That’s right, I’m reviewing a movie.
Or am I?
Was that a… movie that I just saw?
I feel like somewhere in the past four years, blockbuster films stopped being movies as I understand them, where there is a story that happens in order. Instead they’re more like a bunch of things happening, cut together frenetically. Here is how I understand the modern Hollywood blockbuster process: a storyboard is loosely made of moments that the film is supposed to have in it. Some scenes are filmed, then edited together, then everything is put in front of a test audience and then they do a bunch more reshoots, then edit those things together again into some semblance of a narrative, and retro-fit a script to it.
This was the second wakeup call I had this year that I am finally getting old.
That isn’t to say that a bad movie can’t be made into a good movie with some editing. Witness, for example, a film called Star Wars, perhaps the first modern Sci Fi blockbuster of its kind. George Lucas typed a lot of words, some of which you really can’t say, George. Some of those words were filmed, some actors and editors had input, and then they were arranged into an all-time classic of a film. That movie spawned sequel after sequel. For a while, it seemed as if the well might run dry, but then Disney bought the rights and Star Wars came back to the cinema. The prophet “Weird” Al Yankovic was proven right: Mark Hamill really did play the part of Luke Skywalker until he was old and gray. And now, thanks to digital technology that is able to bring actors back from the dead, he’ll be making these movies till the end of time, with my Yoda.
Everything in my life so far had been leading up to this moment. On Friday, December 20, 2019, I ordered myself a Long Island Ice Tea from the movie theater bar, because you can do that now, and settled into my seat to watch The Rise of Skywalker, the Final, Final Star Wars movie, at least for now.
What follows from here on is a full-spoilers review.
My god, the final boss energy of this movie. The third disk of a JRPG, when we’re pretty confident no one is still playing this game but we still gotta rush everything to a conclusion, energy of this movie! This movie is like playing the last chapter of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, where everyone goes to Space Heaven to meet God, and he talks about how his secret plan was all just to make anime real.
The night before seeing the actual film, I had watched the Jenny Nicholson roast of a bad pitch for the movie where an Extended Universe Star Wars author thought it would be cool if Snoke was actually just a clone. So I was nonchalant, not even surprised when it turns out that that was actually in the movie. Just a big old glass tube of Snoke clones.
Okay, so this is what we’re doing, I thought. This is indeed some EU shit. Where’s the Emperor’s three-eyed son, Triclops. Where’s Luuke, the clone of Luke but with two UUs. Fuck that, what about Bigger Luke.
Every ship is a Death Star now; they all have the Death Star cannon and there’s six feccking thousand of them all ready to blow up all the planets in the galaxy. Sure, why not!
There is a scene in this movie where I became convinced I wasn’t so much watching a movie as riding the theme park ride (in Galaxy’s Edge open now at Disneyland Resort and in the Walt Disney World Resort!). Some Stormtroopers are knocking on doors house to house, snow is falling, and the rebels are sneaking around behind them. The camera pans up and around, and it felt like I was looking at Star Wars Rebels audio-animatronics standing with their back against the wall, winking to the audience, as my gondola floated lazily by.
During this same jump, the movie is sure to add a female love interest for Poe, because it’s very important that Poe be very heterosexual and under no circumstances should the sexual chemistry between him and ex-Stormtrooper Finn ever be discussed again. Also, you, the audience, did apparently not like Rose Tico, who Star Wars originally positioned as the no-homo girlfriend for Finn. So now we’ve added a black female character and we’ll position her as the new no-homo girlfriend for Finn. Also, we’ll be sure to imply in a wink-nod that she’s Lando Calrissian’s daughter – yes, they did that – because all women of importance must actually be connected to a man of importance. Also, we’re Eric Cartman and black people only belong with other black people.
The first ever on-screen gay moment in a Star Wars film is slipped in at the end. But it’s cut in such a way that less progressive countries can easily remove it from the film. Congratulations to the only lesbians in space.
Oh, my god, so far this review seems really mean. I’m definitely losing you. Well if you haven’t left yet, here’s more girl talk.
Some debate exists on the internet as to whether Adam Driver is hot. Let me enlighten you: Kylo Ren is hot. He’s sad and tormented and needs a big hug. Adam Driver is hot under the right circumstances but he also has kind of a weird looking face. Both of these things can be true. During close-ups I thought he would be a shoo-in to play Johnny Five Aces in the inevitable film version of The Zybourne Clock.
The internet, that test audience to end all test audiences, picked fun of The Last Jedi for having Kylo Ren in a shirtless scene. I guess this made straight men uncomfortable. However, I guess Disney forgot that many straight women (and possibly gay men, though I don’t speak for them) actually loved it, and we also buy movie tickets. I thought that Disney knew that at some point, or they wouldn’t have included that shot of Captain America ripping wood apart for no other reason. I guess somehow they forgot?
Hey, liner note here, just a thought. Maybe don’t kill Ben at the end of the movie?? There was no need to do that? Like, hear me out: you can have him and Rey walk off Happily Ever After, and it’s otherwise the same movie and it’s fine. In fact it’s a lot better because the Kylo Ren arc has a lot more meaning that way.
I went down the rabbit hole of figuring out why the fuck this happened the way it happened and what this movie even started out as. Without too much digging, it’s easy enough to find copies of notes that were leaked from test screenings. With this one can piece together how the movie was edited in a few different passes to get what we eventually got. From what I can tell the Reylo kiss was a last-second-of-the-last-minute addition, so the movie also had to sloppily kill off Ben, as he’s just not present in any other shots during the celebration scenes already cut together at the end of the movie. One more test pass and maybe he would have lived, but then they gotta cut the whole end together again. Ship it.
Dominic Monaghan is in this movie and every time they cut to him it took me out for a second. I was like: “oh, shit, it’s that dude from Quantum Break.” Around the same time that they introduce him they also have this weird scene where Poe is yelling to Rey about taking too long with her Jedi training. It was clearly plugged in with a reshoot and there wasn’t any proper dialog written for it, just people sort of cutting each other off and yelling. I think I blacked out temporarily during this part of the movie. My husband insists he does not remember it at all.
When I was something like age 16 I did a video essay – two VHSes plugged into each other, because we didn’t have YouTube back then – cutting and pasting the parts at the end of RotJ where Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker have their final battle. I know the Ewoks (who cameo in The Rise of Skywalker, just for you, the fans!) are not the best part of any Star Wars movie. But the final showdown with Vader and Luke is pretty great. There is a lot happening visually. Luke being dressed in black shows his falling to the Dark Side is still possible, and the anger and rage in his strikes emphasize this possibility. Yes, in this movie, this dude the Emperor comes out of nowhere. But this scene is not about the Emperor. Rather, it’s about the dueling of two ideologies coming head to head, showing that there is good and evil in every person and what matters is the choices that you make.
Except, psyyyyche. Actually, it was all about the Emperor, I guess. Fuckin’ Sheev that wily rascal, what a legend!
Rise of Skywalker has a similar fight in it and it’s actually really good, from an action sequence standpoint. The fight between Rey and Ben is basically also a fight of ideology rather than one about their physical conflict. From a plot standpoint, it’s the fight in They Live over who has to put on a pair of glasses. If there had been no actual physical fight there, and Rey and Ben had just kinda talked things out, the outcome might have been the same. But it’s a spectacular fight, shot against the background of crashing waves at sea, swords clashing and brewing sexual tension.
One plot thing does happen here: Leia dies, because she was using her Force powers to distract her son at a critical moment so he wouldn’t kill Rey. This is one of those situations where I get why the movie feels choppy. Carrie Fisher passed away, and here the editors of The Rise of Skywalker did the best they could with what footage they had. I wish it was paced better. I wanted to feel something from Carrie’s send-off and yet I did not. Maybe I had already been sad enough for this and I had no sad left. But also, the film was already ready to whoosh-bang on to the next bit.
(Also then Ben has a conversation with his dead dad, who is not glowing because he is not a Force Ghost because he was not a Jedi, and that’s a little weird. Maybe this was originally supposed to be his mom but they had no footage to use here?)
I am actually pretty glad that this movie closed the loop on Luke’s X-Wing, a little detail left behind in the previous movie. However this movie introduced a plot bit of Finn trying to tell Rey something, but then never telling Rey the thing, and then he still doesn’t tell Rey the thing and we never really figure out what the thing was? (People tell me the Thing is that he was developing Force Powers, which they show him doing, but then they don’t actually close the loop in the movie on this Thing.)
Very disappointed also that Chewy’s wife Malla and son Lumpy were not mentioned. This is a big plot hole here; I was wondering what happened to them after the hints dropped tantalizingly in that prequel Solo. At least Chewy got his medal. And Lando got his ship back, also good.
At some point they introduce a new droid and his name is D-O. There was no reason do to this, but I’m sure the toys will eventually sell. Honestly I just wanted to make this meme.
Let me rap for a bit about the score in The Rise of Skywalker. The score of The Force Awakens did a lot of interesting things with motif, flipping some songs backwards or playing them in bits to capture a new theme for Rey or other characters. The score of Rise of Skywalker mostly plays the Star Wars song over and over. You know the one, the one that goes “Star Wars, Nothing But Star Wars“. There might have actually been interesting score things I missed which will hit better in a rewatch, but at first pass it felt a little basic. If you want to drive emotion you have to really use your score, and sometimes I think the trailers do this better than the actual movies.
To wit: I wish the moment at the end, the final confrontation, had landed harder. In theory, I really really like what they did here. Palpatine summons the power of Every Sith and Rey summons the will of Every Jedi and they make this a pure battle of everyone versus everyone and I actually love it. But it didn’t go far enough, because a lot of the pure fanservice bits are so easy to miss unless you recognize the voices of characters you haven’t seen in years. Or maybe you have never seen them in your life, because you aren’t up-to-date on all canon supplemental material such as the Clone Wars TV show.
They needed to cut that shot like Sailor Moon. Have all the Force Ghosts appear and all put their hands on Rey’s shoulders like a super conga line of collective Star Wars might. Get Stan Bush from Transformers: The Movie on this task and put some kind of damn power ballad behind it. You came this far. You had the tube of cloned Snokes. You put epilepsy-triggering Force Lightning in the scene. Why now, at this late hour, are you being cowards??
Do this, but make it Star Wars.
Yo. You know what’s good? The Mandalorian. That’s some excellent television. The pacing is just right. The effects feel like the old movies; lots of practical shots, on-location shoots, one very good puppet. The celebrity cameos happen and they’re surprising and brief but don’t take me out of the story. The plots are episodic, and feel kind of like someone’s old Star Wars Tabletop RPG Campaign, in a good way.
A confession. I never read the last Harry Potter book. I borrowed it from a friend and it sat around the house for months but I never actually read it. It just always seemed like too much, forever. I read a plot summary, felt satisfied, and moved on with my life from there.
Anyway you read this review and now you’ve seen the last Star Wars movie even if you haven’t seen the movie. The movie had some good bits but it was paced way too fast and I needed a lie-down after I saw it, and then I needed to type 2000 words.
Anyone wanna see Cats?
Email the author of this post at aj@Tap-Repeatedly.com. Feel free to tell me I’m an SJW and not a real Star Wars Fan because I used some certain keywords in this. Also I forgot to mention this and now there’s no space for it in the body of the review, but it’s sweet as hell how Rey and Ben can Force-Teleport stuff to each other. Really dug that bit.