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 102: Pacific Rim Uprising

For the second week in a row, we tackle a new blockbuster action film, this one featuring heavy CGI work. We both love Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim, and a sequel with more giant robots punching giant monsters can’t possibly be messed up, right? We discuss our reactions to and (lack of) feelings for the fun but forgettable Pacific Rim Uprising. Also included are reviews of Wes Anderson’s new stop motion film, Isle of Dogs, and the 1971 Steven Spielberg thriller, Duel.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:10

(Aaron – Isle of Dogs, The Films of Wes Anderson)
(Patrick – Duel)

Pacific Rim Uprising Review – 0:15:59

The Connecting Point – 0:53:43


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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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MOVIE REVIEW: Pacific Rim Uprising

PACIFIC RIM UPRISING (2018)

GOING IN

Giant robots. Giant monsters. The original Pacific Rim is an amazing example of what an incredibly talented (and now Oscar-winning) director can do when he wants to make a movie about playing with childhood toys. The film is so much fun, so I’m all in for more of it. Expectations are set appropriately lower due to this not being directed by Guillermo Del Toro, nor having Idris Elba, but if it can provide half as much entertainment as the first film did then it will be a success. Again… giant robots… giant monsters. Win.

1 Hour and 51 Minutes Later.

COMING OUT

Pacific Rim Uprising wastes no time in setting its tone, opening with a serious sounding recollection of events from the first film and leading into an incredibly comedic introduction to Jake Pentecost (John Boyega). Jake is the son of Marshall Pentecost, the famous leader and hero who led the Jaeger team that closed The Breach, sealing off access to our world by the Precursors. Now that the war is over, and his father gone, Jake is having trouble finding his place, and Pacific Rim Uprising’s emotional focus is primarily on his journey to discover his identity and embrace it. It’s a soft focus, though, as Pacific Rim Uprising is largely a comedy first and action film second, with light dramatic moments sprinkled in for character development.

The story revolves around Jake meeting a young orphan named Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny) and the two troublemakers finding themselves forced to relocate to The Shatterdome (a.k.a. Jaegar base headquarters, I think). Jake has beef with his former drift partner Nate (Scott Eastwood) to sort out, including some underlying competition for the attention of Jules (Adria Arjona), and Amara must try and integrate with a group of other cadets who see her as an outside who didn’t earn her way into their squad. Big picture wise, the Shao Corporation led by Liwen Shao (Tian Jing) is preparing to pitch a new drone system to the world. This new tech, developed in large part by Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day), will in theory provide hundreds of drone Jaegers for defense that can be operated remotely from anywhere in the world. Sounds like a good plan, right? Right. Which, of course, means things must go terribly wrong. And so they do.

The important thing to keep in mind about the plot and general comedy-driven nature of Pacific Rim Uprising is that this is 110% stylistically a live-action anime. The characters are over-the-top. Dialogue is cheesy. Acting is pronounced and silly. Reality is often thrown out the window in favor of whatever looks the coolest. Extreme close-ups of single characters talking is frequent. And the action is big, big, big. This is not a typical American action film where drama is the driver and most of the comedy is in quick quips while the action is kept center stage, and so expecting that is going to result in a major letdown. Even those who are fans of the original Pacific Rim may have to adjust to this sequel because it has much more humor and less of a “weight of the world on our shoulders” feel to it.

When it comes to action, Pacific Rim Uprising does mostly deliver what fans want. Four Jaegers with unique abilities and some surprises make for fresh action. Those wanting start-to-finish fighting do get what feels like more action than in the predecessor, and Jaeger pilots don’t hold back until the final moment to deploy their weapons this time around. Unfortunately, most all of those weapons and many of the best action shots were revealed in trailers during the film’s marketing campaign, leaving precious few “OMG WOW THAT JUST HAPPENED” reactions during the film. There is also perhaps a drop in quality of the action scenes. One character in the film suggests that “bigger is always better”, but ironically this may prove otherwise. Nothing comes close to being as powerfully emotional and stunning as the chain sword usage in Pacific Rim. In short, Pacific Rim Uprising seems to have gone with quantity over quality in the action department.

Though there is a lack of strong emotion, the film does have its moments. Jake and Nate’s relationship is a bit like Maverick and Iceman. Jake also develops a relationship with Amara throughout the film and together they provide some of the most affecting scenes. Newt and Hermann (Burn Gorman) reunite, much to the joy of many fans, and their hilariously awkward and sweet relationship offers plenty of laughs this time around, along with a few new twists. The actor’s performances are precisely what the tone and style of the film ask for. Boyega seems to be having a lot of fun playing the snappy, funny, would-be-hero and Scott Eastwood is… well, he’s Scott Eastwood, playing the same character he does in films like The Fate of the Furious and Suicide Squad. And though she isn’t featured heavily, the lovely Tian Jing is fantastic as the smart, strong Shao.

 VERDICT

Regrettably, yet not unexpectedly, Pacific Rim Uprising does not reach the mind-blowing heights of its predecessor. In cranking the anime styling up to 11, it loses the balance between epic and cartoon that makes Pacific Rim so great, and a portion of its fan-base that needs things a bit more serious will likely be less than impressed. For those who enjoy this kind of craziness, though, watching the film (especially with a crowd of like-minded fans) is an absolute blast. It may be ultimately forgettable, but its laugh-out-loud humor and robot vs. monster battles still make Pacific Rim Uprising worthy of seeing on the biggest screen possible at least once.

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.