Film Review: Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Release Date: December 16th, 2019 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Written by: Chris Terrio, J.J. Abrams, Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow
Based on: characters by George Lucas
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid, Billy Dee Williams, Harrison Ford (uncredited), Billie Lourd, Greg Grunberg, Dominic Monaghan, Warwick Davis, Denis Lawson, Jeff Garlin, Kevin Smith, James Earl Jones (vocal cameo), Andy Serkis (vocal cameo), Ewan McGregor (vocal cameo), Alec Guinness (vocal cameo), Hayden Christensen (vocal cameo), Ashley Eckstein (vocal cameo), Freddie Prinze Jr. (vocal cameo), Olivia d’Abo (vocal cameo), Frank Oz (vocal cameo), Liam Neeson (vocal cameo), Jennifer Hale (vocal cameo), Samuel L. Jackson (vocal cameo), Angelique Perrin (vocal cameo)

Walt Disney Pictures, Lucasfilm, Bad Robot, 142 Minutes

Review:

*There be spoilers here!

“We had each other. That’s how we won.” – Lando Calrissian

Congratulations, Disney and Lucasfilm. You finally broke me to the point that I didn’t have the urge to see a Star Wars movie in the theater. Nope, I waited on this one because the previous few movies left such a bad taste in my mouth that I didn’t want to sit in a crowded theater with a bunch of normies clapping like seals every time there was a weak attempt at a cameo or minor victory. Also, people have been ruining the theater experience for awhile, so this film had that working against it already.

Now I figured I’d go see it once the buzz calmed down and the theaters cleared out a few weeks later but even then, it just wasn’t worth the trip or the money for me to make the effort.

Well, I finally watched it now that it’s available to rent and because this COVID-19 bullshit has us all trapped in our houses with nothing to do.

Anyway, as much as I anticipated not liking this, it was the best film of the three from the Disney produced Sequel Trilogy. Some of the more angry fans out there may think that’s crazy of me to say but I respect the effort of J.J. Abrams trying to fix the abortion that Rian Johnson created with The Last Jedi, especially with the weak skill set that Abrams has.

Honestly, they should have called this Star Wars: Episode IX – MacGuffins and Mystery Boxes but I guess that would require Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, Bob Iger, Disney and Lucasfilm to actually understand humility and that they aren’t the great storytellers that they think they are.

Now this movie had a lot of weird shit that made certain sequences hard to get through. If I’m being honest, there aren’t really any sequences that didn’t have issues. I’ll list out some of my gripes from memory at the end of the main part of this review, as I did for some of my other Disney Star Wars reviews.

If I’m going to talk about what I liked about this film, I guess it’s that it tried really hard to give good fan service. Not so much, soulless, cheap attempts at winning me back but more like an admission that the series fucked up with the previous Rian Johnson stinker and that Abrams felt sorry and embarrassed that his larger vision for this trilogy was skull fucked in the eye by Johnson.

Rian Johnson cared more about his own ego and career than being the trusted custodian of something much larger than himself, which was created by others who were a lot more talented than he will ever be. If that’s harsh, I don’t care. Johnson didn’t care about the responsibility he signed up for, so he can deal with the repercussions of that from the fans who felt betrayed by his piss pigeon performance.

I’m glad that J.J. Abrams kicked Johnson in the nuts though. And his disdain for Johnson’s wreckage was made abundantly clear in the short scene where Luke returns, stops Rey from throwing her lightsaber away and states, “I was wrong.” Then he goes on to tell her what we all needed him to tell her in the previous film. For Luke Skywalker and Mark Hamill’s sake, I’m glad that the character didn’t go out like a weak piece of shit and was somewhat salvaged.

While on the subject of Rey, though, I still don’t understand how she is just simply the best at everything. She has an insanely weak character arc, hasn’t had anywhere near the level of adversity that Luke and Anakin had and you barely see her train at all and then she can barely deal with a fucking tiny laser drone. It’s like these modern filmmakers don’t think beyond what looks cool on the screen in a shot.

Anyway, this movie is a mess, narratively speaking. It’s really two movies wedged into one, as Abrams had to try and course correct while also coming up with a satisfying ending. That being said, he does okay in trying to achieve this but maybe this should have been longer or released as two parts. But I guess he is stuck with the numbering system and being tight within the framework of a trilogy.

Unfortunately, while we do get to see the main three characters spend some time together, it is hard to buy into their bond, as they spent the first two movies apart. I want to believe in it and I actually like the actors but this is something that needed to be done in every film. This is why people love the trinity of Luke, Leia and Han so much. But for whatever reason, Abrams, Kennedy and Iger don’t understand what worked about previous Star Wars films.

As much as my brain was picking things apart, I still found this to be the most palatable of the Disney Saga films. It’s hard to peg why but I think that Abrams genuinely wanted this to make up for the damage that’s been done and he did put his heart into it. But that also doesn’t mean that he was the right guy for the job way back when they announced him for The Force Awakens. He wasn’t and I had reservations about it back then.

In the end, I don’t know if I’ll ever watch any of these films again. If I do, it won’t be for a very long time. Maybe they’ll work better as a larger body of work but I doubt it with Rian Johnson’s big lame turd sitting smack in the middle of it. Honestly, it’s like a cat jumped on the table, took a shit in the middle of a mediocre pizza and you just decided to eat around it.

Assorted notes and gripes:

Watching the film, I was bombarded with a lot of WTF moments, these are the ones I remember. Maybe I should’ve taken notes.

-The opening crawl, immediately revealing Palpatine’s “resurrection” was cringe and the worst written opening crawl in the franchise.

-Who the fuck is manning all of Palpatine’s Star Destroyers?

-Why would the Star Destroyers break through thick ice to reveal themselves? There are hundreds of them and this seems like it would cause a lot of damage? And they’re already on a very hidden planet to begin with.

-Since Palpatine’s appearance isn’t explained but cloning is implied, am I just to assume that there’s only one Palpatine and not like 364?

-Lightspeed skipping? Really? And they land safely within a different planet’s atmosphere with every skip? Really? I’m no astrophysicist but I’d assume a planet’s atmosphere is a small percentage of a planet’s total structure and that planets themselves take up an insanely small amount of actual space in the universe, as a whole.

-“Hey Rose… you coming on the mission?” “Nah… I’m good, bro!”

-The group goes to outer space Burning Man… really?

-Don’t get me started on the jetpack trooper scene. That’s a clusterfuck of cringe and stupidity.

-I’m alright with the healing power but shouldn’t it drain Rey, even just a little bit. I mean, it fucking kills Kylo like two hours later.

-The Rey v. Kylo’s TIE Fighter scene was absolutely, unequivocally stupid. Just crush that shit with the Force, hoe!

-I guess Abrams views Droids as abused house pets.

-Gurl 1: “Not that you care but I think you’re okay.” Gurl 2: “I care.” Girl power! No lesbian kiss.

-So did C-3PO have red LED lights installed this whole time? Where were they when he was attempting to murder Jedi in Attack of the Clones?

-Rey doesn’t feel Chewie “die” on a ship that’s right in front of her. But then Rey feels that Chewie is alive when he’s much further away.

-Where’s Phasma? Is she really dead now? I thought she was Star Wars‘ version of Kenny from South Park.

-Are the Knights of Ren just laser sword thugs who don’t actually answer to Kylo Ren? Sith in training? Palpatine super soldiers? What the fuck are they?

-How does a billion year-old dagger line up with the wreckage of a Death Star that was built well after the dagger. And how was Rey lined up at the right angle and altitude to make it work? This was just a ripoff of the medallion from The Goonies and it was just stupid.

-I’ve lost count of the number of MacGuffins. I think there were five… maybe six? Is this a G.I. Joe miniseries from 1983? Nah… those were much better written.

-Weak as fuck lightsaber duels. Maybe the weakest in the entire franchise.

-Did Leia die because she called out to Kylo or was that just a perfect timing plot convenience?

-Harrison Ford? Why?

-Luke in 30 seconds was the Luke I wanted in the previous movie.

-Rey in a tiny X-Wing had to navigate through tight, dangerous, moving space corridors to reach the Palpatine planet but the Rebels’ big ass warships simply followed her path? It’s space, can’t they fly around that shit? What about the massive fucking armada of “regular people” that just shows up conveniently to win the war?

-Also, a militia of citizens overthrows a corrupt government by force. When did Hollywood become so blatantly pro-Second Amendment? I kid, Hollywood is just stupid.

-When they’re riding horses on the deck of a Star Destroyer, why doesn’t the ship just turn fucking sideways? It would’ve ended the war. One simple maneuver.

-The teleporting physical objects Force power is another lame plot convenience.

-What’s this random fucking Force Dyad thing? Abrams still thinks he’s making up stories with his toys in the bathtub.

-If Palpatine created Anakin and Anakin created Luke and Leia and Leia created Kylo Ren, all the while Rey is Palpatine’s granddaughter, isn’t their attraction kinda incest-y?

-I’d watch a Lando & Chewie in the Falcon movie.

-Why bury the lightsabers? A safe would be more secure.

-Why even take the Skywalker name and why did it take her so long to say it? Maybe because a part of her knew it was wrong to just take their name, their personal shit and Luke’s childhood home. Bitch, you ain’t in the will, that shit all goes to the state!

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: the other Disney era Star Wars movies.

Film Review: Our Man In Havana (1959)

Release Date: December 30th, 1959 (London premiere)
Directed by: Carol Reed
Written by: Graham Greene
Based on: Our Man In Havana by Graham Greene
Music by: Frank Deniz, Laurence Deniz
Cast: Alec Guinness, Burl Ives, Ralph Richardson, Noel Coward, Maureen O’Hara, Ernie Kovacs

Kingsmead Productions, Columbia Pictures, 111 Minutes

Review:

“In our service it is essential to bury the past very quickly and very securely.” – C

This has been in my Criterion Channel queue for a bit and I noticed it was leaving the service, so I wanted to give it a watch.

I didn’t know much about this film other than it starred Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan Kenobi from the original Star Wars trilogy), was directed by the fabulous Carol Reed, who made one of my favorite films of all-time with The Third Man, and it took place in Cuba before the revolution.

Interestingly, some of the film was shot on location in Havana only two months after the overthrow of the Batista regime. Fidel Castro even visited the film’s set and met the crew while they were filming in Cathedral Square.

I had to look the stuff up about where it was shot, as I assumed it couldn’t be shot in Cuba. But the streets and the world looked just like it. I was surprised to see that most of what was captured on screen was authentic other than some of the interior scenes, which were shot at Shepperton Studios in England.

Carol Reed did a stupendous job in capturing the life of Havana at the time. His eye and use of cinematography really brought everything alive in the same way he did with Vienna in his superb masterpiece The Third Man. In fact, this film sort of feels like a true companion to The Third Man in style and subject matter.

Reed also worked with novelist Graham Greene again, as this was an adaptation of Greene’s book of the same name.

Unlike The Third Man, however, this film has more comedy. It follows similar tones but its lightheartedness sets it apart in a unique and charming way. Not to say that Orson Welles didn’t have a charm about him in The Third Man but he’s only in that film for a short bit. Alec Guinness in this picture is in just about every scene and he exudes an infectious charm that lures you in and holds onto you until the final frame.

I really loved this movie. Carol Reed took another Graham Greene story and gave it a pretty pristine visual counterpart. This is a movie that feels truly authentic to the subject matter and gives us a great story in a very lived in and genuine world.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other Carol Reed films, as well as the political thrillers by Alfred Hitchcock.

Film Review: The ‘Star Wars’ Original Trilogy (1977-1983)

*Written in 2015.

I decided to watch through all the previous Star Wars films before going to see The Force Awakens next week. I reviewed the prequel trilogy already and now it is time for my two cents on the original trilogy.

These were the first three films. Two of them came out when I was too young to know anything about film but I do remember my experience seeing Return of the Jedi in the theater when I was four. It is actually the first movie I remember seeing on the big screen and I absolutely loved it. Of course, I had already seen A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back and thus, developed a lifelong obsession with everything Star Wars.

But now I am older, I’m a bit jaded and I experienced everything wrong with the evolution of this beloved franchise. So how would I feel about each of these films, after having not seen them as one unified body of work for several years?

Well, let me address each one individually.

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977):

Release Date: May 25th, 1977
Directed by: George Lucas
Written by: George Lucas
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, James Earl Jones

Lucasfilm Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 121 Minutes

Review:

“I have a very bad feeling about this.” – Luke Skywalker

The first Star Wars film ever released was A New Hope, which was simply known as Star Wars at the time. It was also the only film in the original trilogy to be directed by George Lucas. That is probably why the quality of this trilogy was much better.

This is the smallest feeling film of the Star Wars franchise. It really only takes place on two worlds and one of those worlds is shown only briefly. The rest of the film takes place in space. However, they don’t even leave the first planet for like an hour, which is pretty crazy for a Star Wars film.

This movie also moves the slowest. Not that it is dull or boring but there is more time given to storytelling and character building than any other Star Wars film after this. The interactions between Luke Skywalker and the old Obi-Wan Kenobi are the most intimate in the entire franchise.

The addition of Han Solo and Chewbacca, and later Princess Leia, to the team feels organic and natural and everyone works well with each other. The cast and their camaraderie between the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy is night and day. The strength of their bond only gets better with each installment in this trilogy.

Now this is my least favorite of the original three films. There is just one mediocre lightsaber battle with strange effects, that even after the special editions were released, doesn’t match up with the effects of all the other lightsaber battles.

This film is more about understanding the Force and the mythos of Star Wars, where all the other films just go full action.

But despite a few flaws, that aren’t really worth mentioning, it still plays wonderfully today.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: This specific Star Wars trilogy of films.

Star Wars: Episode V – Empire Strikes Back (1980):

Release Date: May 17th, 1980 (Washington D.C.)
Directed by: Irvin Kershner
Written by: George Lucas, Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, Billy Dee Williams, Frank Oz, James Earl Jones, Clive Revill (original version), Ian McDiarmid (Special Edition)

Lucasfilm Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 124 Minutes

Review:

“I have a bad feeling about this.” – Princess Leia

This movie seems to be the favorite amongst most Star Wars fans. It isn’t my favorite but it is damned good.

I will say that this is the best chapter, as a film, out of all six movies. It is almost a masterpiece. The acting is superb, the tone is magnificent and the big twist in the plot is Earth-shattering if you are not prepared for it. My young mind back in the day nearly exploded.

In this film, you understand the motivations of the characters better. The universe gets much larger, the story gets much darker and our heroes are pitted against odds that seem insurmountable. The stakes are much higher and there is a great sense of loss, doom and gloom before it is all over.

You are introduced to the awesome ice planet Hoth, the characters of Yoda, Lando, the Emperor and Boba Fett (if you don’t count his brief cameo in the special edition version of A New Hope). You also get a glimpse at all the other cool bounty hunters, Vader’s Super Star Destroyer, Snow Troopers and the AT-ATs.

This film acts as a perfect second act, setting up the big climax and solidifying your love of the story and the characters within.

Empire Strikes Back is to space operas what The Good, The Bad and The Ugly was to westerns.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: This specific Star Wars trilogy of films.

Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983):

Release Date: May 25th, 1983
Directed by: Richard Marquand
Written by: George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, Billy Dee Williams, Frank Oz, Ian McDiarmid, Alec Guinness, Warwick Davis, James Earl Jones, Phil Fondacaro

Lucasfilm Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 131 Minutes

Review:

“Artoo, I have a bad feeling about this.” – C-3PO

While I don’t consider this as good and as perfect of a film as Empire Strikes Back, it is still my favorite in the series. The reason being, is it is the most fun and is the largest of the three films. Sure, people hate the Ewoks but I don’t. Wookiees would’ve certainly been cooler than Ewoks in the big final battle but they are like a bunch of James Deans when compared to the Gungans of the prequel trilogy.

This film has my favorite sequence out of any Star Wars chapter and that is the mental chess game played between the Emperor, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. It also has the greatest space battle in the history of cinema. Not to mention that the unfinished skeletal Death Star looks a lot cooler than the complete one from A New Hope.

The first part of this film, dealing with the heroes banding together to rescue the once selfish Han Solo, goes to show how far they have all come and what true friendship means. It was a great lesson to learn as a kid and this is probably the best example of it from my childhood. Plus, Jabba the Hutt and his minions were one of the coolest things in the entire trilogy.

Return of the Jedi is one of the funnest pictures in film history. It is the happy ending you want but still comes at a great price.

It is the near-perfect ending of a near-perfect trilogy.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: This specific Star Wars trilogy of films.