Sunday, March 15, 2020

"Rise of Skywalker": the rewatch

I'm a completist, so as much as I disliked "Star Wars, Episode IX: the Rise of Skywalker," I purchased it on iTunes and, God help me, I gave the movie a rewatch last night. There's not much I can add to my original review from this past January, although I could pile on to the nitpicking by griping about how Rey doesn't use her Force powers to (1) rescue everyone—including herself—from the sand pit and (2) levitate herself safely through the innards of the Death Star's wreckage. I could also complain about the lackluster, tedious, poorly choreographed lightsaber fights, which definitely lacked the deft touch of Nick Gillard, who choreographed the saber fights in the prequel trilogy. Otherwise, I think my review covered all the important things I had wanted to say about the story. Everything else is mere detail.

But in the spirit of mere detail, I can add that a few small things struck me this time around. First, I really, really wish the writers had used Lando Calrissian more. Billy Dee Williams was such a welcome presence on screen, and he played the character of Lando with such pleasant, comforting authority that I wouldn't have minded if the movie had done a Rian Johnson-style side plot involving nothing but Lando and Chewie. Williams was criminally underused in this film, and we all suffered for it.

Second, I was struck by the powerfully evocative nature of some of the scenes: full props to the cinematographers, artists, and set designers. I hated pretty much everything having to do with Exegol, the Sith planet: the bad strobe lighting, the stupid shrieking sounds the lighting made, the goofy way the Emperor was hanging off that mechanical arm, the thousands of faceless Sith beings in that unexplained amphitheater of evil—everything Exegol-related was corny and overdone. But the interior of the wrecked Death Star was amazing—easily on par with the grandiose scenery generated by Weta Workshop for the Lord of the Rings movies. The Death Star was Satan's Rivendell, and I wish more of the plot had been centered on it (without the stupid notion of a Sith dagger guiding our heroes on a fetch-quest). The appearance of the good-guy armada at the end of the movie was also impressive; I understand that there are plenty of starship Easter eggs for the pause-zoom-and-enhance crowd to pore over. And while JJ Abrams has a lot to learn about storytelling, he knows how to film dogfights, all of which are pretty gripping in "Rise of Skywalker."

Third, however much I disliked the movie as a whole, it had a couple quiet or deep or funny moments that evoked, to some extent, the feeling of the classic trilogy. A few of these involved Chewie. One involved a Jesus-like act of healing that hinted at so much that could be said about how communion with the Force allows for communion with nature's wilder things. None of these moments, alas, involved Ian McDiarmid's Emperor. While I appreciated McDiarmid's gleefully scenery-chewing performance (the man was obviously having fun in his role), the Emperor as a character felt utterly unnecessary, shoehorned back into the plot because Rian Johnson had killed off the big baddie in "The Last Jedi," leaving an Emperor-sized hole that whiny little Kylo Ren was unable to fill with the proper menace and gravitas.

Some online discussions have centered on Rey's status at the end of the movie. She ended up killing Palpatine after all (or Palpatine ended up killing himself because, just like in "Revenge of the Sith" and arguably in "Return of the Jedi," he somehow couldn't turn off his lightning attack once he'd started it)... so does this mean Palpatine's spirit did end up possessing her? Rey's assertion to the stranger on Tatooine that she is now Rey Skywalker would seem to indicate that, if the Emperor's spirit abides in her now, she somehow has it under control and is the master of her own destiny. But as I noted in my own review, Rey received Kylo Ren's life-force before he died, thus making her a Skywalker in all sooth—now a Force monad instead of a dyad. Could the spirit-energy she received from Kylo Ren have been a barrier to the entry of Palpatine's malign spirit, which is now doomed to roam the cosmos until it finds a suitable host? Disney: please, for the love of Yoda, don't explore this possibility.

So does the Emperor live in Rey? Did he win after all? I don't know, and I don't care. As my buddy Mike said, the whole Star Wars franchise is now aimed at a different audience. Clunky as it is, it belongs to a new generation, and that's good enough for me.


John from Daejeon said...

The Disney film series has been flushed down a toilet and out an airlock, but the TV side of things is kicking ass and taking names. Not only is the "The Mandalorian" top-notch, but it actually pales in comparison to both "Star Wars Rebels" and "Star Wars: The Clone Wars." Of course, "Rebels" and "Clone Wars" are knocked because they are animated. Quite ironic, when there'd be no Disney without an animated mouse and a bunch of old, out-dated, non-pc, animated movies.

Kevin Kim said...

You have to wonder how different the sequel trilogy might have been had Jon Favreau been at the helm. Alas... at this point, that's as useless as speculating on how the Hobbit movies would have turned out with Guillermo del Toro directing them.