Posted on December 30, 2019
TL;DR: A sketchy, shallow, overly busy but beautiful end to the Skywalker saga. Only really necessary for completists. For the record, I prefer The Last Jedi.
Rise of Skywalker has something in it for everyone, but if they blink, they’ll miss it. The movie seems overstuffed with shout outs and Easter eggs while at the same time servicing a too complicated plot. Add the army of incidental (some actually disposable) characters that need screen time and you’ve got a recipe for a movie with a lot of very quick scenes where poorly drawn characters deliver some unmotivated (and usually unnecessary) line readings.
SPOILERS for RISE OF SKYWALKER follow:
Do you ever look around the table and ask, “Do I really need to be at this meeting?” because some yahoo with a 27-point agenda invited a hundred people who each need one minute?
Before you send out that meeting invite (or release a Star Wars movie) always ask yourself, “What is this meeting about?”
I just got back from Rise of Skywalker and I can’t honestly answer that question. At one point it seemed to be about the superfluousness of the Jedi/Sith war. At another, I thought it might be about how you can still come back from evil if you only dip your toe in and kill one parent. Then I thought it might be a love story between Rey and Finn or Rey and Ben or Po and Finn.
If you don’t have something specific to say it’s very easy to end up with a movie that is chock full of action and fan service, but doesn’t add up to much as a film.
Also, don’t get me started on the rapidly expanding force powers that appear to be able to do anything in the moment it’s needed.
Whoever said it was right: Star Trek is science fiction, Star Wars is fantasy.
I loved the innovative take Rian Johnson took with Last Jedi. Throwing away the family name drama made it feel more real. JJA making Rey a Palpatine and then claiming the name of Skywalker just brought it all back to how an entire galaxy is rent asunder because of infighting between two trashy families.
Character development, which was so strong in TLJ, is really lacking in ROS. Even the main characters skate along the surface performing their functions and saying their lines quicker and with more urgency. We lose Rose Tico, one of the best new characters added to the SW universe in a long time, to a racist insurgency and the rest of the cast is wasted on sub-par dialogue.
It is beautiful, though. Seeing the star destroyers going down in flames at the end, the fight on the drowned death star, the kite festival (on a planet they destroyed for no narrative reason) are all beautifully rendered, but they are gorgeous paintings in a story that is otherwise inert.
Let’s be honest, you’re going to see it. You have to, right? But let’s say a prayer that Disney takes a beat after this and allows some creative people to come up with a new direction for the galaxy far, far away.
I don’t post reviews on this site so much as my thoughts about genre experiences. And while I feel perfectly justified in posting negative thoughts about movies and television shows, I rarely post anything negative about books because it just feels too personal. Movies and television shows are the product of armies of people. Books generally come from the mind of one author. Movies are in it for the billions. Books are in it for the thousands.
So if you’ve noticed I haven’t posted anything about my reading list for a long time, you should be able to guess that I’ve had a run of very bad luck. I have only finished reading one book in the last six months and there was a negligible return on investment there. I got less than a hundred pages into the rest of the refugees from my TBR pile.
Everything in SF I’m reading feels like it exists in a predefined world. There’s no sense of anything new there. The last SF book that truly blew my mind was the Southern Reach trilogy. Five years ago.
In the horror genre, even my tried and true authors seem to be limping along providing little of interest. And certainly nothing scary or new.
The detective novels fare even worse. Some of the authors I’ve enjoyed over the years have turned themselves into ghost written factories producing a toneless, uninteresting product no one asked for.
So I’ve been taking a break from novels for a while. In their place I’ve been listening to comedy podcasts. Comedy is a genre, too, and the last book of any kind that blew my mind was Patton Oswalt’s Silver Screen Fiend. Part memoir, part Inside Baseball of the stand-up comedy world, I reread it six times in a row. And just talking about it right now, I feel like maybe I’ll spend the rest of the day listening to the audio book.
My New Year’s resolution will be to dig deeper, abandon my usual authors, and seek out the new and different. Let’s hope this silent streak doesn’t last.
It’s 123 days until opening day for the Washington Nationals. This is important to me and about a million other people, but not at all to anyone else.
I played Pop Warner football growing up and spent the time before I discovered girls obsessively following the NFL. But the game changed and I also changed and we drifted away from one another. Decades later when I sat down to reconnect with my old favorite sport, I found it unrecognizable and dull.
About the same time, I discovered the Ken Burns documentary on Baseball. Watching it repeatedly allowed me to bask in the history and culture of a sport I had never known. I literally got my love of the sport from that PBS series before I ever went to a stadium to watch a game.
My wife and I began attending University of Texas baseball games, trying to puzzle out the rules and strategies with the help of more seasoned fans. Eventually, I got it. The hook, firmly sunk and the line taut, I ordered our first big screen flat panel plasma television for the express purpose of becoming an MLB fan.
One thing about baseball that really leaned into the more obsessive traits of my “if one a week is good then one a day is even better” personality is the sheer number of games. Football’s regular season? 16 games. Baseball’s? 162. For six months, I am able to watch a game almost every day.
I immediately drew a line in the sand on some of the more sanguine issues of the sport — Infield fly rule: good. Designated hitter: a sin against humanity — and quickly became an acolyte of the National game. The Houston Astros, then, became the only logical choice for my home team as I’m from Austin and spent some of my childhood in Houston.
I bought into the Astros at the top of a terrible slide. For six seasons, they did worse and worse (something I discovered was common to a team that had just missed a world series run and was up for sale). Then the unthinkable happened. The team was bought by carpetbaggers who moved it to the American League.
I can’t put into words how awful that was — not because I don’t have the words, but because there are so many of them it would simply take too long.
There was only one thing to do: Find another team in the National League with the kind of announcers I liked. When you watch 150 or so games a year, the quality of the announcers is critical. I landed on the Washington Nationals and immediately became an ardent fan.
Two seasons later, the Astros won the World Series.
And I ate my own liver with rage.
But I never regretted staying with the National League. It’s the one true expression of the sport, unmuddled by new wave rules like the DH. And this year I was rewarded with a Washington Nationals Series win.
When my daughters asked me why, later in life, I suddenly developed a love of sports, I quoted a line from the baseball documentary, “An American needs something to kick about without really meaning it.”
The passion we feel for our sports teams is a shallow thing that dissipates shortly after every season. But while it’s flowing, it gives us the feeling we’re experiencing something both wonderful and terrible.
So, it’s 123 days until opening day and I’m counting down.
James Cameron has said he woke from a dream about a relentless, unstoppable killing machine and wrote the first draft of The Terminator. That makes sense, except he didn’t write a story about a robot. He wrote a story about a woman.
We didn’t fork over our money and eat stale popcorn to watch the T-800 ruthlessly pursue a waitress from Bob’s Big Boy. We were there to experience the transformation of a girl into a badass warrior woman. In the process, Termintor 1 becomes one of the most emotional, transformative action movies ever made.
The ending as she sadly narrates her escape into the wilderness is so far from the girl who just couldn’t quite handle the pressures of waiting tables it’s hard to believe she’s even played by the same actress. And the impact of that ending is only increased by her appearance in the second film, now completely transformed into a monomaniacal crusader for the future.
Thinking about this, I was reminded that many of the action movies I love most have a deep, emotional narrative beneath the superficial violence. The only thing John Wick loves more than his dog is his vengeance. John McClean is dealing with a lot more than just terrorists trying to take over a high rise. Furiosa’s need to save the concubines from Immortan Joe drives Fury Road.
And, by the same token, many of the lackluster action flicks failed less because of cliched plots or a trope laden set pieces than the inability of the audience to emotionally connect with the story. The Last Action Hero hit all the high notes of an 80s action movie and no one cared. I Am Legend was so emotionally cold, not even Will Smith combined with cutting edge CGI could rescue it. (I’m still waiting on the good version of I Am Legend. It’s one of my favorite novels.)
So here’s hoping James Cameron and Tim Miller have made something to restore a once beautiful franchise.