‘The Rise of Skywalker’ is Frustrating and Deeply Satisfying – It’s So Great to Be Alive!

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CREDIT: Lucasfilm

This whole review discusses plot points in detail, so … spoiler warningggggggggggg!!!

I guess J.J. Abrams isn’t the one to cure Star Wars of its reputation for clunky and/or imaginative dialogue. So many of the lines in The Rise of Skywalker are variations of “Go! Go! Go!” or “I love my friends.” Except for C-3PO. Man, that guy is golden! Does Anthony Daniels write his own dialogue? I would like to nominate 3PO for Most Consistently Charming Character in Franchise Movie History. I mean, quips like “You didn’t say my name, sir, but I’m all right” – how can one droid bless us so much?!

I liked The Rise of Skywalker more than I didn’t. But for a movie that I like (love even!), there sure are a lot of elements that drove me  batty! And some of them could have been just fine (or brilliant even) if they had been carried out a little differently. I’ll get to the big one in a bit, but first off, why is the first hour or so of this movie a hunt for a McGuffin? When characters are on the run in Star Wars, their purpose is clear and meaningful. It’s not just a hunt for a whatever device. Maybe it wouldn’t have felt so McGuffin-y if the danger weren’t dispatched so easily…

Speaking of, I’m fine with the “death” of Chewbacca turning out to be a bait and switch, but maybe give us at least five minutes to think that he might have actually died, so that it can resonate when we discover that he’s actually fine. Similarly, I think it’s perfectly okay that C-3PO’s memory wipe isn’t permanent, but let’s draw out some more mileage of the recovery of those memories. I’m sure they can easily get a tight five out of R2-D2 catching him up to speed.

Now for the big Big BIG one: I suspect that J.J. Abrams had decided that Rey was Palpatine’s granddaughter when he made The Force Awakens. But since he didn’t convey that explicitly, that left The Last Jedi free to say that her parents were nobodies. So Skywalker combines both origins, which tracks logically enough, but changes the message. Rey rejecting her Sith parentage is resonant, though it’s not as unique a message as the idea that powerful Jedi can come from anywhere. That message isn’t refuted, but it’s not underscored as much as I suspect would have been beneficial. So if JJ was married to the Palpatine-Rey connection, what if he were to instead make it a King Herod situation, wherein Palpatine senses Rey’s remarkable power and becomes dead set on hunting her down and either recruiting her or destroying her?

Hey, here’s another question I have: what did Finn need to tell Rey? My suspicion was that it was a confession of love, since he was obviously so smitten with her when they first met, and I think they’ve always been great together. But then he had possible sparks with Rose and then he has a connection with Jannah (not to mention Poe, although any romance there was only ever speculative). Meanwhile, Rey and Kylo Ben are getting ever closer to form that dyad. So maybe I misread what Finn needed to say. But whatever it was, it was clearly important to him, and it just never came up again! Why not add 30 seconds for some unburdening?

But for all those miscues, I am massively satisfied by the ending, particularly Rey declaring herself a Skywalker and the entire trilogy-wide resolution of her arc. When all those Jedi voices reach out to her, it’s transcendent. Why not have more moments like that?! But what we got is enough to leave me happy, and The Last Jedi‘s contribution of the conviction that great Jedi can come from anywhere remains intact. And the aesthetic Star Wars qualities like droids beeping and Babu Frick tinkering are as lovely as ever.

TL;DR: increase the bleep-bloops and good kind of mystical woo-doo, decrease the bad kind of mystical woo-woo.

This Is a Movie Review: The Lost City of Z

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This review was originally published on News Cult in April 2017.

Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Sienna Miller, Robert Pattinson, Tom Holland

Director: James Gray

Running Time: 140 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Bow and Arrow Violence, and Occasional Gunfire

Release Date: April 14, 2017 (Limited)

The Lost City of Z tells the story of a liberal-minded man’s dilemma. During Percival Fawcett’s (Charlie Hunnam) early 20th century explorations to South America, he becomes convinced of the existence of a mythical city deep within the jungles of the Amazon. His patrons back in England scoff at the idea, both because it is unrealistic but also because they are European white men who believe that their way of doing civilization is the only right way. Fawcett positions himself as an open-minded paragon who recognizes that the native peoples are not savages but in fact have plenty of value to offer the rest of the world. This is not posture. He genuinely believes all that he says – and Hunnam imbues every declaration with the urgency of the end of days – but idealizing a foreign culture introduces its own problems.

Fawcett does not fetishize the Amazonian peoples, but his single-mindedness can be blinding. The film’s structure is partly like that of a Möbius strip, with the end of each South American expedition only serving as a prologue to the next one. Supplies are depleted and conflicts break out within his crew, and then re-stocking and reconciling takes years. And you feel that passage of time, but Fawcett simply must get back. The strain is borne most acutely by his family, especially his wife Nina (Sienna Miller), who pleads to join one of the expeditions. The Fawcetts pride themselves on their equality, but here Percival marks a limit: they are intellectual, but not physical, equals.

Ultimately, this film is a detailed and heavy examination of the dangers of obsession. It turns out (spoiler alert) that Fawcett’s instincts are right, but that vindication is saved for an epilogue. The climax involves Fawcett and his eldest son (Tom Holland) entering the most nightmarish of the expeditions. For the most part, The Lost City of Z avoids mysticism in favor of realism. The cinematography generally focuses on weary faces instead of natural wonders. Thus, this journey is not transcendent until it starts becoming hellish.

The Lost City of Z is Recommended If You Like: Lawrence of Arabia, Apocalypse Now, Impassioned Speeches to Fusty Government Types

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Men Overboard