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Monday, December 30, 2019

Rise of Skywalker: Should Have Paid Attention to the Bad Reviews

This is a review of "The Rise of Skywalker" written by a non-fan. This review contains spoilers.

I saw the first three Star Wars movies because my sister was a fan. I watched the second three because I write and teach about popular culture. After that I'd had enough, and I refused, for a long time, to watch the "The Force Awakens."

My sister and I used to watch cinema classics together, films directed by powerhouses like Frank Capra, Victor Fleming, John Frankenheimer, Billy Wilder, D. W. Griffith, David Lean, and others. She told me that there was this new movie that I HAD to see. I sat next to her in the theater, excited and delighted. After the lights went up, I looked at my sister as if she had been possessed by aliens. I realized I didn't know my sister as well as I thought I did. How could my highly intelligent sister like this childish cartoon?

Star Wars movies don't work for me because nothing is at stake. In a movie I can care about, a person with circumscribed assets and flaws faces a defined problem and uses his assets or even his flaws to attempt to overcome the problem. Maybe a shy person learns courage and takes on a powerful opponent, and even wins. I like watching that process.

In Star Wars movies, if the scriptwriter wants to give a character flight, ESP, invisibility, levitation, or speed faster than light, all of a sudden the character has those qualities. The same process applies to the villains. If the scriptwriter wants to make the villains immortal, omnipotent, or omniscient, suddenly the villain has that quality. If the movie is almost over and it's time for the protagonists to win, then suddenly, defying any internal logic whatsoever, the omnipotent villain stubs his toe and is defeated.

All planets have oxygen, liquid water, the exact, carefully calibrated gravitational pull that makes life possible, and everyone speaks English. Everyone, including rebels who are meant to be outside society, is capable of travel faster than the speed of light. Light speed travel has no impact on these folks' biology or chronology.

To engineer and fuel a vehicle that can travel faster than light would require a massive, communal effort. Rebels living in the woods would never be able to manage such a feat. The villains could squash them like bugs. There'd be no resistance.

How can a viewer care about any of this? Evidently billions of people do, and I realize, not only that I did not know my sister as well as I thought I did, I do not know my fellow humans as well as I thought I did.

Somehow I managed to watch the second installment of the current Rey-centered trilogy, "The Last Jedi." "The Last Jedi" actually featured qualities I value in film: star-power actors, literate scriptwriting, and compelling conflicts.

Daisy Ridley as Rey turned me into a Star Wars fan – for two movies, anyway. Ridley is beautiful in a real girl kind of way. She doesn't have gigantic boobs or a slutty air. Rey is smart, dignified, decent, and independent. Star Wars never does to Rey what it did to Carrie Fisher. It never makes her the almost naked sex toy of Jabba the Hut.

I also loved to hate Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, one of my favorite movie villains. Kylo Ren wipes out a village, tortures a resistance fighter, and kills Han Solo, his own father and a very appealing character. I really wanted to see this villain vanquished with extreme prejudice.

It's undeniable that Adam Driver is an attractive guy, and that there was sexual tension between him and Rey. Scriptwriters gave Kylo Ren some great lines. He insists on honesty in a way that other Star Wars characters don't. He seemed to be visiting from better, deeper space opera, one penned by Edward Albee. Driver delivered these taunting, truth-telling lines with mature conviction. His voice alone was like a sticky honey trap. That made me hate him even more. I didn't want him to get his evil, seductive mitts on beloved Rey!

I liked "The Last Jedi" so much I went back and watched "The Force Awakens," and I looked forward to the final film that, I hoped, would feature Kylo Ren dying the painful death he earned, at the hands of Rey, a warrior who knew when it is necessary to be merciless. Femininity would not weaken this heroine!

Long story short: I should have paid attention to the bad reviews, and saved my money and time. "The Rise of Skywalker" was as boring as any other Star Wars film. Endless chase scenes. No scene lasting longer than two minutes (how it felt; I did not use a stopwatch). No real dialogue, wit, depth, characterization, stakes, point to it all other than ticket sale cash. The carefully curated multicultural cast – an Hispanic, a black, an Asian – given nothing to do. I wanted to see more of Poe, Finn, and Rose, and they were sidelined.

Palpatine is alive again. He used to be dead. Remember what I said about how things happen not because of any internal logic, but because the scriptwriter wants them to happen? Rey is Palpatine's granddaughter. So, yeah, a scavenger can't be a hero. You have to have evil, royal ancestors to be a hero. Kylo Ren is a bad guy, till Rey heals him of a wound. Then he turns into a good guy. She kisses him and he dies. The end. Meh. I didn't get the Old Testament justice I craved, and all those misguided fangirls out there didn't get the extended hot-tub Reylo payoff they've been cooking up in fan art.

PS: Fans compare Star Wars to Greek mythology. Please. Read Greco-Roman mythology. Homer, Aeschylus, Ovid and Virgil have no competition to fear from Star Wars.


  1. As a once huge movie fan, it's very convenient when everyone speaks English. I can suspend that disbelief in order to ensure things are intelligible to those supporting a movie's revenue stream. Take for example the asshats at Netflix who have dumped dozens (hundreds?) of South Korean videos into their library with no way for the end user to filter without opening each film. There are pictures accompanying them, but are typically so small details are blurred.
    I disagreed with you on the early Star Wars films. They were cute, funny and new. What came after is unimaginative, woke and PC. In other words, boring. And the global cast is appalling including the little Brit you like. Homely, plain, no star power. Yawn.
    Having said all that, I value your opinion on films. My angle is largely political and conservative. These days, it's a hurdle too high for most art of any sort.

    1. "it's very convenient when everyone speaks English."

      That's undeniable ... but it's also an interesting challenge to a Sci fi writer to figure out how communication could take place across species.

      But far be it from me to speak on this topic, as I am not a sci fi fan. So I really have no place critiquing genre conventions. But, as an outsider, I can report reasons why the genre doesn't work for me most of the time.

  2. Your approach to films is honest and logical which covers all genres. By now you should know, there's not much call for those qualities in the film world.
    Sci Fi is my favorite genre in film and literature. In literature there's more time to examine the niceties so the burden of suspending disbelief doesn't overwhelm the entire story. And, believe me, my better half and I are merciless even with SF features if the story is not engrossing. One PC device in use these days that is hard to rectify is where the woman, no matter she weighs 100 lbs., beats up the 250 lb. bruiser. Survey says: (Buzzzzz). One hopes that females with undeveloped critical thinking ability recognizes that those outcomes are highly unlikely.

    P.S. Please don't review any Hallmark films. Thank you.

    1. Yes about skinny little women beating up men. Not a good trend in filmmaking.