Two Cents Speaks! About THE RISE OF SKYWALKER!

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick:

What do audiences actually want from a Star Wars movie?

There are as many answers as there are fans, which is to say that there are as many answers as there are stars in the sky.

George Lucas certainly could not figure out how to please his audience when he returned to a galaxy far, far away with his prequel trilogy, and Disney has found the question just as vexatious ever since it acquired Lucasfilm.

Almost every single Star Wars film produced by Disney has experienced some kind of massive behind-the-scenes turnover either before, during, or after production, with even the films intended to be modestly-scaled palate cleansers like Solo becoming gigantic, expensive headaches due to production drama. The one film that sailed across the finish line with seemingly no headaches whatsoever was Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, but that film has proven to be one of the most divisive studio films in the entire modern era.

Fans complained that The Force Awakens played things too safe, and then fans complained that The Last Jedi took too many liberties with the accepted limits of the universe. And some hardcore fans have never forgiven Disney for the double-hammer blow of the vast Expanded Universe being stricken from canon and the cancellation of the beloved Clone Wars animated series.

When The Rise of Skywalker, the final film in the “Skywalker Saga”, dropped in December, it was caught in a crossfire of expectations. People who loved The Last Jedi were infuriated by the way returning director J.J. Abrams responded to the major story decisions made by Johnson, while people who hated The Last Jedi were burned out on this new trilogy anyway. While Skywalker was ultimately a financial success for the studio, the mixed, shrug of a reception didn’t seem befitting for the final film in a massively successful, massively popular saga.

But now, there is (star) peace in the universe. The Mandalorian was an instantly-beloved addition to the canon, Clone Wars returned for a triumphant final season, and Disney continues to attach some of the best, most exciting talents imaginable to their upcoming Star Wars movies and shows.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at Rise of Skywalker with fresh eyes. Is it a shallow misstep of a final movie, or does it shine a little bit brighter out from under the spotlights of intense expectation?

Next Week’s Pick

We go from a long time ago and a galaxy far, far away to Hong Kong 1978 — Director Chang Cheh had an incredible directorial run making deeply influential kung fu films for the legendary Shaw Brothers studios, many of them with the eclectic team of performers that collectively became known as the “Venom Mob”. We’re going back to where it started — the group made their breakout with The Five Venoms, also widely known as Five Deadly Venoms, available streaming on Netflix along with many other Shaw pictures.

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at) anytime before midnight on Thursday!

Our Guests

John Sheridan:

The movie’s a mess. Characters get pushed aside. Non-sequiturs abound. Too many lightsaber duels. Retconning of an exciting, intriguing previous film.

Don’t care. Love it and recognize its flaws. Capable of both.

And here’s my Palpatine take: bringing him back was essential to resolve the arcs for Kylo and Rey. While Kylo was Dark Side, he felt the pull of the light and Rey was Light Side who felt the pull of the dark. Palpatine, as pure evil, was the stick they had to measure themselves against. Yes, Leia had guided Kylo back to being Ben by the time of the final confrontation, but it would have been very easy for him to give in and revert in the face of Big Sith Energy (@Frmertedd428)

Brendan Agnew (@The Norman Nerd):

I don’t hate it.

I wish I liked it more. Or less, even. Not having more of a passionate response one way or another to the finale of the once-thought-impossible third trilogy in the Star Wars saga makes this harder, and not just because it sounds like damning it with faint praise. Which, too be clear, I’m also doing, even though The Rise of Skywalker is a zippy, enjoyable spectacle.

Part of the problem is that it’s the first of the episodes to really feel like blockbuster fan-fiction. Where TFA used franchise reverence as a way of setting up a generation grappling with the wars of its parents before being shoved into a new adventure, and TLJ symbolically burned empty nostalgia while celebrating keeping the spirit of the myth alive in new forms, TRoS is structurally a cover of the greatest hits from the Original Trilogy with even wackier MacGuffins and crazier space magic. Which are good things to have in a Star Wars, but can’t be a replacement for an engaging story and satisfying character arcs.

There are some big choices that I disagree with but also make dramatic sense…but they’re too often not developed satisfactorily amid the chases and explosions and exposition, and the ones I do think carry over well from the previous 2 films (it’s more than you think) suffer similarly. No one’s half-assing it in front of three camera (Oscar Isaac has an entire nonverbal exchange that’s not only understandable, it reads clearly enough to pay off an earlier gag) and there’s obvious enthusiasm behind. But it ends up feeling like a basic skeleton plastered over with papier mache. It’s far from a total creative loss, but it’s so apparent that it could have been more.

But it still is a fun time of space wizards and lighting battles and laser swords and crazy monsters, if you’re into that sort of thing. (@BLCAgnew)

The Team

Justin Harlan:

I recently gave a lukewarm defense of this one in my review for its Blu-ray release. I stand by this lukewarm positivity to this here moment. While it’s not a GREAT film, it’s still entertaining and enjoyable. Like every Star Wars film not titled Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones it is a fun way to spend some time by yourself or with the family. It has the standard Star Wars issues and plotholes are evident in the bulk of the series, but who cares… it’s what we know and what we love.

Besides, when a film tries to do Star Wars without aforementioned clunkiness, the fanboys seem to revolt. This one kept the fanboys at bay, so there’s that. (@thepaintedman)

elizabeth stoddard:

No. No way am I sitting through that ever again (@elizs)

Brendan Foley:

I wish I could muster up a stronger, more stimulating defense than “I had fun watching it” but…I had fun watching it, and that’s kinda all I got.

Star Wars never really meant that much to me until pretty recently when my buddy got me heavily addicted to the more obscure corners of the galaxy (and one day…I shall have my revenge), so I can’t pretend to be overly hung up on matters of canon and lore and whatnot. Star Wars to me has always been a combination of stuff I think is wonderful and exciting and captivating, and stuff that I think is silly and childish and poorly thought out. So with Rise of Skywalker, you have here a movie with parts that are wonderful, exciting and captivating…and parts that are silly and childish and poorly thought out. Why everyone decided that nine movies in was the time to get really goddamn judgmental and snippy about the internal logic of these things, I don’t know.

Rise of Skywalker suffers from an over-reliance on interchangeable MacGuffins and hanging a major part of its emotional core onto repurposed footage of Carrie Fisher, a noble idea that face-plants more or less completely. But it’s zippy and pulpy and everyone in the cast is committing maximum effort and there’s real Miyazaki-vibes between Finn and Rey this time out and this movie officially cements Rebels and Clone Wars as canon and…and ultimately I’d rather shrug off the more infuriating and inconsistent features of this universe and keep enjoying the aspects of it that I enjoy. (@TheTrueBrendanF)

Austin Vashaw:

Well, I certainly wasn’t expecting most of us to be in general agreement about one of the most polarizing films of 2019, but here we are. “Yeah, it’s not bad” is the general refrain. There’s a lot that this film gets wrong, and a whole it lot gets right.

Falling back on Palpatine as the big bad was the first sign of trouble (especially since the idea was already done to death — and similarly so — in the decanonized Dark Empire saga). The film opens with the most ridiculous crawl of the franchise, a flurry of nonsensical exposition stated in the dumbest way possible. Rose gets sidelined, despite her establishment as a major character in The Last Jedi. The same could be said for General Hux’s thanklessly bizarre final chapter. And unfortunately Leia’s scenes can’t hide their necessary artifice.

At the very core of the sequel trilogy is one pretty simple flaw, and a weird one at that considering Disney’s tinkersome tendencies. If the filmmakers’ comments are to be believed, the overall structure of the three-act story wasn’t well thought out or coordinated as a trilogy framework with a specific endgame in mind. A planned trilogy deserves and requires a cohesive vision.

But there’s a lot I really enjoy with this film as well. Despite my resistance to the idea of bringing back Palpatine, he’s actually one of the best elements of the film. His resurrected form and secret base on Exegol are legitimately creepy. I also love the suggestion that Luke and Lando, who didn’t cross paths much in the original trilogy, became pals and went on Nazi-hunting adventures together. C-3PO gets a meaningful arc for once, and the wave of new characters builds on what the non-prequel films have always done best: a strong group of likable heroes. (@VforVashaw)

Next week’s pick:

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