The Phantom of the Cineplex: Star Wars – The Rise of Skywalker

The Phantom of the Cineplex

Much like the end of a protracted bowel movement, the best part of Disney’s Star Wars trilogy was the finale.  I can honestly say that I am surprised at just how much “The Rise of Skywalker” did not suck.  I do not mean to suggest that Episode IX was not a bad film – it was horrible – I was just expecting it to follow the trajectory established by “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi” and be even worse.  That expectation was… uh… subverted.

The film is nearly redeemed by its virtues, compared to the other episodes.  Foremost among these essential improvements is the better employment of the actors and their associated characters.  Rose Tico was shown to be a serious-minded practical engineer instead of a giddy, blathering idiot.  Poe Dameron was portrayed as a savvy pilot who can really navigate the danger zone and not a mischaracterized stereotype of overwrought machismo.  C3PO was proven to be a fully humanized caring soul who also possessed critical, though underappreciated, skills instead of an hysterical dramedy appliance.  Most importantly, and impressively, Finn was finally let off the clown chain to fulfill the essential coolness implied by the descriptor “rogue stormtrooper”.  A “rogue stormtrooper” sounds awesome and should be awesome, dammit!

These support characters all seemed to have found their proper places and roles in the narrative and their respective actors were apparently either allowed to manifest those personalities naturally, or else were just much better directed this time.  The clunky and unnaturally expository dialogue of the last two franchise installments was gone.  They all spoke less and did more in less screen-time.  We were SHOWN more than we were TOLD.

The show was also fast-paced, action-packed, and never really left any plot pot on the back burner for too long.  There were no scenes which really dragged, no agonizingly slow developments to test our patience.  Importantly, the morality of the storytelling was unambiguous without lecturing us, but it was also concise without presumption.  The ethical integrity and moral intelligence of the audience was never assumed or called into doubt.

The film has its faults, however, and I think that they eclipse the sum of its virtues. The greatest problem with Episode IX is that it is painfully obvious that the film was subject to reshoots and heavy revision.  Actually, the movie, as delivered, appears to be the resultant product of editing three or more disparate film projects together.  The finalized theatrical release is a nearly incoherent mishmash of barely related scenes, some of which narratively conflict, and some of which completely contradict.  Some of these plot knots just cannot be untangled.  Why, for example, did the ancient Sith dagger lead the protagonists, Indiana Jones-style, to the relatively recently (in galactic history) deposited ruins of the Death Star.  If the Rule of Two had narrowed the Sith population of the galaxy to just Vader and Palpatine, and they both died in “Return of The Jedi”, then just who would have crafted the dagger in the interim , and why would they provide a direction to the wayfinder which, if their motivations had been consistent, they would not have wanted anyone else to find and which they should have removed to forestall the chance that anyone would find.  The very existence of the thing violates two of Aristotle’s laws of causation.  The narrative value of the wayfinder, itself, was absolutely vacated by the sudden arrival of Lando Calrissian’s rescue fleet at the secret planet, which did not use and, apparently, did not need the blasted thing anyway.  Likewise, the plot point that the Final Order Star Destroyers had to depend on a navigational beacon to maneuver as a static fleet formation to even get away from the secret planet seemingly would have been disproven by the earlier journey of one of those ships to destroy the planet from which the dagger was previously recovered.

The largest source of internal dissonance within the overall plot is the relationship between the First and Final Orders itself.  Palpatine’s offer to lend his Imperial Era Star Destroyers, one faction to another, is inconsistent with the previous backstory which established that Snoke’s First Order WAS an Imperial remnant and operating under the Emperor’s own contingency planning.  The Final Order rank and file are even wearing a Sithy variation of the First Order’s more recently developed attire, which would seem to prove an evolutionary split post-dating the employment of Death Star technology on Zerg-level Star Destroyers, not to mention the apparent survival and relocation of the Emperor himself.  Yet Kylo Ren and everyone else (except, perhaps, General Pryde) are caught completely off guard by the sudden reappearance of Palpatine and the Imperial Armada.  Besides, for what reason did Kylo and company need to accept the offer? Did the movie forget that the First Order had already won the war and that the Republic had already been defeated?  Clearly, the delivered product was a synthesis of two competing visions of how those two factions should relate and interact, with only the most egregious conflicting overlaps edited out.  This hybridization of wholly different plotlines even affects the long-awaited depiction of the Knights of Ren, whose behavior is now rendered absolutely baffling.

Some of Abram’s choices of what to leave in the final cut are questionable.  The copy-paste Carrie Fisher scenes are jarringly bad.  The scenes with the anachronistic tracked sand bikes launching jet-troopers and Rey vaulting over an onrushing TIE fighter were utter unnecessary and inconsequential to the plot, as was the scene in which Rey initially thought she had killed Chewbacca.  Many of the film’s problems concern the order in which all of the surviving scenes were edited together.  For instance, Leia’s death, for some reason, greatly precedes her vanishing into the Force and…

Instead of finishing this review, I am just going to stop writing about what it is and instead write about how it should have been put together using all the same material J.J. Abrams had available to him.  Here is my fan edit of The Rise of Skywalker:

Firstly, it is not “The Rise of Skywalker” anymore, now it is “The Force of Destiny”.  The opening crawl would now read that Palpatine contacted Kylo through the force instead of broadcasting to the galaxy.  Palpatine’s secret planet would now be in hyperspace and Poe Dameron’s previously pointless hyperspace-skipping technique would now be fully Chekhoved into a foreshadowing role.  The Final Order armada does not erupt from the ground or the water, now it is simply revealed by flickering lightning to be floating in the nebula surrounding the secret planet.  There would now only be the one wayfinder, created to guide Kylo inerrantly to the secret planet, and the ancient Sith dagger would simply be the artifact from which Palpatine first learned of that world’s existence.  The dagger, itself, is now found in the Death Star throne room as part of Palpatine’s collection of Sith merch, eliminating the need for the stupid scene in the sand pit and allowing the scene wherein Rey holds the dagger up to the skyline to be recycled to the back end of the Death Star scene and reinterpreted to mean that she is merely examining the just-found dagger.  Likewise, all footage of C3PO talking about the problem of translating ancient Sith are resequenced to come after their departure from Endor.  The scenes with the jetpacks and the TIE fighter vaulting are dropped.  Instead of having Poe’s girlfriend give him the stupid First Order hall pass, I would have them just take advantage of some high-priority security codes left in the ship they recovered from the Imperial assassin who killed Rey’s parents which will allow them to land that ship on Kylo’s Star Destroyer.  When they do go to the Death Star, the fight between Kylo and Rey is no longer interrupted by Leia, instead Rey just kills him when Kylo hesitates.  This saves Leia’s death for later intervention in the final confrontation with Palpatine and will now coincide with her dematerialization.  Now the little D-O droid simply has the hyperspace coordinates to which any hyperspace-capable ship can travel, and it is now Lando’s job to transmit the directions and urge everyone to converge there.  There is no longer an ultimatum from Palpatine or a countdown to invasion, and the planet from which the dagger is found is no longer destroyed.  In the final battle, the footage of the attack on General Pryde’s ship is repurposed by reverse-dutch angling the original cavalry charge on the ship’s slanting exterior to simply being a level attack on the ground-base facilities after all.  Pryde’s order to relocate the beacon signal is removed and the issue of the Imperials needing to navigate off the planet is replaced, by way of overdubbing exposition, to be a matter of force fields with the new explanation being that the Imperial Era armada crews were imprisoned by a powerful force field but that the newly installed First Order crews were about to depart, and that the threat of a direct attack on the secret planet would force Palpatine to keep the barrier in place, thereby trapping his own people (delaying the invasion) and necessitating the eventual destruction of the force field generator to allow Lando’s fleet to arrive.  Palpatine’s super-powerful darkside lightning attack on Lando’s fleet is replaced with just more ship-to-ship fighting and now Leia dies to reinvigorate Kylo, or inspire Rey, or slap Palpatine, whatever.  The fan edit will end with Rey now just saying that she is “just Rey” instead of “Rey…Skywalker” to suggest that the alternative was really “Rey Palpatine” and that she rejects that destiny.  Done.

There, fixed yer film, Abrams.

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