Saturday, December 21, 2019
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker
Based on the works and characters of George Lucas, The Rise of Skywalker (Star Wars Episode IX) is the final film series of the Skywalker saga as it follows the conclusion of the conflict between the Resistance and the First Order with ties to their respective allegiances in the Jedi and the Sith. Directed by J.J. Abrams with a screenplay by Abrams and Chris Terrio from a story by Abrams, Terrio, Derek Connolly, and Colin Trevorrow, the film follows the Resistance rebuilding itself to go into a final stand with the First Order while Rey deals with Kylo Ren for the final time. Starring Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Anthony Daniels, Kelly Marie Tran, Billy Dee Williams, Ian McDiarmid, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher in her final film appearance as Leia Organa. The Rise of Skywalker is an exhilarating yet clunky film from J.J. Abrams.
The film follows events after the previous encounter as the remaining forces of the Resistance learn about the dark secret that Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is alive as Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) finds Palpatine learning what he’s created prompting Rey (Daisy Ridley), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) to find out where Palpatine is and why he’s alive. That the film’s main plot as it focuses on Rey making a discovery about her own identity but also what Ren discovered as it relates to Palpatine. The film’s screenplay by J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio is largely straightforward in its narrative but considering the risks that the previous story had done with its narrative. It feels more of a step backwards by going back to something that calls back to other narratives of previous films as well as rely on exposition at times that does hinder the narrative.
The revelation about Palpatine and how he survived the events that led to his supposed death reveal a secret cult that relates to the Sith and the Empire along with other revelations about the First Order’s leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). Ren at first wants to destroy Palpatine but realizes that Palpatine is too powerful and influential to destroy as one of the film’s main plot points involves finding an object that reveals the location of where Palpatine is and his big secret as it’s part of the narrative that involves Rey, Finn, Poe, Chewbacca, and the droids in BB-8 and C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels) as they also go in the search for another mysterious object that Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) had been trying to find many years ago. It is in that narrative where Rey makes some discovers about herself while still finds herself connected with Ren who had discovered her true identity. Though the narrative does manage to flesh out some of the characters but at the disservice of others in favor of playing into a formula of emphasizing on action scene to another action scene with little time for characterization.
J.J. Abrams’ direction is sprawling in terms of its set pieces, action scenes, and in the many different locations the film is set with much of the film shot at Pinewood Studios in London and some of the desert locations in Jordan. Abrams’ direction does use a lot of wide and medium shots to get a scope of these locations that include a celebration on a planet that happens every 42 years while establishing the rule of the First Order as they venture into many planets of the galaxy to find Rey, Finn, and Poe who have become major targets for the First Order prompting Ren to send the Knights of Ren to find them. Abrams does at least establish what is going on while many of the action sequences and lightsaber battles are thrilling. Those scenes are fun to watch including the film’s climax between the Resistance and the First Order in a massive final battle scene that does have a lot of callbacks to the films of the past including a few notable characters from those past films.
There are some intimate moments that have elements of humor and drama in some of the scenes that Abrams creates with the usage of close-ups and medium shots yet it is hampered by the film’s script and narrative where it never does enough to get the characters to figure out what to do next. Though there are scenes that do play into revelations about Poe’s own background as well as Finn meeting a woman in Jannah (Naomi Ackie) who shares a similar background that Finn had endured. Abrams unfortunately underwhelms when it comes to the scenes involving Palpatine in its third act as there are also a few moments in the third act that are cheesy. Still, Abrams does succeed in creating a fitting conclusion to the series as it is about a young woman understanding who she is but show she chooses to be in the end. Overall, Abrams crafts a thrilling although derivative film about a conflict that reaches its breaking point.
Cinematographer Dan Mindel does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of dark-bluish light for some of the scenes on the planet of Exegol along with scenes on a planet where Poe meets an old friend along with some colorful lighting for some of the daytime exterior scenes including some gorgeous work in the film’s ending. Editors Maryann Brandon and Stefan Grube do nice work with the editing as it is does play into the thrill of the action and the rhythm of the lightsaber battles along with some straightforward cuts for some of the non-action scenes. Production designers Rick Carter and Kevin Jenkins, along with set decorator Rosemary Brandenburg and supervising art director Paul Inglis, do amazing work with the look of the planet that Palpatine lives in as well as the design of a few ships and the home base of the Resistance. Costume designer Michael Kaplan does fantastic work with costume designs in the look of Poe’s old ally Zorri Bliss (Keri Russell) as well as the ragged look of the Resistance.
Creature designer Neal Scanlan does excellent work with the look of some of the creatures Rey, Poe, and Finn encounter including a tiny hacker named Babu Frik (voice of Shirley Henderson) who would decode something relating to ancient Sith translation. Special effects supervisor Dominic Tuohy and visual effects supervisor Roger Guyett do incredible work with the special effects in the usage of practical effects along with computer-based effects for some scenes including a flashback scene of Luke training Leia as it play into a major plot-point for Rey in the film’s third act. Sound editors David Acord and Matthew Wood do superb work with the sound in creating many sound effects and textures into the sound including a collage of voices during Rey’s confrontation with Palpatine. The film’s music by John Williams is phenomenal for its orchestral-based score that feature some familiar themes relating to his work from the past but also some thrilling pieces in the string arrangements and bombastic moments that play into the sense of adventure and drama.
The casting by Nina Gold, April Webster, and Alyssa Weisberg is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Jamie Comer and Billy Howle as a couple protecting a young Rey, Mike Quinn and Kipsang Rotich in their respective work as performer and voice of Nien Nunb, music composer John Williams as a bartender, Dominic Monaghan as a Resistance trooper, Greg Grunberg as Resistance pilot Snap Wexley, Shirley Henderson as the voice of hacker Babu Frik, and Billie Lourd as Lt. Connix. The performances of Hassan Taj and Lee Towersey as R2-D2 and the duo of Dave Chapman and Brian Herring as BB-8 are terrific in providing the puppeteer work of the droids with J.J. Abrams as the voice of a droid BB-8 befriends in D-O. Kelly Marie Tran is good as Resistance mechanic/fighter Rose Tico though she doesn’t really much to do while Naomi Ackie is superb as Jannah as a Resistance ally who is part of a group of people that shared similar experiences that Finn went through as a Stormtrooper.
Joonas Suotomo, Anthony Daniels. and Billy Dee Williams are fantastic in their respective roles as Chewbacca, the droid C-3P0 and Lando Calrissian as two war veterans with Chewbacca helping Rey, Poe, and Finn in their mission with C-3P0 joining along as he also provides key information that would help them find their destination while Calrissian appears to give them advice as well as some inspirational words before he rejoins the fight. Richard E. Grant is brilliant as General Pryde as a First Order leader who was also part of the Empire while Domnhall Gleeson is alright as General Hux as a First Order leader who tries to find ways not to get into Ren’s bad side. Keri Russell and Lupita Nyong’o are amazing in their respective roles as an old friend of Poe in Zorri Bliss and the space pirate Maz Kanata with former having some issues with Poe over things from the past while the latter is aware of what is going on as she tries to reach out to other allies. Ian McDiarmid is remarkable as Palpatine as he doesn’t appear much in the film except in the opening sequence and in the third act as the former Sith lord and leader of the Empire who is trying to manipulate and mastermind everything around him while carrying a major secret of his own.
Oscar Isaac and John Boyega are marvelous in their respective roles as Poe Dameron and Finn with the former as a Resistance pilot who becomes concerned with what to do and how to be a leader while the latter becomes more confident in his role yet expresses his own concern for Rey who admits to feeling troubled by her own visions. Mark Hamill is incredible in his brief appearance as Luke Skywalker as the former Jedi master who appears in one key scene to give Rey guidance as well as admit to his own failures. Through a series of archival appearances from previous films, Carrie Fisher is phenomenal as Leia Organa as the Resistance leader who helps Rey in her Jedi training but also is aware of what is happening where she makes a major decision to reach out to Kylo. Daisy Ridley is sensational as Rey as a young scavenger turned Jedi who becomes troubled by her visions and her past leading questions about her true identity as she becomes conflicted and lost. Finally, there’s Adam Driver in a tremendous performance as Kylo Ren as the First Order’s leader who finds Palpatine hoping to end him only to align with him as he struggles with his own issues concerning Rey and her true identity along with the need to prove to himself to the dark side of the Force.
The Rise of Skywalker is a superb though flawed film from J.J. Abrams. Despite its shortcomings in its script and emphasis to play it safe rather than take risks, the film still manages to be exciting and adventurous. Notably as it features great performances from its ensemble cast as well as dazzling visuals. In the end, The Rise of Skywalker is a stellar film from J.J. Abrams.
Star Wars Films: Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back - Return of the Jedi - The Phantom Menace - Attack of the Clones - Revenge of the Sith - The Force Awakens - The Last Jedi
Anthology Series: Rogue One - Solo
Related: The Star Wars Holiday Special - Caravan of Courage - The Battle for Endor - The Clone Wars - Fanboys - The People vs. George Lucas
George Lucas Films: THX 1138 – (American Graffiti)
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