Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) – Enjoyable but Weakest of the New Trilogy

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      ‘The Rise of Skywalker” is a mess with a ton of flaws and is easily the weakest out of all the new Trilogy. I felt that the things that were strong helped elevate the mess enough to the point that it still managed to be an enjoyable film, even though I hate how derivative it is of “Return of the Jedi.” A lot of my fears about Abrams return were certainly validated in this film but due to actor performances and character relationships that really made it work for me, as extremely flawed as it is.

The film was directed by J.J. Abrams who co-wrote the film along with Chris Terrio.

The story picks up a few years later with Leia training Rey as a Jedi as Kylo Ren finds Emperor Palpatine alive with his hidden fleet. From here it is a race against time as our heroes must stop Palpatine and Kylo Ren before they conquer the galaxy.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – John Williams is once again showing why he heads this series. He is once against the master of his craft here. I will definitely be listening to this soundtrack again and all his work with the prior films.

The Action – The action is good but nothing stands out like the fights in the prior film. There is emotional resonance to some of the action, specifically anytime Rey and Kylo fight one another. This film is primarily action though so it had to be at least serviceable. In that I’d say it succeeds but it isn’t as good as the action in “The Force Awakens” or “The Last Jedi.”

The Core Characters – The core characters are what makes this film work, even though I disagreed with some of the character choices done with them. For the characters I feel like were the strongest I’ll be going into more depth below as it was really these characters that made the film work enough for me in the end.

Poe – Poe takes up the leadership role that was left in the last film as we see him leading the Resistance after Leia’s death. He is made more like Han Solo in this film (which annoyed me) but I liked us seeing him clash with Rey. Both are headstrong so it’d make sense they’d clash. It also got away from shipping them, which I appreciated. Oscar Issac’s is of course wonderful as always.

Finn – John Boyega is one of the strongest of all the new actors and that is once again demonstrated here. Here we get hints that Finn might have the force (he senses things, especially when Rey is in trouble). I wish this could have been explored further, but I did enjoy him playing such a key role in the final battle and fully embracing his role as a member of the rebellion. He even meets a former stormtrooper in this who he forms a friendship with. He is my favorite of the new characters besides Kylo Ren / Ben Solo and I would like to see what is done with him in the future.

Leia Organa – Leia finishes Rey’s training from the unused footage from prior films. It worked for me and I like that her last act was reaching out to Ben Solo so he could return to the light. It was strong and you see that Rey’s healing in the force probably came from Leia’s training. R.I.P. Carrie Fisher. I’m glad we got to know her more in this. One of the strongest scenes is when Luke tells Rey that when Leia finishes her training from Luke she realizes what becoming a Jedi will do to her son. The consequence of having the power is recognized and I like how that shaped her and made her choose to stay the politician and general instead.

Kylo Ren / Ben Solo – Ben Solo’s arc is the biggest re-tread of prior films but it is also one of the things that works most about the film. In this it is in the act of Rey healing him and his mom reaching out to him with the last of her life force that change him to the light. After this he speaks to Han in his memory before casting away his red lightsaber. Adam Driver is acting the hell out of this film and he is a huge reason the film works. His redemption story is predictable but the way Kylo versus Ben carry themselves is noticeable and the steps to the transformation are rushed but worked. It was that heart of the film that I really felt anything and I appreciate that Ben dies to save Rey. It brings the story full circle and makes him the most developed character in the entire series.

The Cons:

Knights of Ren – The Knights of Ren show up and have no payoff. They don’t feel like a threat. Phasma did more and I felt like she wasn’t fully utilized or explored. We don’t learn anything about them and they have no interaction with Kylo beyond being enforcers and fighting him at the end. They are missed potential in a big way and could have been worthy foes.

Palpatine and his Plan – We never lean how Palpatine survived “Return of the Jedi” except that the Dark Side cult is probably tied to the reasons and maybe he did have a contingency like his hidden fleet with Death Star weapons. Ian McDiarmid is of course amazing in the role, but his existence is just a re-treated of “Return of the Jedi” as we never get what his plan was for the First Order, since he created Snoke.

Rey’s Origin – I wish Rey’s parents had been nobody. Her being a Palpatine makes this universe so small, with everyone being related to everyone. Plus it is hard to imagine someone who wants to live forever (Palpatine) ever having a kid. In the prequels and original Trilogy he shows no interest in romance or sex at all. So her origin story becomes nonsensical and meaningless. She’d have fought Palpatine anyway regardless of her bloodline so it changes nothing.

Force Bloodlines and Return of the Prequel Problems – Rey being a Palpatine and Ben being a Skywalker bring back the prequel problem of the force and bloodlines, when it looked like the “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi” were trying to get away from that. Leaning all in just elevated the problem of the origin story in the first place and takes away the mystique of the force. I hated in the prequels and I hate it once again here.

This film is a mess and I do wish they’d been more original than re-treading “Return of the Jedi.” If you are a Star Wars fan chances are you will find something to like, though the things I hated might be a bigger deal for you as well. The Skywalker story is the strongest part of the film (Ben, Luke and Leia) and really what makes the film good. The characters are who carry this frenetic mess and elevate it to an enjoyable experience. If you liked the prior 2 films, you will probably enjoy this one. The flaws are huge and I wish Disney had been more original, but for a Trilogy that only really took risks with “The Last Jedi,” this worked but could have been so much more.

8.6 / 10

Annihilation (2018): A Haunting Exploration of Inner Fears

  If you are new to the blog, I am a huge fan of sci. fi. Most of the films and shows I review are science fiction based and more often than not, they make my Top 5 of whatever year they were made if they are great. “Annihilation” never reaches the heights that the premise creates, but it is a solidly good film. I rented it from Amazon and it is worth checking out.

The film was directed and wrote Eric Garland, who was the writer and director behind one of my favorite films “Ex Machina.” It is based off a novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer, which I plan on checking out.

The story follows Lena, a biologist who is brought in on a special mission when her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) returns back changed and goes into a coma. From here she works with the team to try and solve the mystery of “The Shimmer,” a reality warping anomaly that is expanding slowly upon the Earth.

The Mystery – The core mystery is what drives the story, and what kept me most involved. The characters were interesting enough that I cared about what happened to them a little (though we never got to know them fully outside of Lena). And, I love that it starts out with a mystery; someone coming home different with no memories of who they were before. “The Shimmer” is a fascinating concept and I love how everytime you feel you learn something else about it, it reveals a greater mystery. The core premise of solving “The Shimmer” kept me in the story the entire time.

The Idea of the Team – The team is made up of women, and they are awesome! We have Lena, the biologist, holding her secrets. The cruel and distant Dr. Ventress, as the leader. The empathetic Josie, the kindness of Cassie, and the hard driven Anya. Each character carries a darkness that “The Shimmer” brings out.

The Darkness We Carry – Each of our characters carries a darkness with them. There is the fact that Lena cheated on her husband, Anya cuts herself, and Ventress has become detached and uncaring. The darkness consumes each of the characters in different way the deeper they get into the “Shimmer.”

Metaphorical and Actual Cancer – The film is also a metaphor for cancer. Everything in “The Shimmer” warps and grows. Like cancer it consumes until there is nothing left. “The Shimmer” is defeated after the alien inside of it is set on fire by Lena. As it burns, the entire “Shimmer” down to its core continues to desire to spread.

Okay:

Lena – Lena is okay. I like how she is complex as a character, but Natalie Portman’s performance doesn’t bring to the next level. I didn’t care enough about any of these characters the way I cared about the protagonists in “Ex Machina.” Here there is a level of detachment from the events going on, and a good portion of that is Lena’s own detachment from the situations she is in. She still did okay, but I can’t put her as a pro, though she was the most compelling member of the team.

The Cons:

The Ending – In the end we find out Kane, who came back as a doppelganger, is the alien life form (from “The Shimmer”.) The twist is that Lena is now a doppelganger too, even though she defeated it in the end. This contradiction took away from the entire film’s theme of overcoming darkness and healing. It kept the film from being great. The film really should have ended with her being interviewed, and Kane’s mystery never being answered. .

If you are fan of sci-fi, like me, chances are you will enjoy this film. This is a flawed and beautiful film that aspires to achieve so much, but because the characters are never quite fleshed out enough, never gets there. The ending also was a bit of a cop out and cancels out so much of what Lena went through. Even with a flawed ending, it is still worth checking out. I rented it, and it is a film that I’d say isn’t worth buying, but was worth the rent.

Final Score: 8 / 10