Recyclable Skywalker

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Critic After Dark

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Directed by J.J. Abrams

FINALLY, the last installment of this third trilogy that George Lucas a long time ago in an era that feels far far away once cobbled together, from Flash Gordon serials, The Adventures of Robin Hood, World War 2 fighter plane footage (particularly The Dam Busters) and, most of all, Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress (with a brief callback to Yojimbo). The capstone to his grand edifice of a fantasy* franchise if you like.

Does the movie live up to all expectations?

I doubt if any film, no matter how well made, can live up to the expectations and/or hype; the producers did do the careful thing and re-hired J.J. Abrams — an expert at picking up worn-out franchises and giving them a shiny updated spin — to pick up this particularly wornout franchise, shine it, update it, give it a clever (but not too clever) spin, to stick a satisfying enough landing. Did it work? Well at $400 million on opening weekend, chances are it’s going to earn its money back, with change.

Is it a satisfying entertainment? I guess, if the nonstop barrage of swordfights, chases, quests, and intermittently amusing quips fired at you is your idea of a good time; personally I’d prefer to rewatch the live-action Dumbo remake — may not be any more sensibly assembled, but at least it has a fairly distinctive visual style.

Does it give us a satisfying conclusion? Haven’t liked a Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back — well, Rogue One was at least made by a filmmaker — so I’m faintly satisfied that it’s concluded. Should have concluded some years ago. Should have stopped at Empire. Not really all that satisfied, come to think of it.

Of course Disney isn’t satisfied with leaving things be — hasn’t been even with its own back catalog. Another trilogy is planned in a few years — if I’m not rolling my eyes at the prospect that’s because Disney might actually hire someone good to do the next few pictures (yes, I’m that kind of masochist).

Of course I’m not holding my breath.

Palpatine is back, which is consistent with Abrams’ probably unintentional theme of recycling (good idea for the environment, not always good for films) — he’s the most memorable bad guy in the movies since Vader, and Vader has been reduced from the towering dark menace in Empire to the twitching emo neurotic crawling up volcanic slopes in Revenge of the Sith. A replacement was needed, so they hired Adam Driver to play a twitching emo neurotic Vader lite — and if that sounds funny, just remember the unstated unintended theme of this third trilogy, apparently, is recycling. We’re being consistent, is all.

And, yes, I’ve been told The Last Jedi broke new ground — in my book didn’t break new enough, just a few fairly clever twists here there, and a visual style that on occasion rose to the occasion. If they really wanted to break new ground they should have gone with original intentions and had David Lynch do Return of the Jedi. Scary? It’s Star Wars, they could have done anything and the folks would’ve eaten it up; the difference is I might have been eating with everyone else.

I figure the franchise’s fate was sealed when Lucas sold the whole shebang to Disney — you don’t look to that studio for creative ferment, only a smoothly calculated and pretty safe return on your investment. Lucas wasn’t thinking of sending his most famous creation in an interesting direction; he just wanted to make sure he was well provided for in his retirement. J.J. Abrams is careful to avoid the mistakes Lucas made — using real landscapes and locations where the latter used fanciful (and plainly weightless) CGI constructs, maybe carefully integrating said locations with sets and discreet CGI enhancements. It’s the only element of real interest in the movie, and maybe the only location of real interest is the Death Star crash site with its titanic waves — though didn’t that thing blow into a billion pieces at the end of the movie?

Otherwise — zilch. Nada. A chore to sit through, though at least the dialogue is passable (if not particularly witty) as opposed to Lucas’ grammatically and dramatically challenged idea of dialogue.

Maybe the only question I’m interested in answering right now is this: which is the less painful experience, listening to Lucas’ excruciating dialogue try take the franchise in a newish direction? Or listen to Abrams’ relatively more polished dialogue while he retreads ground we’ve gone over a few times, like well-flattened roadkill? Which is the less painful experience, the fairly well made retread or the awkwardly assembled new creation? Which would you pick, the root canal or the colonoscopy?

I know what I prefer — leaving it to the interested reader to guess. Not one of the best of the year.

*(As for the debate on whether Star Wars is science fiction or fantasy — let’s not go there. Star Wars’ trappings, from spacecraft that corner and shriek like WW 2 fighters to swords made of laser light that stops at three feet are ridiculous beyond belief; there’s no science involved, and even less interest in exploring the consequences of this science, which is what quality SF is all about.)