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The Emperor's old clothes
You don’t buy a company for four billion dollars and then stop making films from its most famous franchise after number five. Yes, one badly underperformed but is there any doubt that number nine, THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, is bound for box office glory? Is Camus really saying au revoir to Star Wars? As if…
 
  “It is a tale in which history repeats itself and destiny can be outrun for only so long before it must be confronted. Yet even as Abrams and his colleagues bid farewell to this part of Star Wars history, they are as curious as anyone to know what comes next for the series and its characters — in part because no one truly believes that their adventures are over.”
  ‘The Battle for Star Wars’, New York Times by Dave Itzkoff*

 

Of course it’s not over. Why? Profit… Skip to paragraph three if the ‘business’ in ‘show business’ bores you to death. Purely for the fun of it, let’s look at Star Wars the way Disney looks at Star Wars - in hard currency. Its five Star Wars movies have cost the studio just over a billion dollars… (according to information on the Box Office Mojo site). Although official figures are not widely available on the budget of The Rise of Skywalker, let’s assume at least 300 million. So let’s say 1.3 billion all told… General industry wisdom states that a film needs to double its production cost to break even (advertising, distribution and overheads hike this cost up). Not so widely known wisdom also suggests that companies pretend their production budgets are 25% less to inflate the box office figures by comparison. So let’s go with over a 1.6 billion spent multiplied by two and the 4 billion George pocketed from the original deal. This equals 7.2 billion. According to Box Office Mojo (and this is only movie profit not disc sales or streaming deals), the five Star Wars films have racked up about 4.7 billion in global box office. This means that to break even on the amount Disney spent on this franchise, The Rise of Skywalker has to clear 2.5 billion to make the Disney deal worthwhile theatrically. Hmm. Unlikely. Disney is the expert at milking cash cows so all other profit is pure profit and those numbers you will never see but I’d say they are enough to kick-start the whole Star Wars franchise off again in a few years. Let’s not forget the enjoyable but hugely simplistic and necessarily derivative The Mandalorian playing now on global TV screens to some success. ‘Baby Yoda’ is popping up everywhere and of course my inner and outer nerd is screaming “Yoda died before the baby Dagobahian showed up!” Disney are raking it in through TV too, remember. And what are they counting on this time around? Middle-aged idiots like me who were there at the start as impressionable teens who simply must know how Abrams is going to end it. I am scared of two words given the sorry state of the rebellion at the end of The Last Jedi. Mike Stoklasa on the hugely entertaining You Tube review site Half in the Bag has already expressed his concerns about the same thing that worries me. It’s eight days to go before I see the new one but if Abrams’ answer to the pathetic lack of Rebellion personnel remaining is ‘time travel’ then Star Wars would really have died to me, jumped the shark in no uncertain terms. After the prequels I was merely almost dead but Abrams’ remake (let’s not be coy) of the 1977 original was enjoyable enough and I think I may be in the minority of those who hugely enjoyed The Last Jedi despite its gaping inconsistencies (I could have done without gravity in space helping bombs to ‘drop’). But is that circular dish on the Falcon glimpsed in the new film’s trailer a portent of things to come (or rather things to come from the past)?

Eight days and counting. Not that I really care that much any more. I’m also aware of the irony of saying those words. But I think they’re still true.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

OK, no time travel. Phew. First impressions? It plays like Star Wars’ Greatest Hits…Scene ‘x’ is a reference to the same in Empire, that’s a line of dialogue ‘y’ from the original film, that idea ‘z’ was first presented in Return of the Jedi… and on (and on and on) it goes. There is this bizarre preoccupation with serving up incidents that are allusions and sometime direct quotes both visually and dialogue-wise from (ahem) significantly better films. In some ways you can regard it as being kind to composer John Williams, whose sterling work was all done before this film was even scripted. He just has to slightly re-order his themes… I guess, the perfect person to direct a Star Wars movie is an acolyte worshipping at the feet of George Lucas. I submit that this may be true if you want to make money endlessly rehashing nostalgia posing as originality. If you want true originality, then ask a Rian Johnson, currently my favourite Johnson out of a very short list. I had an idle ‘Dude’ thought that what this country needs right now is Lebowski’s German Nihilists. Remember them? They wanted to “…cut off your Johnson.” Be my guest. I digress. To his credit, George Lucas wanted to show audiences something new with the prequels. That’s laudable. The films (let’s be frank) were difficult to watch probably only for fans of my generation. I actually cringed during Anakin and Padme’s love scenes. I still shudder at the memory. Back in the day, I was sixteen and queued for over four hours to see the very first unnumbered one in January 1978. The friend I saw it with delivered a pithy summing up. He said “…that film should be available on the NHS.” I think it’s impossible to evoke and stimulate a sixteen year old’s wonder and awe from the same mind forty-one years later. The world is a very different place today. Skywalker is entertaining enough if a little dull in places and every time I was nudged in the reference ribs, part of my engagement died. It’s almost as if Abrams (for he co-wrote it as well as directed it) needs to let everyone know that he’s seen the original trilogy three hundred and seventeen times. Gosh, isn’t he clever?

Plot? Really? It’s Star Wars. A small group of people is going to kick a lot of nasty people’s asses. What more do you need? Oh, OK… Kylo Ren (aka Ben Solo) is looking for a small pyramid, a ‘way-finder’ to enable him to find the undead Emperor Palpatine and his newly minted ultra super duper Planet Destroyers (just where does he get the labour force?) now equipped with Death Star planet-killing capabilities (yawn). Rey is doing her Jedi training with Leia standing in as Yoda. Poe, Fin and Chewbacca get intel from a First Order mole and with Rey they find a dagger engraved with the location of the Emperor’s base written in the Sith language that Threepio is not allowed to translate. It gets translated. Rey and Kylo have a few ‘force linked’ scenes (will she go bad?) and we retrofit Abrams logic onto Rian Johnson’s Last Jedi. Did you really believe Rey’s parents were nobodies? C’mon. Yes, there are nice moments and most of the humour is either at the expense of or actually delivered by Threepio, which makes a nice change. Anthony Daniels, now 73, must have been chuffed. There is a hitch in the broader plot and it cannot possibly be a spoiler to note that the rebels win (duh). In turning the rebels’ attention to a new deadly threat, the First Order, as powerful as they still are, are utterly ignored so all that celebration at the end seems a little hollow given that the First Order is still actively seeking out ‘rebel scum’. It’s the equivalent of cheering after disarming a knife-wielding maniac blissfully unaware that there’s a gun to your head throughout. But then most movies fall apart if you apply real world logic to them.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

You can’t fault the cast who give the whole enterprise their all. Daisy Ridley is convincing as a conflicted soul and John Boyega seems to have grown in acting stature over the years. Oscar Isaac is cocky but less confident this time around and I can’t help noticing the marked physical differences between Peter Mayhew’s Chewie (lankier and longer legged) and Joonas Suotamo’s stockier hipped portrayal. Kelly Marie Tran is sidelined back at base the whole time. I wonder if that had anything to do with the ludicrous online attacks she suffered after The Last Jedi. If so, that’s a real pity. Richard E. Grant pops up as a First Order general and our very own Withnail looks like he’s having the time of his life. Billy Dee William’s coincidental presence as Lando Calrissian is a sop to fandom (as is the whole enterprise really) and it’s also nice to see Ian McDiarmid back as the Emperor (that can’t be a spoiler, he’s in the trailer,) despite his casting being more proof of the paucity of imagination on offer here.

The visual effects are of the usual high standard but we are so used to this these days that we are no longer awed by anything. The clean visual palette (Death Star, good guys’ ships, bad guys’ ships) and unerringly brilliant film editing of the last twelve minutes of the original movie has been replaced by a screen full of noise. It’s artful, clever and beautifully rendered noise but noise nonetheless). It’s so hard to orient oneself with hundreds of enormous Empire ships, gunmetal weaponised pizza wedges and tiny ineffectual X-wings buzzing around them. And if I can reiterate my frustration with a trope of twenty first century storytelling; using Game of Thrones as a prime example, it is frankly lazy and cheap to kill the Night King and have his entire White Walker army (and dragon) just shatter into billions of pieces. If you are going to create a giant problem for the heroes to face, you have to have a giant idea as the solution. Am tempted to quote Joss Whedon on the role of the filmmaker. It’s not the job to give you want you want but to give you what you need. Abrams has bent over backwards to make every Star Wars fan go “Hey, I got that!” to every tiresome reference and in so doing has subordinated the role of the filmmaker to that of delivery boy. I certainly didn’t ‘need’ The Rise of Skywalker. In the race to be as fawning as possible, he left true originality outside the building where it shrivelled and died. That’s perhaps a little harsh but I cannot think of anything in the ninth Star Wars film that has brought anything new to the table with the exception of two ridiculous ‘force’ related abilities that were shoehorned in for plot contrivance reasons. Hey, if you’re a fan, you’re going to see this movie regardless of anyone else’s opinion. I sincerely hope you have fun. Just don’t expect anything but same old, same old.

 


* https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/11/movies/star-wars-the-rise-of-skywalker-jj-abrams.html

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker poster
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

USA 2019
141 mins
directed by
J.J. Abrams
produced by
J.J. Abrams
Kathleen Kennedy
Michelle Rejwan
written by
Chris Terrio
J.J. Abrams
story by
Derek Connolly
Colin Trevorrow
Chris Terrio
J.J. Abrams
cinematography
Dan Mindel
editing
Maryann Brandon
Stefan Grube
music
John Williams
production design
Rick Carter
Kevin Jenkins
starring
Carrie Fisher
Mark Hamill
Adam Driver
Daisy Ridley
John Boyega
Oscar Isaac
Anthony Daniels
Naomi Ackie
Domhnall Gleeson
Richard E. Grant

UK distributor
Walt Disney UK
UK release date
19 December 2019
review posted
20 December 2019

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi

See all of Camus' reviews