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‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ Review

Remember in 2015 when we were all excited about where a new Star Wars film by Disney could go? Oh, that was fun…

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is the third film of the sequel trilogy and the ninth and final installment of the main Star Wars saga. J.J. Abrams, who directed and co-wrote “The Force Awakens,” returns to both jobs here, while Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac reprise their roles from the first two installments of the trilogy. Among other returning players are Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong’o, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid and Billy Dee Williams, while Richard E. Grant and Keri Russell join the cast. In the film, the remainder of the Resistance as they prepare for the final face-off against the First Order and the return of Emperor Palpatine.

Overall I have enjoyed Disney’s Star Wars films, with “Rogue One” being one of the best films in the franchise to-date and “The Force Awakens” and “Solo” both being fun, if not familiar romps. I was mixed on “The Last Jedi” and have watched it at least three times in an attempt to see the universal praise that it received from people, but can’t fully get past all its plot holes and cringe moments (however it is hard to fault its ambition and better scenes). “The Rise of Skywalker” is more of the same from “The Last Jedi” in that it has a few good moments but also trips over itself too often for its own good.

One of the reliable things throughout this entire series (and there hasn’t been much consistency) has been the acting and again the cast does a solid job. Adam Driver (likely on his way to his second career Oscar nomination for his great work in “Marriage Story”) is a solid, emotionally conflicted villain as Kylo Ren, even if at this point it is hard to take him seriously as a super powerful bad guy after he lost to Daisy Ridley’s Rey on multiple occasions. Speaking of Ridley, she again conveys a lost girl desperate for answers, although she remains so overpowered that her arc isn’t so much of an arc as a continuously increasing line. John Boyega and Oscar Isaac share some amusing bromance moments and it’s also nice to see Billy Dee Williams return to his iconic Lando Calrissian.

Much like this year’s “Avengers: Endgame,” this film is the culmination of years of story-telling and world-building. However while that film worked its fan service into the plot (pretty much) seamlessly, “Skywalker” is a little more on-the-nose. Some of the appearances and Easter egg references are fun, others range from eye-rolling to cringe.

One of the complaints people had about “The Last Jedi” was that Kathleen Kennedy (the president of Lucasfilm and producer on the trilogy) gave Rian Johnson complete creative control of the sequel and he chose to throw out or ignore so much of what J.J. Abrams set up with “The Force Awakens.” With Abrams returning, he not only had to close out a trilogy and 42 years of a saga, but had to win back fans who felt betrayed by “The Last Jedi.” Abrams attempts to retcon much of the previous film but it only ends up making the whole thing feel disjointed. Palpatine is back despite appearing to die in “Return of the Jedi” and the way they introduce him into this trilogy is so forced it’s hilarious, just because they killed off Snoke unceremoniously. The introduction of Richard E. Grant’s bad guy general is because Domhnall Gleason’s character was made into a whiny cartoon and could no longer be taken seriously. And this isn’t bringing up the numerous bits of dialogue where the characters all but turn and wink to the camera about how they didn’t like the last film.

The first act of the film is full of a bit of exposition and forced catch-up (including that Palpatine intro) but the second act actually moves along at a quick pace and is quite enjoyable. The script by Chris Terrio and Abrams has some entertaining bits of dialogue (especially from the droid characters) and even though the plot is just hopping from place to place, it is fun. But the third act then hits a wall, mainly because it turns into a nonsensical CGI destruction festival that would have made George Lucas’ prequel films blush. It just keeps going and gets stupider and stupider before ending on a line that actually made the woman next to me laugh and shake her head.

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” may give enough fan service for diehards, but it will upset people who loved “The Last Jedi” because it doesn’t take many risks and turn off casual Star Wars fans because it’s an objectively sloppy film that doesn’t answer half the questions set up in 2015. I remember walking out of  “The Force Awakens” thinking that it had flaws but it had laid the groundwork for the best Star Wars trilogy to-date; little did I know that we had already peaked. Overall, I would lean more negatively than positive here because the final 40 minutes are a mess, but there are enough entertaining character interactions and “that was cool” visuals to make your obligatory viewing of this anticlimactic final chapter worth at least some of your dollars.

Critics Rating: 5/10


It’s Perplexing How Bad ‘The Circle’ Is

The_Circle_(2017_film)This may be the first ever movie where literally nothing happens.

“The Circle” stars Emma Watson as a young girl who joins a tech company that wants to put cameras everywhere in the world. I really wish I could give more of a plot summary than that, but as I said above: this movie isn’t really about anything. Tom Hanks and Patton Oswald star as the founders of the company and John Boyega is also in it for a minute. James Ponsoldt directs.

Once or twice a year, I randomly pick a movie that I am going to go in with no preconceived notions about; this means I don’t watch any trailers or read any reviews. I chose “The Circle” as one of these films and walked in not knowing much beyond “Emma Watson joins a tech company run by Tom Hanks.” Upon actually seeing “The Circle” I can’t tell you much more about it than it is Emma Watson joining a tech company run by Tom Hanks.

First things first, the script is awful. Based on a book by Dave Eggers, Eggers co-wrote the screenplay with director Ponsoldt. So you have the man who wrote the original work and the person in charge of translating it to the screen, yet somehow their screenplay lacks any vision or coherency. The basic rule of screenwriting is “show don’t tell,” meaning you should have actions explain motivations and feelings, not dialogue. The film abandons this basic principle and decides to have each “character” (I’m using that term liberally because no one is fleshed out) tell the audience what is happening and how they feel; every person a walking exposition machine and none act like real humans.

Emma Watson has never been accused of being a great actress but here she is extra stale and deprived of charismatic as our lead. She is unchanged from the opening shot of the film to the last scene, and it can be argued she actually isn’t even a protagonist worth rooting for. Tom Hanks is implied to be the film’s antagonist, but it is really just because he’s the CEO of a big social media conglomerate and that’s the stigma we hold upon people in those positions. He never does anything evil or make us hope Watson takes him down, and you can tell Hanks is trying his hardest to give his character *something* to do/be.

Ellar Coltrane, best known for starring over a decade in “Boyhood,” is Watson’s childhood friend (I think? It’s truly never fleshed out) and he is truly awful. His dialogue isn’t helping, but his delivery is atrocious and awkward, and had the audience in unintended laughter. The film also features Bill Paxton in his final career role (the only thing this film will ever be remembered for) and he is sympathetic as Watson’s sick father in his few scenes.

Even if we had interesting characters, they wouldn’t have anything to do. There isn’t anything resembling conflict or tension through the entire film, with only one scene in the entire film actually resulting in something resembling consequence, and even that feels unearned because of how ludicrous and unrealistic it is.

Even the editing is subpar. The film as a whole drags, with the runtime clocking in at less than two hours but you feel every second of it. Some of the way scenes are spliced together are also awkward, especially one where Watson and a friend are having a conversation in two different bathroom stalls but the camera is framed at the same angle for both women so every time is cuts back and forth it is jarring.

The one thing the film has going for it is its concept. Although the “Big Brother is always watching you” idea is about five years too late to be sci-fi and is now pretty much an accepted reality, the film does make a few good points about how willing people are to sacrifice privacy for convenience, and that maybe the tech companies don’t have our best interest at heart. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

“The Circle” is more boring than it is bad. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a good movie, but at least it seems the people involved were trying; this isn’t an Adam Sandler joint. Unfortunately, their efforts are nowhere near enough to make this watchable. Not as enjoyable as a Periscope feed and featuring less drama than your aunt getting in a political argument on Facebook, “The Circle” is a square.

Critics Rating: 2/10