Monday, December 23, 2019

A Skywalker by Any Other Name

So I'm the one who liked Rise of Skywalker. I know, not everyone hates it, the abysmal Rotten Tomatoes score just makes it seem that way. But while I have some clear problems with the film, I really got caught up in the momentum, the chemistry between the characters, and the story about family and the repetitive cycle of revenge. I love some of the locations and visuals. I loved how Rey's parentage unfolded. And Emperor Palpatine was terrific. My main complaint, in fact, is that there needed to be more.

Spoilers after the screenshot

People talk about a rivalry between this film and Last Jedi but the relationship between J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson seems friendlier than that to me. Johnson took down a few things that came across unintentionally silly in Force Awakens and Rise of Skywalker picks up on good bits from Last Jedi--particularly the relationship between Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and minimises some of the less effective aspects, like Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran). Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) was supposed to be a scary Nazi in Force Awakens but he came off more like a Spaceball so Johnson turned him into more of an intentional joke whom his subordinates laugh at behind his back. Abrams took the lesson and continued portraying Hux in this vein, leading to one of the funnier, almost meta-moments in the film when Hux is revealed as a the spy and Poe (Oscar Isaac) immediately tries to claim he knew it all along. Abrams' strength is with the good guys, he's lousy with bad guys. Kylo Ren worked in Force Awakens because of Adam Driver's performance so Abrams relies on veterans Ian McDiarmid and Richard E. Grant here, the latter essentially playing the Great Intelligence from Doctor Who but functioning a little like Admiral Piett from Empire Strikes Back. Though while Piett was the intriguingly credible and understated professional, Grant's character is more like a tired elder statesman, worn down by decades of bitter resentment.

I sure loved Palpatine in this. Garth Franklin at Dark Horizons complained about how we get no explanation for the Emperor's return but I didn't really mind because he's so spooky in this. I loved his zombie makeup, the weird, impossible huge building he dwells in on a stormy world, and the eerie fleet of perfectly arrayed Star Destroyers rising from the soil. It's like the resurrection of a damned pirate fleet. A little more explanation might have been nice but I love the mystery which is effectively supported by the almost Indiana Jones-ish plot of our heroes seeking artefacts. I loved the moment when Rey (Daisy Ridley) raises the dagger and it perfectly aligns with a jagged, wrecked edge on the Death Star. What are the odds she'd be standing in that exact spot, that the Death Star would break apart in exactly that way? The accumulation of coincidence puts it on that satisfying border between a rational puzzle and pure madness. That's what a holy, or unholy, quest should be like.

The reason Kylo Ren has been more interesting than Rey up to this point is the conflict between dark and light so it makes sense Rey should acquire that same conflict. It worked great for me from the moment she accidentally blew up that transport and was a great way of making her peculiarly easy grasp of the Force make sense. Ultimately, I feel the film takes it in the wrong direction but I loved the build up. When she healed Kylo, I thought, "Oh, that's so great--because she's a Palpatine, she has the same unholy power over life and death as her grandfather." She would have to face the same hard test Anakin failed in Revenge of the Sith but the film doesn't go that way. Though I do like the idea that Kylo Ren dies like Gandalf the Grey to be reborn as a different persona. It was intriguing that he uses the same line about not knowing if he has the strength--this time when contemplating accepting himself as Ben Solo instead of contemplating killing his father. Both moments took courage and were acts of self-realisation so could the argument be that the experience of being Kylo was an essential part of being a better Ben Solo? Han Solo's ghost (Harrison Ford) significantly says Kylo Ren is Ben's memory.

When Palpatine wanted Rey to kill him it seemed a moment that retroactively made Return of the Jedi better, better explaining why he wanted Luke to strike him down. But the solution shouldn't have been for Rey to kill Palpatine. I realise the explanation as to why she could was that he needed the ritual to transfer his soul into her body, but from a thematic sense, in which killing Palpatine represents perpetuating the cycle of revenge, there's just no good way for Rey to kill Palpatine. The solution should either have been redeeming Palpatine or subduing him. Neither one may suit the satisfying blockbuster format, though.

I watched Force Awakens again a few days ago and found I'd forgotten how charming the dialogue was between the leads, particularly between Rey and Finn (John Boyega), a kind of dialogue Rian Johnson just has no ear for and is satisfyingly returned in Rise of Skywalker. Poe, who infamously came off badly in Last Jedi, gets a whole lot of mojo back in Rise of Skywalker and his chemistry with a too briefly appearing Keri Russell is captivating. I love how her visor raises just once in the movie and it's only to show him her pretty eyes.

I also liked C-3PO's (Anthony Daniels) subplot though I was kind of hoping R2 would restore his prequel era memories, too, and that 3PO's maker being Anakin would have some significance. Oh, well. This movie was a sweet ride, in any case.

Twitter Sonnet #1310

A cookie waits in apple cider mug.
The rusty bark enhances rolls and toast.
A stable shell invites the wayward slug.
A letter pool contains a metal post.
In velvet coats the trees progressed in state.
A timer glanced in glasses clear and real.
Behind the working clock we left the bait.
An orange reminds the pulp of naked peel.
The questions pile food and drink at need.
The timely watch confirmed a heavy chain.
A heedless wheel endorsed increasing speed.
The dial bled to build increasing gain.
Does yellow mean the end of red and blue?
Is green a sword just goblin things can do?

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