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

Director: J.J. Abrams

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

Screenplay: Chris Terrio, J.J. Abrams

141 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action.

 

Well, we’ve come to the end, haven’t we? I guess, in the grand scheme of things, this is the third end, but who is really counting? With Episode IX, the Skywalker Saga has come to an end…for now, at least. Director J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Super 8) came on to an impossible task of ending the nine-film saga, the sequel trilogy itself, and make a less-divisive film than The Last Jedi. He also had to work around the death of one of his stars, Carrie Fisher (Maps to the Stars, TV’s Family Guy). He also had the, perhaps unfair, perception that he’s much better at starting a story than finishing one. So with all that, is The Rise of Skywalker the perfect film that delivers on all of its goals. As it turns out, it’s more of a mixed bag.

It’s been a year since The Last Jedi, and the crumbling resistance fighters have gained a few additions but still pale in comparison with the size of the dreaded First Order, now under the leadership of Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, Paterson, Marriage Story). Now, a strange message has been sent across the galaxy, seemingly coming from the long-dead Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid, The Lost City of Z, Sleepy Hollow), and it’s up to Rey (Daisy Ridley, Murder on the Orient Express, Ophelia) and her friends to discover his location before he unleashes his new Final Order upon the galaxy.

I think the best way to describe this final film in the Skywalker Saga is “Great Story, Poor Execution.” I had loads of fun in this movie, and I quite enjoyed the experience when I saw it a second time, but there are a lot of strange choices made, particularly in the screenplay and the editing, that I just didn’t understand. I don’t need everything explained for me in a movie, but some of the plot progression happens just because…

The inclusion of Carrie Fisher in this film had to come as a difficult decision. Ultimately, Abrams decided to utilize unused footage from The Force Awakens to create a performance for Leia in the film. Does it work? Kind of. I still stand by my thoughts that it would have served the character and the story better to just not have Fisher in the film and announce in the opening crawl that “Our princess has passed” or something similar. I think for what he tried to do, I can commend Abrams for getting Leia in the film, and the second viewing softened my criticism in the realm of Leia.

Adam Driver is absolutely stellar as Kylo Ren. I don’t agree entirely with the route taken in this film with Kylo Ren, but Driver’s performance sold me on it. Again, Kylo’s arc is one I felt would be better going one way, but the filmmakers decided to take it the expected route. Overall, he surprised me yet again as Ren.

J.J. Abrams did manage to get the galactic Scooby gang together for a bulk of this film. It was crazy to me that Rey and Poe (Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina, The Addams Family) met for the first time officially in The Last Jedi at the end of the film. The Last Jedi also managed to keep most of our heroes separate for a bulk of the runtime, so it’s great that they are all on a journey together. These areas are where a bulk of the lightheartedness of the film takes place and elevates what could be a very dreary story.

Daisy Ridley’s arc as Rey is another tough one to pull off, and I think her performance rises above expectations because of Ridley’s inherent charm onscreen. She’s a fun character and one that the audience has no problems rooting for. Again, there are some twists and turns to her character arc, some I did not expect and didn’t think would work, and they mostly did.

As far as legacy characters go, no one had a better showcase in this film than C-3PO (Anthony Daniels, I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle, The Lord of the Rings). This is 3PO at his most funny and probably most utilized since the first film. Anthony Daniels continues to prove why this franchise continues to go to the C-3PO well.

The rest of the cast all perform ably, and any faults can be attributed to the screenplay. Newcomers Naomi Ackie (Lady Macbeth, Yardie) and Keri Russell (Waitress, TV’s The Americans) are both quite entertaining, but their characters seek only to convolute an already bloated screenplay. The subplot involving General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson, Frank, Peter Rabbit) and General Pryde (Richard E. Grant, Gosford Park, Can You Ever Forgive Me?) is well-acted, but it didn’t need to be in the film and is ultimately meaningless. It was great to see Billy Dee Williams (The LEGO Batman Movie, The Man in 3B) back as Lando Calrissian, but he isn’t given a whole lot to do, and one wonders why he wasn’t included earlier. It seems odd for him to just show up now.

Ian McDiarmid’s return to the franchise does give an overall feeling of cohesiveness to the saga, but Palpatine’s plans for Rey and Kylo just don’t really make sense all around. I love the visual look of Palpatine and the environment he appears in (in fact, some of Ralph McQuarrie’s unused concept art from decades ago was put to good use here), but again, it feels like lazy storytelling and I didn’t get the sense that there was detail in the screenplay because the story lacked a lot, not in how Palpatine is back, but why he waited until now and how he manages to do what he does in the film.

I think the problems of The Rise of Skywalker all stem from the fact that Lucasfilm did not have a plan for this trilogy. By not putting the three directors in a room with someone like Dave Filoni who can offer guidance in crafting a cohesive long-form story. Not having a plan forced Abrams to do a lot of heavy lifting here and it created a film with an interesting and exciting finale that lacked direction because so much is jammed into a movie. Having Chris Terrio as a writer may also have created some problems in the screenplay. While I think Terrio is quite talented, he seems to have a lot of trouble with franchise storytelling, most notably from his tie working on the DCEU. It also feels like The Rise of Skywalker would have fared batter as a three-hour film. That and tightening up the MacGuffin-filled narrative would have helped the film to be more successful in its execution.

I still think The Rise of Skywalker turned out better with Abrams than it would have with Colin Trevorrow behind the wheel. The number one thing here is whether the film is entertaining an enjoyable, and problems and nitpicks aside, there’s a lot to love in this finale. The film is filled with fun surprises, callbacks and appearances, and the score from John Williams is absolutely awe-inspiring. A better screenplay and some more cohesive editing could’ve helped quite a bit, but this is a hell of an action-packed conclusion to the Skywalker Saga.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, click here.

For my review of Ron Howard’s Solo: A Star Wars Story, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, click here.

For my review of Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, click here.

For my review of Richard Marquand’s Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, click here.

For my review of J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, click here.

For my review of Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, click here.

[Star Wars Days] May the Fourth Be With You…Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)

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Director: Richard Marquand

Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Sebastian Shaw, Ian McDiarmid, Frank Oz, James Earl Jones, David Prowse, Alec Guinness

Screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas

131 mins. Rated PG for sci-fi action violence.

  • Academy Award Winner: Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

IMDb Top 250: #72 (as of 4/21/2016)

 

Another year, another excuse to celebrate Star Wars. Hey everyone. Today we are taking a look back on the only Star Wars film we haven’t talked about yet, Return of the Jedi.

Han Solo (Harrison Ford, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Age of Adaline) is still in the clutches of the vile Jabba the Hutt. As Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, TV’s Regular Show, Scooby-Doo! Moon Monster Madness) and company hatch their plan to rescue him, the Empire is slowly working on the creation of a weapon more powerful than the original Death Star. Darth Vader (James Earl Jones, The Lion King, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn) and his master, Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid, Sleepy Hollow, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) oversee the final touches on the weapon and a final confrontation is set into motion uniting father and son in an epic battle as the fate of the galaxy hangs in the balance in this final film of the original Star Wars trilogy from director Richard Marquand (Jagged Edge, Eye of the Needle).

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Originally titled Revenge of the Jedi (but then later renamed as Jedi do not take revenge), Return of the Jedi is solid conclusion to the original trilogy. By tying up the remaining plot threads very expertly set up in the previous two films, Return of the Jedi makes an argument for being one of the best installments of the series. The performances from our main three stars are great, the confrontation with Palpatine is filled with excitement and dread, and the redemption of Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams, Batman, The Lego Movie) doesn’t feel overtly forced. The creature effects ranging from Yoda to Jabba the Hutt and Salacious Crumb (yeah, look it up) are pretty amazing for the time period.

That being said, a true Star Wars fan knows his faults, and I have few…

The use of cutsie-ing the series with Ewoks seemed like an odd choice. Not really bad, but definitely odd.

The film spends a bit too much time on Endor. Just saying.

And it contains the one frustration I truly have with the Special Editions (the removal of Yub Nub, I didn’t mind the added scene in its place, but could we not get one freakin’ Yub Nub???)

Now, back to the positives. The entirety of the opening act on Tattooine? Amazing! Perhaps the best piece of storytelling in the film!

The sound, effects, and score? Cannot say enough greatness, especially about John Williams and his ability to craft new pieces with every film that add to the mythology and create a richer musical vocabulary. Just incredible.

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So, all in all, as I continue on my Star Wars Marathon, I was happy to take a pit stop on Return of the Jedi. The film is often thought of as the weakest of the original trilogy, but I think that is more of a testament to how terrific this series is. Were we not destined to have more films, I would have been more than content at this final chapter (I’m not against more, though, so please continue to deliver, Lucasfilm).

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, click here.

For my review of Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, click here.

For my review of J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, click here.

[Star Wars Day] Return of the Jed-Five…Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)

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Director: George Lucas

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Bakers, Frank Oz

Screenplay: George Lucas

140 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and some intense images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Makeup

 

As we continue the tradition of Star Wars Days, on Return of the Jed-Five (it is a term I coined so that I can continue celebrating well into Revenge of the Sixth tomorrow), we will look at Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, the final film in the Star Wars Saga that was released almost ten years ago. Fans have waited a decade for the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.

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The Clone Wars have waged for three years, but the battle is far from over. Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen, Jumper, Vanishing on 7th Street) is now a full-fledged Jedi Knight and, along with Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting, Mortdecai) have been leading armies into battle against the Separatists and the tyrannical Count Dooku (Christopher Lee, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Dark Shadows). Anakin’s secret marriage to Padme (Natalie Portman, V for Vendetta, Knight of Cups) is further complicated when she discovers she is pregnant, and Anakin’s nightmares of her dying in childbirth lead him towards the dark side and a few revelations about his friends on the Jedi Council and those in the Galactic Senate.

If one were to look at the prequel trilogy, Revenge of the Sith is easily the best in the series. A nearly perfect entry in the Star Wars Saga, Episode III features some of the more incredible action sequences and emotional beats.

Hayden Christensen again continues to underwhelm as Skywalker. His performance is carried by Portman, McGregor, and Ian McDiarmid (Sleepy Hollow, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) as Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. In fact, just about all the performances here with the exception of his are amazing.

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Director George Lucas (American Graffiti, THX 1138) has learned from his previous mistakes here and gives fans exactly what they want here. Revenge of the Sith ties up the franchise with a nice little bow. The flow is great, and the opening sequence, in which our heroes attempt to save Palpatine from the mechanical General Grievous, is stunning, with special regards to the first shot of the film.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

[Star Wars Day] May the Fourth Be With You…Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)

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Director: George Lucas

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Frank Oz

Screenplay: George Lucas, Jonathan Hales

142 mins. Rated PG for sustained sequences of sci-fi action/violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Visual Effects

 

Happy Star Wars Day, and May the Fourth Be With You. Today we will look back on Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, from director George Lucas (American Graffiti, THX 1138).

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Ten years after the events of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen, Jumper, Vanishing on 7th Street) and his master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting, Mortdecai) have been called to Coruscant to protect the former Queen, Senator Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman, V for Vendetta, Knight of Cups) against those who wish to assassinate her. As Anakin and Padme grow closer, Obi-Wan finds himself getting closer to the truth as he encounters the sinister Count Dooku (Christopher Lee, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Dark Shadows) and an army of clone troops trained to be an Army of the Republic.

The second in George Lucas’ prequel trilogy fixes a lot of the problems that the first film had, though not all. I love the tone of the film as it shifts from mystery to romance to war to fantasy and back to mystery. The tonal shifts keep the film invigorated and interesting. McGregor and Portman turn in excellent work as Kenobi and Amidala, as do Ian McDiarmid (Sleepy Hollow, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) as Chancellor Palpatine and Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Avengers: Age of Ultron) as the Jedi Master Mace Windu. New character Count Dooku is excellent and terrifying.

Hayden Christensen is a better Anakin than Jake Lloyd, but not by much. He is by far the biggest problem here.

As always, George Lucas presents us a stunning vision of his galaxy. The film is stitched together nicely and is beautifully scored. There are a lot to love here. Now the aging of the special effects is noticeable here and could have been avoided with a more practical touch. I miss the look of the original films, but I can deal with it.

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Attack of the Clones is a fantastic Star Wars event. It has a few detractors, but it is lovely nonetheless.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

[Oscar Madness] Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

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Director: George Lucas

Cast: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Pernilla August, Frank Oz

Screenplay: George Lucas

136 mins. Rated PG for sci-fi action/violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Visual Effects

 

Today we are going to look back on Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, a film that has truly polarized fans of perhaps the most-beloved sagas in motion picture history.

Jedi Knights Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson, Schindler’s List, Taken 3) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting, Mortdecai) are about to take part in trade negotiations with the insidious Trade Federation over trade disputes. When negotiations go south and the Trade Viceroy takes control of the peaceful planet of Naboo, the Jedi take refuge on the remote desert planet of Tattooine, where they meet young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd, Jingle All the Way), a child who may just be the Chosen One, a Jedi who can bring balance to the Force.

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Director George Lucas (American Graffiti, THX 1138) returned to his beloved Star Wars franchise sixteen years after 1983’s Return of the Jedi to create one of the most discussed entries in the canon. Some love it; many loathe it. I find it to be an enjoyable, albeit flawed entry in the series.

Jake Lloyd absolutely destroys his role as Anakin by not understanding the characters and delivering his lines as though he is just reading them. His scenes can’t even be saved by Neeson and McGregor. Anthony Daniels (The Lego Movie, The Lord of the Rings) and Kenny Baker (The King and I, Willow) return as C-3PO and R2-D2 and help to tie this film to the others. Then there is Ian McDiarmid (Sleepy Hollow, Annie: A Royal Adventure!) as Senator Palpatine. I love his performance here. He is slippery like a politician should be with just a note of secrecy.

I want to say something about George Lucas. I might get flack or praise, not sure which, but George Lucas can direct just fine. He cannot write all that well. He should stick to storytelling but leave the screenplay work to others. Look back at The Empire Strikes Back. It is considered by many to be the best in the saga, but it is the only one not specifically written by Lucas. Just sayin’.

The flow of the film is nicely tied together. I enjoyed the time spent on Tattooine, and I felt like the Naboo sequences add something new to the series. I honestly didn’t care much for Jar Jar Binks, but I also accepted that galaxies far far away probably had annoying aliens. There just has to be some.

The effects are wildly well put together, from the podrace sequences to the battle for Naboo. The new Yoda (played by Frank Oz, Zathura, Monsters, Inc.) is more advanced than previously, though it doesn’t really look like Yoda.

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Looking back at the first chronological Star Wars adventure brings up a lot of questions. How has the film held up? Did the love or the hate soften? Will Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens have the same reception? I don’t have the answers to all those questions, but I can say that expectations are often the culprits for long-waited installments. I like Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. It is far from the perfect Star Wars film, but it is an enjoyable reintroduction to the galaxy and the time that we love so much.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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