MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to hear a favorite story over and over again, without a whole lot of reworking or variation. Surely the nativity story and the gospel story itself bear testimony to the power of memory combined with experience to create a powerful touchstone of faith.
Sometimes you can tweak things just a little. Greta Gerwig’s recent revision of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women included most of the basic storyline while bringing in a bolder narrative of female empowerment and it met with almost universal acclaim.
But try to mess with Star Wars...
Herein lies the division of responses to Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker. You may recall that J. J. Abrams directed and co-wrote the vastly popular Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens that introduced us to new characters, including Ren (Rider), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) as well as the heir apparent to Darth Vader, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). The film also pretty much repeated all of the same beats as the very first Star Wars film from 1977.
In 2017 Rian Johnson wrote and directed Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi which made some bold choices including a more nuanced shading of moral choices, two new strong female characters including Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) and Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern). We encountered an aging Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) who spent a good part of the movie filled with a sense of regret and loss. And we said a final goodbye to General Leia (Carrie Fisher). I thought that things were really beginning to look up for this tired franchise and awaited what Rian Johnson might do next. I was in the minority here; most of the die-hard fans were livid over his creative mucking about.
No worries. Johnson was happy to have had the experience of directing a big budget franchise film, but wanting to do something different. What Johnson did next was the incredibly clever Knives Out. Star Wars standard bearer J. J. Abrams was considered the better choice to wrap up the nine-film series.
And so, we have The Rise of Skywalker, which not only ignores most of The Last Jedi’s plot twists but actually brings back a villain that we thought we’d seen the last of, takes a key figure that we thought would be central to this film and move her to the sideline, while including a second tear-soaked farewell to General Leia! The film also manages to rewrite the backstory for Rey and trot out just about favorite line, in-joke and character from the original Star Wars trilogy. Abrams keeps things moving along – fast – which knocked some fans out of their seats. What action! What spectacle!
How boring. This film wants to drag in so much nostalgia and fan service, there are no pauses for the emotional depth of The Last Jedi. Clearly this is the movie that most folks were hoping for, but it left me as cold as a hairless Tauntaun on Hoth.
I am thankful that Jon Favreau has been able to create an engaging new entry in the franchise with his Disney + series The Mandalorian. But of all of the nine Star Wars films, this is the one that I never need to watch again. If I feel the urge, I will re-watch the original trilogy – still the first and still the best. May the Force be with you.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Three halos: The characters you love do more of the same stuff in this – hopefully – final episode of the primary Star Wars saga.
Two pitchforks: Bad people do bad things, including blowing stuff up at a planetary level – yes, this is the same pitchfork rating that I gave to Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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