Original Score (John Williams)
Visual Effects (Scanlan/Tubach/Tuohy/Guyett)
Sound Editing (Wood/Acord)
Just in case you didn’t know, Rise of Skywalker is the ninth and last movie in the sequence of films that were planned by George Lucas when he developed the original Star Wars film some 42 years ago. Anyone my age remembers sitting in the theater and watching the ‘scroll’ across the film followed by the incredible evil space ship as it filled the entire screen with detailed features that had ominous photographic quality. Although 2001 pioneered the technical aspects of space-age movies, the Star Wars series brought the story to the audiences to make it emotionally compelling. Sure, it was a little simplistic in its portrayal of good and evil, but it sure was a lot of fun and the main characters were adorable.
The first three films (from 1977 to 1983) were all well received and the franchise was set to become one of the biggest success stories of all time. The money flowed and the technology it bought was increasingly sophisticated yielding three terrific movies. The first movie was written and directed by George Lucas himself, but for the next two he brought in other people to handle these tasks, although I’m sure he retained executive control and he wrote the story lines for all three. These movies were extremely well received by both audiences and critics.
After the first three there was a long pause. Lucas did some Star Wars spin-off stuff and some Indiana Jones movies, but mostly it seems he enjoyed his success. Eventually, though, Lucas went back to the Star Wars story and began to work out the story line for what happens before the original trilogy – the origin stories. The result (from 1999 to 2005) was the second trilogy, also known as ‘The Prequel’. For these three movies, Lucas assumed nearly total control, writing not only the stories, but also the screenplays. And he also directed all three movies. The Prequel was not a collaborative effort but was, to some degree, a Lucas ego-trip.
And they didn’t work. Critics panned them and even loyal Star Wars fans struggled to find something they could rally for. (Partly because I was struggling through the end of one marriage and the beginning of another, I don’t even think I saw these films when they first came out.)
At any rate, Lucas, apparently fed up with the whole thing sold the whole enterprise to Disney for a meager little $4 billion. And Disney, always eager to collect on a cash cow – and justify their purchase from Lucas – began the process of creating the final trilogy – the sequel to the original movies. But at this point, it isn’t clear that Lucas is involved at all – he is credited for creating the characters, but not the story or the screenplay on any of the last three movies. Whatever vision Lucas had for how the story was going to play out was now either non-existent, or irrelevant.
The first sequel trilogy, The Force Awakens (2015), was written by Lawrence Kasdan, Michael Arndt, and the director J.J. Abrams. Kasdan had extensive writing credits, including four Oscar nominations, and had worked with Lucas on earlier Star Wars and Indiana Jones efforts. Even if Lucas wasn’t intimately involved in the writing, Kasdan probably brought forward some of his sensibilities. Abrams had experience with space and other action movies, having directed the first Star Trek movie, Super 8, and Mission Impossible. And so The Force Awakens was actually well received by both audiences and critics alike. This movie also introduced the new generation of characters, elevating a female character, Rey, (Daisy Ridley) into the spotlighted lead role. The cast of supporting characters was also beautifully balanced. Everyone liked the results and were hopeful that the final trilogy would live up to expectations, even if Lucas was no longer involved.
But then Disney decided to screw things up. Rather than maintain continuity, it seems that they chose instead the economic argument of getting the next movie out quickly. Unfortunately, the team that made The Force Awakens, was not available to make the second one of the trilogy, The Last Jedi. For unknown reasons they picked Rian Johnson to both write and direct the next feature. Now Johnson is not a bad filmmaker – I loved his other film this year, Knives Out. But lets say he is a ‘different’ filmmaker, giving us movies like Brick and Looper. What he seemed to make in The Last Jedi, was a film with a completely different tone and texture from the one Abrams made. Plus, lacking the continuity of a writing team with Star Wars experience, he took the story in unexpected directions. Interestingly, the critics liked the differences, but the audience did not and the audience ratings for Johnson’s movie were significantly different from the Abrams work.
And that brings us to the last one, The Rise of Skywalker. For this one, they went back to Abrams for director and brought in three entirely new guys to write the story and then the screenplay in addition to Abrams. So consider for a moment, how the last three movies are getting jerked around between different mindsets. Abrams had a vision four years earlier in The Force Awakens, but in order to return to that he also had to deal with the intervening and new story line introduced by Johnson two years before. Plus, Abrams is collaborating with three new guys who had zero history with the Star Wars story. The result is a story that the die hard Star Wars fans found disappointing and even the critics couldn’t make sense out of it. Both audience and critics rate this last movie down there with the second trilogy. And, out of the 38 movies on our Oscar list this year, Rise of Skywalker comes in #36, almost at the bottom. Let’s face it, in Disney’s attempt to quickly squeeze the last ounce of profit out of the Star Wars trademark, they actually managed to screw it up royally.
At least that’s the view of the die-hard fans and the professional critics. But, I would argue that if you aren’t tied up in the overarching story and are just looking for some good entertainment, I think you will find the movie thoroughly enjoyable. Daisy Ridley, as the main character, delivers her best performance yet. Adam Driver, whom I am really coming to admire, does a terrific job being a bad guy, Kylo Ren. And the light-saber battle between the two of them is action-movie stuff at its best. The visual effects, in the creation of alternative worlds, space travel, and the final battle scene are exquisite. John William’s music does a delightful job of quoting themes from past movies and the sound effects to go with the visuals are perfectly out-of-this world.
So, if you can possibly view this movie in isolation from the rest of the trilogy of trilogies, I think you might have some fun. If you have to put it in context of the whole damn multi-decade exercise, well, maybe its time to move on to something else. (3.5 Stars- Watch it – or don’t)