Episode 206: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

We chat about the final film in the epic Skywalker Saga. Does it satisfy? Does it entertain? Do we want more? Just like this film, there is a lot stuffed into our conversation as we work through our conflicted feelings for Episode IX.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Review – 0:02:50

The Connecting Point – 1:38:14

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MOVIE REVIEW: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” faced a nearly impossible task: end one of the grandest, most-beloved ongoing stories of all-time in a way that would universally appeal to what has become a largely fractured, and always passionate, generation-spanning fan base. It was never going to succeed at this, and what happens within this final film will most certainly have fans divided once more. Much of the reason for mixed opinions will, naturally, come down to story decisions such as the answer to Rey’s parentage, the conclusion of Kylo Ren’s character arc, and the reasoning behind why Emperor Palpatine has reappeared to be woven into this final trilogy. In order to ensure the mystery remains for readers, all that I can really say on this front is that I emerged from my viewing of the film conflicted – appreciating some of the directions director JJ Abrams went while being both baffled and extremely frustrated by others. If you were hoping for a wrap-up that would be loved and praised by all, well, I can simply say that you’re not going to get your wish.

“The Rise of Skywalker” is a lot of movie. A lot, a lot. It’s nearly two and a half hours of non-stop, action-packed, exposition-filled, video game quests. I happen to enjoy the style of adventure video game progression that we see emulated and so I had quite a bit of fun with the planet-hopping escapades of Rey, Poe, and Finn. But I also can acknowledge that this will absolutely not be everyone’s cup of tea. Hard and fast editing cuts, the quick pace of new information being revealed, and frequent tying up of plot points made it hard to remember details upon exiting the theater. Even now, less than 24-hours since seeing the film, I couldn’t recount the plot trajectory to you without going back to look at my notes. Exciting and not without spectacle, but also very, very messy.

Things that worked the best for me were some emotional moments between main characters, a healthy dose of smartly included fan service (much of which makes sense for story reasons), and the way in which General/Princess Leia is sent off. One major thing that did not work for me was the details surrounding the reappearance of Emperor Palpatine, his motives, his level of power, and ultimately his place in this saga. Other elements that bothered me were the lack of defining set pieces to rival the greatest ones the series has offered and a story that feels like it was written specifically to cater to those who’ve expressed disappointment with “The Last Jedi”. It is very clear that this was not a three-part story arc planned out from the beginning, and the way in which this film treats its direct predecessor is pretty rude. The film also frequently creates high stakes only to undo them moments later, draining a much stronger potential emotional investment away. With regards to Palpatine, his inclusion has the unfortunate effect of altering the impact of certain events from Anakin’s past in ways I did not appreciate. And also he yells… often and loudly. The action, while quite nice to look at, never provided me the kind of unforgettable single scene that I was hoping for, like the Holdo Maneuver, taking down an AT-AT with tow cables, or the Millennium Falcon navigating an asteroid field against overwhelming odds. Just as with superhero films, the more frequently we see amazing action sequences in this universe, the harder it becomes to stand out from the crowd. 

“The Rise of Skywalker” is epic, though, without a doubt, and resembles a condensed mixture of all three original trilogy films, for better and worse. It features immersive, loud sound effects and another incredible score by John Williams, is beautiful to look at, provides opportunities for our heroes to shine, and lets us once again have a blast experiencing stories in a galaxy far, far away. There’s slightly more good than bad, but this is yet again a Star Wars film that will be debated for years (if not more) to come. Like many of the Millennium Falcon’s landings, JJ Abrams brings this nine-film saga to an end in a gloriously cinematic but messy crash. Not ideal, but also not fatal. It gets the job done.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 085: Justice League

Andrew B. Dyce of Screenrant joins the fellas for some discussion on the newest entry into the DC Extended Universe.  This conversation covers the positives and negatives of our Justice League experiences, and we also give our take on the DECU’s progress thus far. Having Andrew on the show always results in insightful chat so give it a listen and let us know what you think!

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:51

Aaron (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Wonder)
Patrick (The Death of Superman / A World Without Superman)
Andrew (#MarthaWatch2017, The Punisher on Netflix)

Justice League Review – 0:23:25

The Connecting Point – 1:48:16

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Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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MOVIE REVIEW: Justice League

Justice League (2017)

GOING IN

The lead up to Justice League has been at times joyful to witness, and at others incredibly frustrating. Zack Synder’s DCEU has plenty of loyal fans defending its dark tone, but legions more who seem to prefer the more comedic and light-hearted nature of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As a big fan of all previous DC comic book films not named Suicide Squad, I can’t help but find myself in the former category. I have thoroughly enjoyed Snyder’s willingness to go deeper into the psyches of his characters and despite not loving every casting choice or action sequence, my overall response to the DCEU has been highly positive. While I mostly prefer solo superhero films, this initial team-up of the Justice League does have me very excited. The fanboy in me is really hoping for a Green Lantern appearance. I’ll also admit that I am a bit concerned about the Whedon script doctoring that occurred after Snyder took a hiatus due to the terrible tragic loss of his daughter. My hope is that Synder’s tone is not completely replaced by a focus on humor and lack of stakes.


COMING OUT

Well, consider me surprised. All of that Joss Whedon rewriting that I was concerned about? Totally worked. In fact, the film holds together well with two distinctly different tones flowing throughout, even if the difference is always noticeable and occasionally distracting. Whedon’s dialogue is mostly a hit, and especially so when it comes out of the mouth of The Flash (Ezra Miller). Flash provides us with the quippy nature the MCU has embraced, but it works because only one character is a goofball and not all five. The team dynamic is great and consists entirely of unique personalities. Aquaman (Jason Momoa) is a strong and powerful, independent bad-ass living the life of a loner but with a heart of gold. Cyborg (Ray Fisher) is brooding and angry, certain his new form is a curse. Batman (Ben Affleck) has renewed hope in humanity, regret over Superman’s death, and wants to save the world, while Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) follows-up her strong solo debut with a nice little arc of her own about what it means to be a leader. Truly, what Justice League really has going for it most is the cast chemistry. The relationship between Cyborg and Flash really stands out. These two “accidents” have a lot in common and are both discovering and coming to grips with their powers together, along with slowly developing trust and a friendship.

Its rather miraculous that Whedon’s humor and light-heartedness intertwine with Snyder’s serious storyline so easily. This is still a superhero universe with a lot at stake, where humans die and superheroes are vulnerable. But the dialogue works by delivering moments of levity instead of turning the film into a comedy. Justice League does bring up philosophical questions and ideas that carry over from previous films, too. In doing so, it balances those heavier topics with the epic sense of fun that we should get from reading or watching superheroes in action.

When it comes to the action, it’s vintage Snyder all the way. Fast cuts with explosive visuals and some well-timed slow motion feature prominently. I was worried that the movie might have a serious fake CGI look to it, but surprisingly it didn’t bother me at all. The majority of the action sequences are moving so fast that it’s hard to get a good handle on what’s going on, however, there are a few stand-out scenes – most of them involving Wonder Woman in some capacity, and that’s never a bad thing.

The film isn’t perfect, though. The opening scene and early setup feels rushed and incohesive. Once the team is together everything feels great, but getting there is just a little clunky. The villain is also not particularly memorable, although I did enjoy him more than previous DC baddies. His personality was lacking but the action involving him was a lot of fun, and he conveys a sense of otherworldly strength that was necessary for us to believe in the threat he poses.

One last thing to mention is that the film has two very good GREAT post-credit scenes. One right after the film ends and another all the way at the very end of the credits. They are both worth waiting for. Do not miss these. The final one, especially, is textbook for how a post-credit scene should be done.

Verdict

Justice League endured a lot of changes during its production and the result is a film that has glimpses of greatness but never quite reaches that plateau. Still, the film balances its dual tones just fine and manages to provide well-rounded character development  for the whole team. Ezra Miller steals the show as The Flash and team chemistry, in general, is a big highlight. A movie doesn’t have to be perfect to entertain, and Justice League does plenty of the latter. It is a joy to see these heroes together on the big screen and many emotions were felt. My prevailing thought when walking out of the theater with a huge smile on my face was simply,  “I want more,” and that happiness is a big relief.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.