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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


‘Solo’ Isn’t Special, but it is Fun

No matter how good the films are, I worry that we are creeping dangerously close to the point where “Star Wars” will lose its magic and we no longer eagerly look forward to the release of a new one…

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” is the origin story to the character of Han Solo, portrayed in the original trilogy by Harrison Ford. Here, Alden Ehrenreich takes over the reins of the character, with Donald Glover as his friend Lando Calrissian (originally played by Billy Dee Williams), Joonas Suotamo as the Wookie Chewbacca and Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Paul Bettany all in new roles. Ron Howard directs after taking over for Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, who were fired by Lucasfilm midway through filming.

You won’t read a single review about this film that doesn’t bring up the behind-the-scenes drama that plagued production so I won’t beat a dead horse, but in case you aren’t familiar with the situation here are the bullet points. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, best known for helming the “Jump Street” movies, were originally hired to do the film but after they encouraged a lot of improve and were getting away from the script the studio fired them and brought in Ron Howard, who in turn reshot about 70% of the movie (some even say it’s up to 90%), ballooning the budget to $250 million. No one was really clamoring for a Han Solo origin story in the first place, part of what people like about him is his mystery, but as turns out, for a film with this much going against it, it isn’t half bad.

I was very high on Alden Ehrenreich after his show-stealing performance in “Hail, Caesar!” and when he was cast as Solo I got excited. Even after his bland turn in Warren Beatty’ s ”Rules Don’t Apply” I still thought he had the charisma to play a young Han Solo. And it’s odd, because half the time here he does have the swagger, cockiness and dry wit of Harrison Ford and it makes you have flashes of the iconic character. But at other points he seems lost, timid and almost a secondary role in his own film. I’m not sure if it was the direction (/change in directors), script or pressure of the role, but it was just odd to see him give half of a good performance.

Everyone else here is fine, with Woody Harrelson being a mentor of sorts and sneaking a few funny bits in here or there, Emilia Clarke is given little to do except stand there and be a goal and reminder of Han’s past and Donald Glover (naturally) oozes charm and panache as Lando, although he’s a bit of an extended cameo.

The action scenes are solid, with two big set pieces on a snowy train and inside a jail riot, although there isn’t anything as memorably iconic as “the hallway scene” from “Rogue One” or the Obi Wan-Anakin fight in “Revenge of the Sith.” Cinematographer Bradford Young, who earned an Oscar nomination for “Arrival,” gives the film a gritty, at times gold hue and I think it does a good job making this feel like its own little film in the sprawling Star Wars universe, not being so polished.

Speaking of “Rogue One,” much like the hallway scene there is a fun surprise that fans of the franchise will enjoy and it is cool to see some of the “how did Han end with [like this]?” questions get fleshed out. That being said the rest of the film does tend to suffer from the natural problems origin stories do, meaning it fills in too many holes about the character’s past or even gives us answers we didn’t even know we were supposed to be asking.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” is very competently made and I think does just enough to earn its place in the saga’s legacy. I can’t say that I will ever have a dying urge to see it again or that I want to see more of these spin-offs, but I do think it is worth the one-time watch. It isn’t anywhere near as ambitious as “The Last Jedi,” comforting as “The Force Awakens” or great at giving us closure to storylines like “Rogue One” but for what it had to do, and all it had working against it, I’d say things turned out alright.

Critic’s Grade: B


‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ is Only OK

Like I started my “Force Awakens” review with, there’s not a review in the world that will stop you from seeing “The Last Jedi” but let’s give this a shot anyways.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is the 8th Episode of the main series and the second film in the sequel trilogy. The plot picks up with the Resistance, headed by Poe, Finn and Rey (Oscar Isaac, John Boyega and Daisy Ridley) attempting to overthrow the First Order, led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels and Gwendoline Christie reprise their roles while Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern and Benicio del Toro join the cast. Rian Johnson writes and directs.

I liked “The Force Awakens.” It has its flaws and certainly feels like a $250 million fan film at times but it has exciitng action, complex characters and laid the groundwork for a great trilogy. So naturally I was looking forward to “The Last Jedi” with great anticipation. And how is it? I mean, like, it’s fine.

What worked best with “The Force Awakens” again works here and that is the characters. Rey and Kylo Ren have layers and are proving to be some of the most interesting of the entire saga. Daisy Ridley is as stunning to look at as she is at times heart-breaking to watch and is yet another name on the growing list of female action heroes (next up: Alicia Vikander in “Tomb Raider”). Oscar Isaac’s Poe is again the rugged cool guy but this time around he comes off as the wrong kind of cocky at times and seems to be going against authority just for the sake of it.

The one new addition I loved was Benicio del Toro’s thief character, a twitching and fast-talking guy who is only motivated by money. Del Toro is oozing with energy and I hope he is included in the next film.

Adam Driver once again steals the show as the film’s villain, Kylo Ren. The internet has made plenty of jokes about Kylo being a mopey emo goth kid, and how he doesn’t need his mask and is just a Darth Vader wannabe; and one of the things I liked about “The Last Jedi” is it acknowledges these jokes. He quickly loses the mask and once again has his uneven temper but that is part of his brilliant character. He is torn between the Dark Side and the Light and every time he seems to be being pulled one way something will happen that makes him question his actions; there is pain in his eyes and we feel it. If “The Force Awakens” left Kylo Ren emotionally conflicted and battle-scarred then “The Last Jedi” only doubles-down on it and I can’t wait to see just how far they will have him go in this series’ finale.

Some of the action here is the best we’ve had in the “Star Wars” film. There is one sequence were we get some sweet lightsaber action and another that was so gorgeous to look at that upon its climax it had the theater silent before the guy sitting next to me let out a quiet “wow.”

The problem with “The Last Jedi” is it has a lot going on but not all of it feels necessary. In fact there are entire subplots (in this 152 minute film) that feel entirely pointless and end up not affecting the plot at all. I won’t spoil anything but this could have been trimmed and I would be more forgiving of the long main plotlines that do work.

There are also some moments of complete cheese and/or eye-rolling silliness, like one character flying through space like Iron Man and having it never explained (my brother and I slowly turned to look at each other with a “what the hell just happened?” look on our faces). Some of the comedy works and some falls flat, but all too often the laughs that do land are in moments that should be serious, so it creates awkward tonal shifts (kind of like “Justice League” and lesser Marvel films).

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is not a bad film but it is a disappointing one. It just feels like a checklist of things that you expect to see in a “Star Wars” film and there is no gut punch moment like we’ve had in previous installments. It feels a lot like the prequels at time with too much CGI and cute creatures, and never feels like the second film of a trilogy. Maybe down the road I will think that this is a masterpiece (people were mixed about “Empire Strikes Back” when it was released and loved “Phantom Menace”) but as it stands right now, “The Last Jedi” is only OK and that is a crushing thing to type.

Critics Rating: 6/10

‘Force Awakens’ Thrilling, If Not Familiar Adventure

Star_Wars_The_Force_Awakens_Theatrical_PosterThere isn’t a review in the world that will change your thoughts on whether or not you plan on seeing “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” but let’s give this things a whirl anyways.

The first film of a new trilogy and the seventh overall, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” picks up 30 years after the events of “Return of the Jedi.” When a new evil force known as the First Order rises to replace the Empire, members of the Resistance (Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac), with the aid of Han Solo (Harrison Ford), race to find the location of the self-exiled Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). J.J. Abrams directs.

I have always enjoyed the Star Wars films (except the dumpster fire that is “Attack of the Clones”), and despite not being a super-fan looked forward to “Force Awakens” with great anticipation. I trusted that super-nerd Abrams would make a solid film, after all, he had a blueprint on how not to make a Star Wars film, see: “Attack of the Clones” (but don’t actually see it because, dumpster fire), and I liked the idea of the film focusing on new characters and not completely on the old. So does “Force Awakens” live up to the hype? Yes. Well, kinda. Mostly.

For starters, all four of the new main characters absolutely knock their roles out of the park. John Boyega plays Finn, a Stormtrooper who realizes very early on that what the First Order is doing is wrong and betrays them. He and Daisy Ridley’s Rey have great chemistry as two young nobodies who are thrust in the middle of a growing war they don’t want to be a part of. Oscar Isaac plays a pilot and there are several points where he almost comes off as vintage Han Solo, saying a Cool Guy Joe one-liner even in a serious situation.

The real star, though, is Adam Driver, who plays Kylo Ren, the film’s main antagonist. Ren is vicious and ruthless, but we also see him as a morally-torn man who believes that what he is doing is right but at the same time knows that maybe this isn’t the path he is meant to be on.

The action is clean and beautifully shot, and even if those darn Stormtroopers’ aim hasn’t gotten better over the past three decades, the shootout sequences are still as entertaining as anything.

What is “Force Awakens” strongest strength is also arguably its biggest weakness, and that is that it feels like the original Star Wars films. You get the sense of fun, excitement and childhood whimsy, however with that comes familiarity, especially in the plot. Much like “A New Hope,” our heroes must recover information stored in a robot in order to stop a giant death machine that can destroy planets in one blast. It may be easily overlooked for some, but for me it really just felt like Abrams gave the original film a wax job to make it shiny and tried to pass it off as new.

The film does try to throw in some curveballs but all of them can be seen coming from a mile away. There is one in particular that could have had the impact of the “Luke, I am your father” reveal (oh yeah, sorry, Darth Vader is Luke’s father. Spoiler.) but the film gets it out of the way very early on and then makes sure you get the influence it has on the plot by repeatedly forcing it (pun?) down your throat every ten minutes.

I really did enjoy most of “The Force Awakens” and I think it is a fantastic building block for what could become the best Star Wars trilogy, but I just wasn’t wowed by this film has much as I wanted to be. Still, despite all its recycled points and few temporary moments of lag, there is a lot of spectacle to behold, and the cast absolutely nails it. “Force Awakens” isn’t the best Star Wars film we’ve gotten but it is far from the worst (which, if you were wondering, is “Attack of the Clones”), and at the end of the day, that is really all one hope for.

Critics Rating: 7/10



Most Anticipated Films of 2015

Pretty cut-and-dry based on the title, but here are the films that I am most looking forward to in the upcoming year!

10.) Entourage

Following a weak final season of the show, it will be nice to see Ari Gold, Johnny Drama and the rest of the crew back together in Hollywood. Plus it features Tom Brady, Liam Neeson and dozens of other celebrities playing themselves. That’s always fun, right?



9.) Get Hard

Kevin Hart teaches Will Ferrell how to survive in prison. If that last sentence didn’t get you excited for Ferrell’s latest film then I don’t know what will.

USA Today

USA Today

8.) Ted 2

I personally enjoyed “A Million Ways to Die in the West”, but some saw it was a disappointing follow-up to Seth MacFarlane’s “Ted”. So that lovable swearing CGI bear is back in 2015, and even though Mila Kunis isn’t there I’m sure I’ll still find enough to enjoy with this one.



7.) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

This year’s “Mockingjay Part 1” was arguably the best of the series and set up a fantastic confrontation between Katniss’ rebels and President Snow’s government. I wasn’t sold on the first two Hunger Games being able to deliver an enthralling conclusion, but now I really want to see how Katniss’ story ends. Plus, you know, Jennifer Lawrence…



6.) Spectre

The latest 007 film features Daniel Craig returning as Bond and Christoph Waltz as the film’s villain. Much like “Get Hard” if that sentence did not get you excited for this film, then you best check your pulse.



5.) Furious 7

The seventh entry (duh) into the car-turned-heist franchise, this one is extra enticing because it features horror film director James Wan behind the camera and also is the final film for the late Paul Walker, so seeing how the filmmakers handle that will be interesting. Plus Jason Statham is a vengeful bad guy, so that’s should be a good time.



4.) Avengers: Age of Ultron

Aside from “Thor 2”, Marvel can do no wrong. Even if most of my excitement is aimed at 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War”, this Avengers sequel should be fun and looks like it will feature a much darker tone.



3.) The Hateful Eight

The movie that almost never was, Quentin Tarantino was all set to not make this film after the script leaked online. But following some begging from fans and Samuel L. Jackson alike, he caved and thank God for it. Another spaghetti Western, this should be a fine possible send-off for Tarantino, and a solid spiritual follow-up to “Django Unchained”.



2.) Ant-Man

All the drama with Edgar Wright’s exit from the project aside, this looks like it could be a lot of fun. It features “Yes-Man” director Peyton Reed replacing Wright, Will Ferrell partner Adam McKay rewriting the script and the impossible-to-hate Paul Rudd playing a superhero. Plus it is part of the aforementioned Marvel Universe. This one could be the next “Guardians of the Galaxy”.



1) Star Wars: The Force Awakens

This is in first place on 2015’s most anticipated films by a mile, and for a few reasons. First, it’s Star Wars. The cultural significance of this film is huge, and in 20 years it will be something you will be telling your kids that you saw. Second, it is following the prequel trilogy so it truly can’t be worse, right? And finally the cast is impressive and exciting. Geek God J.J. Abrams writes and directs as motion-capture master Andy Serkis, the charming Adam Driver, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o all join the cast while Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill all reprise their iconic roles. I got jacked just writing this.



What movies are you looking forward to in 2015? Comment below!