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Tue04072020

Last updateFri, 03 Apr 2020 5pm

Star Wars: Episode IX—The Rise of Skywalker is a disastrous, soulless squandering of the good will built up by The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.

Director J.J. Abrams and producer Kathleen Kennedy should’ve stepped back after producing this rancid film and realized that this franchise deserved a better sendoff. They should’ve eaten the dollars and started over. True fans would’ve waited for a real movie. But sadly, here it is, the last chapter in the Skywalker saga—a chapter that had me longing for The Star Wars Holiday Special in favor of it.

Let me give you some thoughts as the anger flows through me like the Dark Side of the Force. The first hour is virtually unwatchable—fast and furious, but with no editing flow and no sense of purpose other than to get you to the next scene. Fans looking for answers or meaningful storytelling will not only be bewildered, but pissed off. It’s now pretty clear that Abrams and friends had no firm plans when they laid out this trilogy: They were making this crap up as they went along.

The Force Awakens, also directed by Abrams, was a promising start. Heck, I will call it a classic. Then The Last Jedi happened, with Rian Johnson getting permission to go off the reservation with his storytelling—and he most certainly did. Some of the plotting choices in Jedi were odd, but at least that movie was a decent film that felt like a Star Wars movie, even if it was peppered with some laughably bad moments.

The Rise of Skywalker is a laughably bad movie peppered with occasional moments that don’t suck as much as the rest of the others.

The most regretful moment in Star Wars history stands as Princess Leia using the Force to float through deep space and save herself in The Last Jedi. Allowing the character to survive paved the way for what happens here, as “the last performance” of the great Carrie Fisher is cobbled together from outtakes—stuff that was originally meant for the cutting-room floor. It’s awkward; it’s obvious. It reminds of the way Blake Edwards insulted the late Peter Sellers with the posthumously released, and equally terrible, Trail of the Pink Panther.

For the first two trilogies, George Lucas, love him or not, had a solid story plan. He tweaked it along the way, but he governed over what was happening like a mad dictator, even when he wasn’t directing. There was a certain uniformity to the series. After Awakens, Disney and Abrams made the bold choice to hand the storytelling over to Johnson for Jedi (not unlike Lucas giving up directing control for the original trilogy)—and then they second-guessed their own bravery. The Rise of Skywalker is an unabashed Abrams apology for “missteps” of The Last Jedi, rendering the second film a complete joke, and doing everything it can to win back the fans that may have gotten disenchanted, continuity be damned. Some fans were displeased, but that didn’t mean they wanted the spine removed from one of their favorite movie-going experiences in favor of a Star Wars Happy Times mix tape.

As for the return of Emperor Palpatine, his footage plays like a bad Hellraiser sequel. If Palpatine would have had a presence or influence in the two preceding movies, his presence here might’ve made sense. Instead, the sound of his cackle reeks of storytelling desperation. And don’t get me started on the Death Star wreckage.

My advice: Pretend this movie never happened. Allow hologram Luke Skywalker facing down Kylo Ren in Jedi to be the end of the “Skywalker Saga,” and skip this one. Watch the superior The Mandalorian, and use the soul-healing powers of Baby Yoda on Disney+, along with the upcoming Obi Wan series, as your Star Wars fix.

Yeah, I know you are still going to see The Rise of Skywalker. I can’t stop you. This film is a debacle that no movie reviewer can prevent.

Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is now playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

After one of the more tumultuous productions in recent film history, Solo: A Star Wars Story has made it to the big screen—completed by a different director than the ones who started the gig.

About a year ago, director Ron Howard took over for the directing team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie, 21 Jump Street) after producer Kathleen Kennedy showed them the door. Howard took the reins when principal photography was near completion—but then wound up re-shooting 70 percent of the movie.

The film definitely feels like more than one director had their hands in the pot. It’s sloppy; it’s tonally challenged; and scenes crash into each other at times, killing an otherwise brisk and fun pace. There are moments in this movie that feel like they were shoehorned in to fix a story problem.

Yeah, there are some definite negatives at play here—but there are plenty of positives, too. The positives aren’t enough to keep Solo from being one of the weaker Star Wars films, but they are enough to keep it recommendable, and make it a relatively good time at the movies. Diehard Star Wars fans, years from now, will probably shrug and say, “Eh, it was OK,” when asked to re-examine their feelings. In the end, Solo will probably fall somewhere in between The Star Wars Holiday Special and Revenge of the Sith.

Stepping into the iconic role of Han Solo is Alden Ehrenreich (hilarious in the Coen Brothers film Hail, Caesar!), and he’s a guy who has very little in common with Harrison Ford. He doesn’t look like him; he doesn’t sound like him; and he lacks that bemused Ford swagger. However, Ehrenreich does have his own charms, and is a likable actor, so he puts his own spin on Solo. While he didn’t feel like “the” Han Solo to me, he gets by as an enjoyable variation on the guy. Hey, not all of the guys who played James Bond were alike, but there’s more than one good Bond in film history, right?

The film is an origin story, which begs the question, “Does Han Solo really need an origin story?” As a fan, I don’t really need to know the reasons why Harrison Ford’s Solo was a scoundrel with a heart of gold, willing to shoot first and ask questions later—and also put his life on the line multiple times to save the universe. I just liked his attitude, and had no need to see how his past romantic relationships formed that attitude.

That said, it is undeniably enjoyable when he meets Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) for the first time. Han’s budding bond with Chewbacca is a constant smile-inducer, and Glover does Billy Dee Williams proud as the new Lando. In fact, his portrayal of the younger Williams is far more convincing and buyable than Ehrenreich’s younger Ford. Glover is the film’s shining star.

Not faring as well is Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra, an early Solo love interest who just doesn’t catch fire as a worthy character. Clarke has a hand in many franchises (including the latest, failed attempt to reboot the Terminator franchise), and while she is terrific on Game of Thrones, she’s yet to find a feature vehicle that suits her. She seems a bit lost here—perhaps one of the fatalities of the director switch. As an early Han Solo associate in his young gangster days, Woody Harrelson has a little more luck as the crusty Beckett.

As the film’s central villain, Dryden Vos, Paul Bettany might be the dullest Star Wars bad guy yet. This film needed Jabba the Hutt, but instead goes with a guy who sits around in a dark room, sniveling.

There are a couple of fantastic action set pieces, including the infamous Kessel Run and a terrific train heist. When the film is in action mode, and when the Millennium Falcon takes flight, and when Glover occupies the screen, Solo: A Star Wars Story soars. When Han pauses to chat or make out, it stops in its tracks. I enjoyed it … but barely.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is playing in theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews