need to give it a couple of passes to get the most out. As previously noted.

But I digress...


So. When was Emperor Palpatine slotted into the puzzle of the Sequel Trilogy?

At what point did JJ Abrams, Rian Johnson or Kathleen Kennedy come up with the idea that The Emperor should make a comeback? Was this always the plan? Because watching The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi immediately before The Rise Of Skywalker, it really doesn't feel like it.

Don't get me wrong, I'm cool with Palpatine rearing his head once again, albeit surprised that it happened so early in the film and with so little build-up. But along with Starkiller Base from TFA, wheeling him back out of the cupboard as the ultimate weapon feels more like content-recycling than putting a new spin on an old feature, something you'd imagine Abrams would want to steer clear of at this point. While there was admittedly some disquiet over the direction of events in TLJ, no one was seriously clamouring for Darth Sidious to come back and restore order for the close of the trilogy.

Indeed, the whole subject of The Sith has been politely not mentioned until now. Mutterings persisted from 2015 that Supreme Leader Snoke could in fact be Sidious' old master, Darth Plagueis, having laid low for decades with his apprentice under the impression he'd been successful in his usurpation of the 'Master' role. With the game only beginning, Lucasfilm played that card close to their chests. But by the 2017, the official Visual Dictionary for The Last Jedi by Pablo Hidalgo (in conjunction with the LFL Story Group) seemed to draw some sort of line under things by stating that Snoke was categorically not a Sith.

So not a Sith, then.
'Star Wars: The Last Jedi, The Visual Dictionary', 2017 DK Publishing.

And of course technically, that hasn't changed with The Rise Of Skywalker. Snoke wasn't really a Sith. But for obvious reasons, the Visual Dictionary from two years ago didn't tell us that he's a genetically engineered meat-puppet on remote control to the somehow-resurrected Palpatine. And the more I think about it, the most obvious of those obvious reasons is that two years ago this wasn't the case. Just like Rey's true lineage, there are no seeds planted in the preceding episodes to suggest this reveal was coming down the track.

As much as I love the Star Wars films, old and new (in case you hadn't noticed), The Emperor's return serves to highlight one of the more pressing weaknesses with the Sequel Trilogy. That Lucasfilm have made it up as they went along. Although George Lucas variously stated that Star Wars was going to be twelve, nine or six movies (depending on which interview you read), he at least had a clear vision in his head/notepad at the time of beginning each trilogy. Even then, there are exceptions of course. Vader never 'became' Luke's father until The Empire Strikes Back script was in development, likewise the sibling relationship between Luke and Leia is unlikely to have been committed to paper at the time of Empire being made. But the core story - its ups, downs and turns - was in George's mind all along. And when those massive ret-cons do come along, shining a new light on previously-told events, they're that most precious of revelation: one which the audience wouldn't reasonably have guessed beforehand, but which in retrospect couldn't have played out any other way.

Palpatine's return at least scores half of this with ease. Over the past four years, both casual and hardcore audiences alike were not expecting to see the face of Ian McDiarmid back in the Galaxy Far, Far Away, at least not in such a central, prominent role. As for the pre-destiny of this, though? Well not quite. The Sequel Trilogy's third-act could easily have taken other paths toward the redemption of Ben Solo (because that was inevitable). Rian Johnson taught us to take our hands off the Star Wars rule book, to expect the unexpected.

So it should probably come as no surprise that the unexpected happened. Emperor Palpatine returned from the dark netherworld, seemingly as a lesson to us all that peace and balance are impermanent; a prize to be nurtured and cherished rather than attained then stuck on a shelf to show off. Or at least that's the lesson I'm going to take from it. And not a bad one as we close out this troublesome decade.

And in the end, it works. Because the resurgence feels tonally valid, because of the obvious vacuum left in Snoke's passing, and because the majority of the audience has already bought-in to whatever Mr Abrams has to offer*2. Time will tell how smoothly this conclusion is received, as well as if this conclusion turns out not to be a conclusion after all - do not be surprised about this potential eventuality*3.

But hey, always in motion is the future...

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
The Star Wars.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Some possibly, not all.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
That's possible.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.
Unless you've heard one

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 0: It is Star Wars.

...but if you wanted to go around the houses with it, The Rise Of Skywalker stars John Boyega, who was in 2013's Half Of A Yellow Sun with Thandie Newton, who was in Run Fatboy Run alongside Simon Pegg, who appeared in Ready Player One with Ben Mendelsohn, who rocked up in Darkest Hour as did Pip Torrens from Patrick Melrose, which also starred Harriet Walter who guested in the 'Survivor's Guilt' episode of Law & Order UK along with... John Boyega.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 No wait, not legally permissible. What's that other thing which is like legally perm-... morally sound, that's right. Put your phone on flight-mode before the BBFC-card and don't look at it again until the end. Waiting for an important text or call? Wait at home. Bored during the film? Go home. 'Morally sound'. That's it. Not 'legal'. Probably. I always get those two mixed up. [ BACK ]

*2 Because the people who disliked the left-field character turns of The Last Jedi were more into the retro callbacks of The Force Awakens, and the vast majority people who loved Rian Johnson's movie also appreciated the nostalgia of its more cinematically-safe forebear. Put bluntly, it's a small crossover of people in the Venn Diagram who'd still be going to see The Rise Of Skywalker, but would then complain going "No, we didn't want you to bring that much of the Original Trilogy back! We want things to feel the same without being actually the same, but still being the same please...". [ BACK ]

*3 Because as anyone who's been watching the studio's output knows, Disney really don't like putting numbers at the end of film titles. "Star Wars Episode 9" encourages franchise-fatigue and instantly excludes the casual viewer who knows they haven't yet caught up with 1-8. "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" on the other hand is more likely to attract impulse-viewers and casual cinemagoers. With The Rise Of Skywalker however, Disney can use the "IX" to create a sense of occasion, also lulling people into believing they're going to be present for the 'final' Star Wars movie. Y'know, as if the House Of Mouse paid $4bn for the name just to shunt everything over to TV within half a decade. There will be more Star Wars movies, and soon. It's just that the publicity-machine is no longer constrained by that section of the timeline (even if Rogue One, Solo and The Mandalorian suggest they're terrified to leave it). [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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