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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker •••1/2

Starring: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver
Director: J.J. Abrams
Screenplay: Chris Terrio and J.J. Abrams
Action/Adventure/Fantasy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 142 minutes
Release Date: December 20, 2019




Is this the origin story of Luke Skywalker or the end of the Star Wars saga?

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

You’re always trying to get a Rise out of me, Gregger. Let’s recap.

It seems that the rebels have survived and are plotting their final attack. Rey (Daisy Ridley) is being Jedi-trained by Admiral Leia (Carrie Fisher). A message has been received featuring the voice of the assumed-dead Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). Meanwhile Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is summoned by Palpatine to lead a new armada to seek out and destroy the rebels especially Rey – whom he feels is getting too strong with the Force. Ren, however has other plans – to join forces with Rey and lead the galaxy into a new era.

The group meets up with Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), who discloses the wayfinder’s (a sort of galactic GPS)  last known location. Kylo searches for Rey with his warrior subordinates, the Knights of Ren. Rey and the others discover the remains of a Jedi hunter’s ship along with a dagger inscribed with Sith text, which C-3PO is unable to interpret. The First Order captures the Falcon, Chewbacca, and the dagger. While saving Chewbacca, Rey accidentally destroys a First Order transport with force lightening. And so on.

What a frickin’ relief that this series is finally over. I can’t say I was looking forward to this film as much as looking forward to it being over. The biggest problem I have with this latest incarnation of the Star Wars franchise (episodes VII, VIII, and IX) is just how childish they are. That is to say, appropriate for children rather than adults (thanks to Disney’s ownership). The plot is nonsensical, meandering, and pointless. There are lots of opportunities for merchandising – especially new ‘cute’ toys. There is nearly nothing new in this story. And finally, there’s a ton of ret-conning to make this story come together.

Perhaps the biggest problem of this film, being the conclusion of the latest trilogy, is that it completely ignores the last film in the series. There clearly was no plan for these three films. The first film (The Force Awakens) set a very nice foundation for what could have been a fantastic journey. The second (The Last Jedi) practically ignored the first, introduced new characters who did nothing and had no arc, and diversions which led nothing to the plot. Finally, JJ Abrams comes in to “save the day” to wrap everything up by dropping all the threads the last film left dangling and creating an ending that was somewhat satisfying, but ultimately is just a visual feast and a shoe-horned conclusion. Star Wars (and its fans) deserved much more.

Rey has a great hero’s journey arc as she finally summons the powers of all the Jedi who came before her and defeats Emperor Palpatine (who also has all the powers of the Sith before him). Strangely, we get snippets of Leia training with Luke (using the now-familiar “youthenizing” power of CGI) and giving up her light saber (for no apparent reason). Rey takes up both Luke and Leia’s light sabers to kill Palpatine, so it all seems nice and tidy. Ultimately, Rey goes from an urchin on a desert planet to become the final Skywalker. It’s not a bad story arc, but clearly not one that was planned from the beginning.

Greg, I have no doubt that for freakishly faithful Star Wars fanatics, this movie hits a home run. We have the classic good versus evil storyline that Star Wars has mastered to Campbellian perfection. The film boasts a glorious cinematography and a number of tremendous, breathtaking outdoor scenic shots that elevate the production value. There’s also a sincere and moving homage to Carrie Fisher’s passing, along with well-placed references to several beloved characters from the era of classic 1970s Star Wars. Plus, we have to give considerable props to Daisy Ridley for her outstanding portrayal of Rey, a true hero in the best Star Wars tradition.

So you’d think that this movie had so much going for it that I’d love it, but I’m afraid that’s not the case. Like you, I felt that the story was fragmented and lacked imagination. You mention the child-like nature of the characters, and I agree that this has always been an issue for me when watching Star Wars movies. To their credit, the characters do represent Jungian archetypes of hero, wizard, demon, mother, father, etc, but these archetypes have always lacked depth and imagination, IMHO.

Most damaging to this movie was the way it elevates Rey’s use of “The Force” — and then mismanages it. We learn that Rey’s use of the force is growing, and now it appears that she has the powers of a wizard, able to move objects and manipulate others’ thoughts. We are then subjected to scenes where she desperately needs these powers yet doesn’t use them. This is just sloppy writing. We’ve seen similar misuses of magic in the Lord of the Rings movies and now they’re haunting us again. smh.

Despite the fact that I am not happy with the handling of the final three episodes of the franchise (see our upcoming Star Wars Saga special Reel Heroes review), I think this film is above average. I agree with your assessment of Daisy Ridley. More than any other actor brought into the Star Wars franchise, she delivers the deepest presentation of her character. Ridley’s Rey is tough, independent, athletic, and attractive. The special effects, pacing, and hobbled-together conclusion were all satisfying. I can give Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker 4 out of 5 Reels.

As we’ve already discussed, Rey is a great hero. Also, the use of existing Carrie Fisher footage and CGI effects give us a powerful (albeit ret-conned) Princess/Admiral Leia. This delivers a send off for both the actress and the character that is fitting. The final scenes where Rey returns to Tatooine and takes on the Skywalker name (with Luke and Leia as a strange sort of simultaneous father/mother and aunt/uncle) bring the whole series full circle – much as Campbell’s Hero’s Journey would require. I give these characters 4 out of 5 Heroes.

Finally, the message is completely lost here. The one we might have anticipated from the previous film was “we can all be Jedi (heroes)” was given up for “we can win if we stick together.” This is completely watered down and delivered in a haphazard and ham-handed manner. I can only muster 2 out of 5 Message points.

Movie: Message: Heroes:

Greg, this rendition of Star Wars is, as you put it, above average and fairly entertaining. As I’ve noted, true Star Wars aficionados will go ga-ga about this film and will admire its loyalty the key precepts of the franchise. Like you, Greg, I admired the character of Rey above all others, and I hope we see the multi-talented Daisy Ridley in future movies. This movie seemed fragmented to me and doesn’t treat Rey’s enhanced use of The Force with logical consistency. Overall the best I can do is award this film 3 Reels out of 5.

There is a strong hero’s story here, with plenty of challenges for our ensemble of heroes and ample opportunity for them to develop the heroic traits of courage, resilience, and resourcefulness. These are integral parts of The Great Eight traits of heroes. Overall, I give our heroes 4 Hero points out of 5.

The message of this movie, if there is one, is that we’re all in this together and we’re stronger working together than separately. Not a bad message but not very compelling, either. Like you, Greg, I’d call it “ham-handed” even if I’m not sure if hams have hands. I give the message just 2 Message points out of 5.

Movie: Message: Heroes:

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