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

Star Wars Rebels – Season 2, Episode 16 – “Shroud of Darkness” – Mysteries Revealed

     “Shroud of Darkness” is more great quality from “Star Wars Rebels.” In this questions are answered and we learn just how amazing the Grand Inquisitor was and is. I like that he hasn’t been forgotten as he was one of the characters who got me into the show in the first place. We also see the Inquisitors acting somewhat effective, which is always good.

     The episode was directed by Saul Ruiz and written by Henry Gilroy.

      The story involves Ahsoka, Ezra and Kanan returning to the Lothal Jedi Temple as the Inquisitors continue to find them wherever they go and they want to find out why by reaching out to Yoda. From here the story unfolds as a new layer to the Temple is revealed.

The Pros: The Action – The action is great in this episode! From Ezra and Kanan fighting the Inquisitors, from Kanan against the Temple Guards and the Inquisitors rising the Jedi Temple from the ground. This episode is great at showing just how powerful the force is.

The Jedi Temple – The Jedi Temple is really fascinating, as this time it revealed another room and with it more secrets. Curious to see how Sidious and Vader use it to their advantage given all the history within it.

Yoda – Yoda appears in this episode and offers great advice as we get an idea that he sensed but didn’t understand what was coming and from that warns Ezra of how fear can be healthy but that can corrupt when it turns to anger. He also reaches out to Ahsoka to show he’s proud, which is a sweet moment.

The Inquisitors – The Fifth Brother and Seventh Sister are great in this episode. The Seventh Sister finds the Temple and together they do a great job in their fights. Their will only breaks when the Grand Inquisitor appears in his uncorrupted form with the other Guards to face them. It’s a powerful scene.

Ahsoka – Ahsoka is dealing with her anxiety over leaving the order and missing her Master Anakin. In this episode she learns what happened as Anakin’s spirit is angry at her for leaving him and that now he is greater and stronger as a vision of Darth Vader appears. It’s really well done and I like that she still has his training videos. She also doesn’t see herself as a Jedi, which is powerful in it’s own right.

Ezra – Ezra’s drive is to protect his friends (hello Luke) and Yoda cautions him against letting fear for his friends control his actions. He may have understood but Ezra is such a cipher sometimes that it is hard to tell. I’m glad he got to see Yoda at least.

Kanan – Kanan’s journey is letting go of Ezra and letting him make his own choices and from this he earns the respect of the light within the Grand Inquisitor, who appears in his uncorrupted form showing the Temple Guard fell to the Dark Side and that is the reason the Inquisitors have double bladed light sabers. This was one of my favorite parts of the episode and my respect for the Grand Inquisitor grew. What a great character.

The Grand Inquisitor – The Grand Inquisitor was once a Temple Guard and the light side within him counsels Kanan that he has to let go of Ezra and let him make his own choices, even if he turns. It’s powerful and he makes Kanan a Jedi Knight. Seeing the good that he was once was before becoming the Grand Inquisitor is powerful, especially since his spirit and those of the other Guards turn on his apprentices the other Inquisitors, stalling them for our heroes escape.

Hints at Things to Come – Vader arrives to visit the Inquisitors and he mentions his Master will be greatly interested in the Temple, and when the Inquisitors give their warning he voices that he plans to use the growing power of the Jedi to turn them to destruction and their end. Please don’t mess up Vader writers…do this right, let him win.

   This was a great episode and is easily one of the best this far. The fact that we get the Grand Inquisitors story and Ahsoka learns the fate of Anakin are powerful scenes and I do hope we see Ezra turn, though I don’t know how it will be tun…he’s too good, though I do hope he turns. The Empire and Dark Side need some wins, Season 2 has been a lot of neutral fights or Rebel Wins.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 5, Episodes 1, 14-15 – “Rise of the Shadow Collective Arc” – The 3rd Faction in the Clone Wars

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   Well, Darth Maul is cool again. This entire arc establishes why he became the Master in his and Savage’s relationship and we see him tactfully use others and rise to own and an entire portion of the Galaxy, all while being invisible to the Jedi as being the one behind it all. It is a really solid arc and one of my favorite so far that the show has done.

    “Revival” was directed by Steward Lee and written by Chris Collins who wrote the other two episodes in the arc. “Eminence” was directed by Kyle Dunlevy and “Shades of Reason” was directed by Bosco Ng.

     The story involves Darth Maul taking control of Savage and with him plotting to build an army so that they will no longer be drive wholly by revenge but by conquest and power. To this end he attempts to recruit Hondo’s pirates which nearly ends in their death from Obi-Wan until Death Watch rescues them. From there Maul uses Viszla to recruit all the Crime Syndicates to form to the Shadow Collective and finally deals with Viszla himself so that he can own Death Watch and Mandalore as well.

The Pros: Hondo and his Pirates – Hondo is great! When Maul and Savage turn some of his men against them he tantalizes them back by saying that they’ll just take the supplies on Maul’s and Savage’s ship. To this end they turn on the brothers and with Obi-Wan nearly kill them both. Hondo has fun the entire time and respects him men for betraying him for power.

Obi-Wan – Obi-Wan appears in the first episode in the arc and after Jedi Master Gallia is killed he almost defeats the Brothers Maul but is unable to when they make their escape. We see how powerful he is in this though as he holds off them both and manages to recruit Hondo against them too.

Death Watch – Death Watch is great! From Bo-Katan and Viszla’s quest for power and conquest of Mandalore following Maul’s plan in witch the gangs cause problems and Death Watch saves the people, leading to their taking over Mandalore and arresting Satine to Death Watch coming under control of Maul when he defeats Viszla in single combat. This organization is awesome.

Pre Viszla – This man is a nationalist and had no dreams of conquest, he just wanted to bring back the warrior culture to Mandalore. It is for this reason he arrests the Brothers Maul since Maul wants to conquer the Neutral worlds. He dies with honor in the end as Maul defeats him, though his legacy lives on as Death Watch and the culture of Death Watch now rules Mandalore. Jon Favreau was great as this character.

Bo-Katan – Katee Sackhoff rocks as the Second of Viszla’s who fights on after the Brothers Maul take over. She is a Mandalore patriot and Nationalist and believes only a Mandalorian should rule Mandalore.

Rise to Power – Maul and Savage’s rise to power is really cool. They kill the leaders of the gangs with Death Watch and establish control and then use those resources to fund Death Watch. It’s really well done and Darth Maul is calm and collected the entire time throughout it.

Darth Maul and Savage Opress – Maul is the Master with Opress as the apprentice and we see together they are unstoppable after their failure to get Hondo’s pirates. Maul has learned patience and through it we see him use the greed of the Syndicates and the pride of Death Watch to make them his and make him ruler of the 3rd Faction in the Clone Wars, The Shadow Collective. In the end he places Almec in charge as the face of Mandalore as he made the deal with him in prison and he was a man, unlike Viszla and Satine, who could be used.

Okay: The Gangs – The gangs have great designs but we don’t really see what the Pykes and Black Suns are doing before they are recruited. The Hutts get the most exploration as they were already explored pretty heavily already and they put up the greatest fight before becoming part of the Shadow Collective.

This was a fantastic arc and even though I don’t like that Darth Maul was brought back, I appreciate this story and I think it was one of the best to come out of the Clone Wars. The Shadow Collective is a perfect Sith Tool and I can’t wait to see how Dooku and Sidious deal with the new threat to their end game and plans.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 3, Episodes 12-14 – “Witches of Dathomir Arc” – Factions of the Dark Side

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    “The Witches of Dathomir Arc” is a really great arc in how it shows just how many people use the Dark Side and how by it’s nature it is easy to turn the different users on one another. The one issue I had was one of my issues with “The Force Unleashed” videogame that I will go into deeper into the review. Suffice to say, there are a lot great characters introduced in this arc and it’s exploration of the Dark Side is something that we have yet to see done in regards to the Light Side.

      “Nightsisters” was directed by Giancarlo Volpe and written by Katie Lucas. “Monster” was directed by Kyle Dunlevy and written by Katie Lucas and “Witches of the Mist”was directed by Giancarlo Volpe and written by Katie Lucas.

    The story involves Dooku’s attempt to kill Ventress after Sidious orders him too and how she returns home to the Nightsisters who with Mother Talzin work towards Dooku’s fall. First with an attempt using 2 sisters Ventress being cloaked and second with choosing a Zabrak of the blood of Darth Maul so that he can be shaped into a weapon to destroy Dooku. From here things fall apart as the only one coming out on top with plans still unknown is Mother Talzin.

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The Pros: The Action – There are some great fights this episode, with the ones that stood out the most being the three-way fight between Opress, Dooku and Ventress and also the one on one fights between them too where their styles really came out…the 3 on 1 fight against Dooku was also really good too when the Nightsisters attempted to kill him, and of course Opress against Anakin and Obi-Wan where it was a callback to Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan against Maul.

The Nightsisters – This organization is cool. They rule over the Zabrak’s and are a matriarchal society with Mother Talzin at their head who has her own mysterious agenda that is unknown. They are force users but stick to themselves and the only ones they really use are those who come to them or those they owe a debt too. This makes them not evil, but certainly not good as they deal primarily in dark side force magics.

Ventress – Ventress is a survivor and survivors multiple attempts on her life. From Anakin and Obi-Wan, to Dooku’s betrayal and to every fight she loses with Dooku and the only one she loses against Opress. She is left empty at the end of it all, showing that their is hope for her redemption given anger and hatred has not got her revenge and she’s only made more enemies. Her tragic story is revealed too as she was given away to protect the Witches from outsiders and she lost the bounty hunters to a Jedi attack and lost the Jedi Master who was raising her to another assault by pirates…she was alone until Dooku who was her knew father until her betrayal. Ventress is forever alone and it makes her tragic and compelling.

Count Dooku – Dooku is a true Sith Lord. From his willingness to kill Ventress for Sidious to prove his loyalty, to his using his very elegant form of fighting to beat enemies who outnumber him and try to take away his senses. He is the only character who manages to turn every loss into a win besides Mother Talzin showing why he is the leader of the Separatists and why he is a threat to Sidious.

Obi-Wan Kenobi – Obi-Wan gets Mother Talzin to speak about Opress, which is something she didn’t have to do. He also shows how much he values life when the Zabraks attack and he only defends himself and never strikes to kill. Anakin is Anakin and on the edge always but Obi-Wan demonstrates the other side and how in many ways he is if Dooku hadn’t gone bad as he can deal with anyone no matter where they are in regards to the force.

Opress – Opress is a tool of Mother Talzin who loses his brother when he is pumped full of Dark Side magics to make him a weapon and was made to be a slave. Even being a slave he still manages to fight though as he turns against both Dooku and Ventress who had tried to use him and finds the only person who he might be able to trust in Talzin who reveals to him that Darth Maul is still alive and that he can still grow as a powerful force user and Sith. His story is one of anger and regret and his fighting style is heavy and brutal.

Mother Talzin – Mother Talzin’s agenda rules everything and it is still and unknown. She sees the future though as she talks of Opress’s destiny with his brother Darth Maul and we know that Ventress is still a Nightsister with a purpose too. What these purposes are remains to be seen and how the Jedi fall into it.

The Chaos of the Dark Side – The Dark Side by it’s nature of revenge doesn’t leave much room for forgiveness and diplomacy and we see that when the episode ends with Opress going his own way, Ventress still seeking revenge and Dooku still alive. There are now 3 Dark Side users who serve no agenda but their own and that is the nature of the Dark Side as each of them will grow more powerful in the fight against one another, but they may all die in the process.

The Cons: Retconning Maul’s Death – Maul is apparently in exile in the Outer Rim? This makes no sense, no one could survive that fall and it’s as stupid as having Shaak Ti continually being brought back to life only to be killed in “The Force Unleashed.” I get Maul is popular but just leave his blood and lead Savage Opress stand on his own as he is compelling enough with his relationship to Ventress, Talzin and Dooku.

  I really dislike the retcon of Darth Maul’s death as a character should stay dead if it’s in canon as each time they are brought back cheapens how they were defeated prior and usually it means lack of ideas on whoever is writing the retcon. Besides that retcon this is a really strong arc and I highly recommend it, especially for the characters of Talzin, Dooku, Opress and Ventress who are shown to be highly complex and who I am glad are still around to fight another day.

Final Score: 9 / 10

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