NOTE. Spoilers follow!
A couple of days since I saw The Rise of Skywalker, my desire to see it again keeps getting stronger. Our middle son gets back from university this afternoon, so the plan is to watch our DVDs of Episodes VII and VIII, then go back to the cinema to see IX.
The same day I first blogged about this film, my long-time friend and colleague Matt Wedel also wrote about it (amusingly, leading off with the same opening image), and he has already followed up with a second post: I recommend both.
Matt and I each held off reading the others’ posts until our own were written, to avoid inadvertent cross-contamination of opinions. But as soon as they were both us, we got chatting, and a few more insights arose in the process. I’ll summarise in this post.
The main observation that has grown on me in the last couple of days is how very central that Kylo-Rey relationship is to everything about the film. This works very well structurally: early in the film, they are each about their own business but increasingly connected via the force. As the story progresses they are increasingly drawn together in physical space, and by the end their thread down on Exegoal eventually becomes the focus of the climax, with the space battle relatively inconsequential. (Though of course they overlap when Darth Sidius uses his Force Ion Cannon ability on the Resistance fleet.) This gives the film an effective quality of ever-tightening focus.
Why does that work positively rather than making all this galaxy-spanning warfare seem trivial? Because the two leads are so very very good: always understated, always convincing. By contrast to Adam Driver’s and Daisy Ridley’s portrayals, the work of Hayden Christiansen and Natalie Portman in the prequels is frankly embarrassing. (People who have seen later Portman films tell me she can actually act; but there’s nothing in the Star Wars prequels that would make you think so.)
There are lots of films and TV shows out there that only work because the two leads sell the central relationship so effectively. You could think of When Harry Met Sally, or about the Logan/Veronica relationship in Veronica Mars; and this is a long and honorable tradition that goes back at least as far as Bogart and Hepburn (K.) in The African Queen (1951), Peck and Hepburn (A.) in Roman Holiday (1953) and suchlike. I would honestly classify The Rise of Skywalker in that category, albeit that the nature of the relationship is very different.
Not that the film was perfect, of course. Much of my frustration lies is how very very easy it would have been to fix three of the biggest clangers:
- The sixteen-hour time limit that gets arbitrarily imposed near the start, and which is obviously nowhere near long enough for all the events of the film to take place. This silliness could so easily have been removed by saying sixteen days instead — or, better yet, by a much more general sense of urgency.
- Killing Chewie, then immediately bringing him back was dumb and cheap. Easy to fix by either leaving him dead (the tough choice, which I would applaud) or by just not killing him at all.
- The idiotic business with the dagger showing where in the Death Star ruins to find the Sith Wayfinder. It would have been so easy to have it contain some kind of homing technology instead of the inexplicable, imprecise and unmotivated hold-the-dagger-up-to-the-wreckage thing.
It’s hard to see how these obvious bugs didn’t get fixed in post-production.
Oh well. Still a fine film, and a fine capstone to the Skywalker saga. It works particularly well in that context, as all the actual Skywalkers (Shmi, Anakin, Luke, Leia and Ben) are dead by the end, but Rey keeps the beacon lit by adopting the name.