' ' Cinema Romantico: The Rise of Skywalker

Monday, January 27, 2020

The Rise of Skywalker

A funny thing happened when I heard his voice – I welled up. “His” voice is Han Solo’s. And if you think that’s a spoiler, what movie do you think you’re watching? If the Skywalker Trilogy, wrapping up with this dead fish, has proven anything, it’s that it can’t and won’t let go of the past. The opening scrawl’s first words are “THE DEAD SPEAK”, referring to Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), whom I’m positive was thrown down a shaft situated aboard The Death Star which consequently was blown to smithereens as 1983’s “Return of the Jedi” concluded but, nope, who is apparently alive, if barely, and in control and now about to crush the Resistance just like he was about to crush the Rebellion. It all felt achingly familiar, which was the whole point, not quoting the original movies in its aesthetic but in its story points, an entire film as a John Williams leitmotif, sentimental repetition masquerading as innovation. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), though, chief heavy, to his credit, in confronting his dad’s ghost, says aloud, “You’re just a memory.” At that, my eyes dried up and I realized whatever relationship I had with “Star Wars”, which once, a long time ago, in a lifetime far, far away, was substantial and important, was now just a memory too.

As “Rise of Skywalker” opens, Rey (Daisy Ridley), ex-Jakku scavenger turned Resistance rock star, is furthering her Jedi training by hovering in the air, guiding various also airborne stones around her. It’s a moment demanding patience, as Yoda used to preach, a faculty which “The Rise of Skywalker” hardly possesses, evoked in how the camera rapidly presses in on her, as if telling her to hurry up and get this meditation over with so the movie can get going. Sure enough, her concentration’s broken and the stones fall out of the sky. There is this new threat from the old Emperor, after all, deep in some uncharted Sith system, and Old Man Palpatine tells the trilogy’s chief baddie Kylo Ren to go find Rey and kill her so the First Order can blossom into the Final Order. That means Rey and the gang – Resistance fighter pilot (Oscar Issac), heroic turncoat Finn (John Boyega), and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) – need to find the Emperor first and, I thought, throw him down the shaft a second time though I suspected he’d survive that fall too and turn up in the fourth trilogy.

This is merely the MacGuffin, the meaningless element on which the plot hangs to engineer the adventure and point Rey toward her self-actualization and showdown with Kylo Ren. What’s strange, though, is how Abrams is as devoted to the MacGuffin as the adventure, never mind the characters, spinning it off into sub-MacGuffins, an endless series of plants and payoffs that keep the movie churning relentlessly forward without imaginatively filling in the space around them, a virtually craft-less story, the elegant adventure movie of the first “Star Wars” with rising and falling action abandoned to simply tie a brick to the accelerator. In the 1977 original, breaking out of an Imperial stronghold took nearly the entire second act whereas in “The Rise of Skywalker” it takes, what, five minutes, a whir of laser bolts and one double cross gone in the blink of an eye before the Millennium Falcon makes its escape in the background, ending not with a bang but a blip over someone’s shoulder.

Abrams’s chosen pace forsakes world-building, again and again, even when he shows promise, like the planet Kijimi, briefly emitting “Odd Man Out” vibes before quickly moving on while the movie only briefly revels in The Festival of the Ancestors. This celebration might only, as the eternally intrepid C-3PO explains, happen once every forty-two years, but even as Rey’s body language indicates a desire to participate, the characters and, consequently, the movie keeps her on schedule. The rest of the time, as her past comes into view and she has recurring dreamlike conversations with Kylo across time and space, she’s usually just agonized. For the most part, Abrams recounts this agony in close-up, meaning Ridley can’t do much but clench her teeth and squint, which, to her credit, she does with ferocious aplomb, never more than the lightsaber duel where, despite lackluster choreography, the manner in which she slams her lightsaber against Kylo’s harmonizes with the cacophony of the crashing waves.

The preceding “Last Jedi” seemed to suggest an almost history-free arc for Rey, but “The Rise of Skywalker” tacks hard back toward the series’ familiar narrative flourishes, epitomized in those blue Force Ghosts, which going back to “Jedi” inadvertently foreshadowed the franchise’s unfortunate future. It might not be so eye-rolling if this deference to the past was reckoned with in any real way, like a possible opportunity in C-3PO’s memory being wiped. That, though, like so much else, is just played for a laugh and forgotten, Abrams content to proffer myriad Easter eggs shouting out movies gone by, like Wedge Antilles (Denis Lawson), the famed X-Wing pilot making his return, which isn’t a scene, just a shot, a moment so visually unimaginative that it could well have been filmed post-production, who knows. And a movie that in its new faces and names might have boldly pointed toward the future instead, once again, in its final line, retreats to the past.

No comments: