Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker Or The Rise Of Fan Service?

19

Dec 19

Rather like the Force, this review has a Light Side and a Dark Side.

Firstly, the Light Side … this first version of the review has no major spoilers, we don’t serve their kind in here! But, that said, simply having an opinion about something might be considered a spoiler. So, if you’re really concerned about spoilage – save this ’til later. Okay?

After that, however, you will find the Dark Side of the review, the full, uncut, safeties off, no-holds-barred, special edition. You will never find a more wretched hive of spoilers and villainy. You must be cautious.

But first, the Light side…

The Light Side: the non-spoiler review

Star Wars Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker is a film that is desperate to please. They should have called it The Rise of Fan Service – since they seem to have written down a list of things the fans will most want to see, then ticked them off one by one.

And, the first order of business was to force J.J. Abrams back into the director’s seat, because they needed a safe pair of hands to steer the franchise back onto the path of Lucasness. This is why The Rise of Fan Service is nothing more than a tribute act to the first Star Wars trilogy.

The Last Jedi took the franchise in exciting new directions, most profoundly, with the revelation that Rey wasn’t a victim of destiny, she wasn’t related to anyone important, that she was a self-made Jedi.

Well, the fans hated – absolutely loathed – this sudden unraveling of old Star Wars truths. The notion of toxic fandom boiled over with this movie. The Dark Side was triumphant.

So, this new film promptly and effectively undoes all of that work and Abrams successfully erases The Last Jedi from the Star Wars universe and the memories of the fans who resented being challenged by it.

Personally, I loved The Last Jedi – I felt then, and still feel now, that it is the most brilliantly conceived and executed of all the Star Wars films. Yes, all of them!

The first Abrams film – The Franchise Awakens – was a slavish re-enactment of the original Star Wars. This new film ticks off all the elements he didn’t get round to that time. And it’s all presented at a barn-storming pace that prevents you from thinking about just how depressingly familiar it all is. There are rarely less than two things going on at once. In a film that runs two and a half hours, this frantic cross-cutting between two different action scenes becomes wearing – you don’t know who to care about, so you decide not to care about any of them.

There’s no denying that The Rise of Fan Service is a proficient and technically impressive achievement, but it lacks the heart and soul that Lucas gave the original trilogy. Abrams’ young cast – particularly Daisy Ridley as Rey, Oscar Isaac as Poe and Adam Driver as Kylo Ren – are much better actors that Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford were back in their day. Consequently, they succeed in breathing life and emotion into poorly-written cipher characters. But, despite their best efforts, the human drama isn’t there, it has been replaced with more and more crashing spaceships and ever-bigger explosions.

Abrams never allows you to forget this is a Disney film. Disney are the masters of merch and this film offers endless merchandising opportunities. Firstly, there’s the range of new planets we visit – kerching, merchandise – with their cast of strange new aliens – kerching, merchandise –   then there’s the lightsabres. The film goes through them like it goes through planets – kerching, merchandise.

Ultimately, the film is a frantic, familiar whirlwind of under-cooked drama, with epic moments which fly-by so fast you miss them. Is this a fitting crescendo to the film series which has defined our generation? No. Is it a guaranteed cash-cow for Disney for years to come? Oh, yes.

I suspect the fanboys who raged against The Last Jedi will love this film. It panders to them in a very satisfying coffer-filling way. There’s no doubt this film will bring in the usual billion dollars – probably before Christmas.

But, to my mind, what The Rise of Fan Service also achieves is a different form of repetition. In all three trilogies, the second film is the only one worth revisiting and the third one is the noisiest, clumsiest and least enjoyable of the bunch.

Now we are visiting the Dark Side. The spoilers are strong from here on in. If you follow this path, we presume that you’ve seen Star Wars Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker already, or you’re not planning to. Either way, if you scroll past this image of Dark Rey, spoilers there are, yes!

The Dark Side: the spoiler-filled review

Star Wars Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker is a film that is desperate to please. They should have called it The Rise of Fan Service – since they seem to have written down a list of things the fans will most want to see, then ticked them off one by one.

And, the first order of business was to parachute Abrams back into the director’s seat, because they needed a safe pair of hands to steer the franchise back onto the path of Lucasness. This is why The Rise of Fan Service is nothing more than a tribute act to the first Star Wars trilogy.

The Last Jedi took the franchise in exciting new directions, most profoundly, with the revelation that Rey wasn’t a victim of destiny, she wasn’t related to anyone important, that she was a self-made Jedi.

Well, the fans hated – absolutely loathed – this sudden unravelling of old Star Wars truths. The notion of toxic fandom boiled over with this movie. The Dark Side was triumphant.

So, this new film promptly and effectively undoes all of that work. When Last Jedi ended, the Rebellion was down to a handful of people – you could pack them all in the Millennium Falcon with room to spare. But now, magically, there are hundreds of them again and they have hundreds of fighter space ships. Benicio Del Toro’s character, DJ, who left such a troubling and intriguing mark on the last film, he’s forgotten about. The mask which Ren destroyed as a symbol of him breaking the hold Darth Vader and Snoke had over him, he has that welded back together. Kelly Marie Tran’s character, Rose – who was the focus of so much of the deeply troubling fanboy bile – has been sidelined. In this way, Lucasfilm has successfully erased The Last Jedi from the Star Wars universe and the memories of the fans who resented being challenged by it.

Personally, I loved The Last Jedi – I felt then, and still feel now, that it is the most brilliantly conceived and executed of all the Star Wars films. Yes, all of them!

The first Abrams film – The Franchise Awakens – was a slavish re-enactment of the original Star Wars. This new film ticks off all the elements he didn’t get round to that time. Breaking someone out of the Empire’s prison? Check. Cantina full of aliens on a desert planet? Check. The guy in black Force-choking a critic around a big table? Check. Our hero using the call-sign ‘Red Five’? Check. Then there’s the final act of Return of the Jedi re-created almost in its entirety – including, most damningly of all, a shot of the goddamn Ewoks watching the fight. They may as well have thrown Jar-Jar in there, for good measure.

And it’s all presented at a barn-storming pace that prevents you from thinking about just how depressingly familiar it all is. There are rarely less than two things going on at once. In a film that runs two and a half hours, this frantic cross-cutting between two different action scenes becomes wearing – you don’t know who to care about, so you decide not to care about any of them.

There’s no denying that The Rise of Fan Service is a proficient and technically impressive achievement, but it lacks the heart and soul that Lucas gave the original trilogy. Abrams’ young cast – particularly Daisy Ridley as Rey, Oscar Isaac as Poe and Adam Driver as Kylo Ren – are much better actors that Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford were back in their day. Consequently, they succeed in breathing life and emotion into poorly-written cipher characters. But, despite their best efforts, the human drama isn’t there, it has been replaced with more and more crashing spaceships and ever-bigger explosions.

There are moments of pathos, here – particularly when C-3PO and Chewie make the ultimate sacrifice – but the emotion is promptly shattered because Threepio’s reboot is played for laughs (and telegraphed in the trailer) which shows disrespect to the character (since the droids are the only characters to have been in all nine films) and to Anthony Daniels’ restless loyalty to the series. This is his big hero moment, and nobody cares. As for Chewie, he is ‘dead’ for barely five minutes. Both of these moments could have been milked for real drama and pathos but, instead … oops, it must be ten minutes since the last chase scene, time for another… 

And then there’s the endless cavalcade of fan service. Okay, we get it, we understand, this film is all about legacy but, please, you don’t have to accede to every single opportunity for pandering.

As we know, in Star Wars, being dead is no bar to being actively involved in the universe … But, this film takes that to ridiculous lengths. As C-3PO says, at one point “This isn’t the afterlife, is it? Are droids allowed here?” It may well be. Given the number of dead characters who get to return for a ‘guest star’ spot, you’d be forgiven for thinking so.

The Emperor, he’s not dead (that isn’t a spoiler, he’s in the trailer and the film’s opening crawl tells us he’s back), Lando – not dead (also in the trailer). Luke turns up at a dramatically convenient moment to bestow some more wisdom (no surprise, as he voices the trailer). There’s even a moment when Rey hears the voices of all the Jedi who came before – including Yoda and I’m pretty sure I heard Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor in the mix.

When Han Solo magically pops up to continue the conversation he was having with his son, which was rudely interrupted by a lightsabre; this leads Kylo Ren to reject his status as Sith, Supreme Leader and mask-wearing badguy, after which he’s not sure if he’s Ren or Ben Solo. Ren-Ben, then.

All of this dead-not-dead stuff really undercuts the drama. We’re supposed to fear for these characters – but what’s at stake if dying is negotiable?

Ultimately, having the showdown between Rey and Ren-Ben mirror Luke and Darth’s showdown – right down to the fight being in the Emperor’s throne room while a space battle proceeds overhead, was just one final kick in the nuts of originality.

Hell, even the poster is a visual quote of the first Return of the Jedi poster, from the days when it was still called Revenge of the Jedi.

Star Wars: the saga repeats

 

Abrams never allows you to forget this is a Disney film. Disney are the masters of merch and this film offers endless merchandising opportunities. Firstly, there’s the range of new planets we visit, with their cast of strange new aliens – we have to get a clue on one planet, go to another planet to have it translated, so it can send us to a third planet to find the directions to a fourth planet, while the Rebellion is massing on a fifth planet – and each of those planets – kerching, merchandise. 

Then there’s the lightsabres. Rey goes through them like the story goes through planets. Initially, she is given Luke’s sabre – kerching, merchandise – then, in a scene we saw in the trailer, she has a double-bladed red lightsabre – kerching, merchandise – before being given Leia’s lightsabre (apparently Leia did have one) – kerching, merchandise – and, finally, she builds her own yellow-bladed lightsabre – kerching, merchandise.

Ultimately, the film is a frantic, familiar whirlwind of under-cooked drama, with epic moments which fly-by so fast you miss them. Is this a fitting crescendo to the film series which has defined our generation? No. Is it a guaranteed cash-cow for Disney for years to come? Oh, yes.

I suspect the fanboys who raged against The Last Jedi will love this film. It panders to them in a very satisfying coffer-filling way. There’s no doubt this film will bring in the usual billion dollars – probably before Christmas.

But, to my mind, what The Rise of Skywalker also achieves is a different form of repetition. In all three trilogies, the second film is the only one worth revisiting and the third one is the noisiest, clumsiest and least enjoyable of the bunch. God damn those Ewoks.

So, what do you think?

Is this a fitting end to an epoch-making cultural phenomenon,  a shameless cash-grab by a culturally redundant franchise, or somewhere in-between?? Reach out to us on the Twitter or Facebook and let us know.

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