Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Film Review

Image result for tros"

This year of endings has just wrapped up in the form of the ninth and final film of the main Star Wars ‘Skywalker Saga’; The Rise of Skywalker. The third in the sequel trilogy and the final film of one of the most famous storied ever told, TROS takes place one year after the infamously polarising Rian Johnson-helmed The Last Jedi. That one year has seen exponential growth in both Rey and Ben Solo’s (that’s how we’ll be referring to him in this review) force powers, as well as a significant swelling in numbers of a Resistance that ended TLJ in a dire state. The film begins with the revelation of Emperor Palpatine’s return to the land of the living (sort of), triggering a chain of events that ends in the closing of the Skywalker story. JJ Abrams returns to finish what he started with the sequel trilogy. The script is co-written between himself and Chris Terrio, Academy-Award winning screenwriter of Argo (and also Batman v Superman, and also Justice League. I guess we’re not talking about that), and stars a complete returning cast of the likes of Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and Adam Driver among others, as well as actors returning to play characters from other generations, namely the irresistibly cool Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian. Needless to say, this review is bound to be spoiler-filled. If you have not yet seen the film, turn back now. I’m making this text bold specifically so you can’t miss it. Any spoiling that is done after this point is entirely on you. Seriously.  

Image result for spoilers ahead"

            By now, I’ve seen the film twice, which is the only reason I feel comfortable writing this review. One thing TROS is, without any shadow of a doubt, is a lot. There’s a lot to grab hold of and a lot to get your head round. As a member of a fandom that’s gained a pretty warranted reputation of being the most toxic, temperamental of its kind, I feel like it’s important for me to point out to any Star Wars fan reading this that they have a responsibility 1) not to irrationally jump to conclusions about a film that is too experientially large to really process in one sitting and 2) to measure the importance of their potential dissatisfaction against the lives of the people who make the films. It’s one thing to dislike a film, it’s another to go after someone’s personal life and Rian Johnson certainly did not deserve any of the very personal attacks he was on the receiving end of. No matter your perspective on how TROS ends, we all need to make sure we don’t perpetuate the stereotype that Star Wars fans aren’t in touch with that’s actually important. Okay, got that off my chest. On to the actual film.

My reaction was generally quite mixed. The over-arching reality of the film is that the broad-strokes, in terms of the actual plot-based occurrences and character arcs, are pretty spot on and made for an excellent end to the saga as a whole. Unfortunately, as a result of a number of a poor decisions in the execution of the specifics of those broad strokes, the film falls short of being the heart-opening conclusion it so obviously wants to be. The film is exciting to say the least; it has that signature Star Wars pace of a slightly convoluted but nonetheless extremely pacy and engaging plotline with a myriad of new planets and species and settings and enough action to fill…I dunno, something big. Could it do with a little more time in between sequences for information digestion? Sure, but as far as the overall effect goes, the interest level never drops and it’s a relatively inconsequential crime. Abrams and Terrio have done an excellent job with the characters; Rey goes through a very legitimate and very compelling internal struggle that really allows for some proper depth in her character, depth that Daisy Ridley’s made the absolute most of. Kylo’s arc finally comes good as well in a way that’s satisfying, and the job of creating that sense of Harry-Ron-Hermione camaraderie among the main trio is done reasonably well all things considered (not the last Harry Potter comparison worth making in the film). I was particularly pleased to see that Finn’s position as a throwaway character in TLJ was brought back to its position of importance in this film, not the last thing TROS retconned from TLJ either. Rose Tico, for example, a completely and utterly unnecessary character who was introduced in TLJ, is swept aside in this film (probably for the best, we really didn’t need another casino sequence).

The biggest problem with the film was the unanswered questions. Aside from some questions from earlier films which have still gone without explanation (how did Maz get the damn lightsaber?), TROS raises its own questions which it promptly chooses not to answer. So Rey’s a Palpatine. Cool, I can roll with that, a dark side lineage is both more interesting and allows for the internal struggle that consumes Rey during the film. I feel like I needed some more information though. Palpatine’s son was obviously estranged, since he’d rather die than give her up to him. But who was his mother? Why are the Skywalkers and the Palpatines a “dyad in the force”? A dyad implies a connection, but unless there’s a common ancestor or some amount of criss-crossing (Palps and Pamdé? He was senator of Naboo with a close personal relationship with her, and there were at least 10v years between Phantom and Attack where an affair could’ve taken place, but it’s a little too far-fetched and a little hard to reconcile to actually go with in the grand scheme of things) I’m not sure how the dyad exactly comes about. The Emperor’s return is only tangentially described with one line, and it would take a knowledge of George Lucas’ original concept for the story past Return which involved Palpatine’s efforts at cloning himself and then stirring up all kind of trouble. A vague mention of Sith cloning tech doesn’t exactly make up for that when it comes to your average movie-goer, so there’s that. Rey’s yellow lightsaber at the end of the film is interesting, and reminiscent of the Jedi sentinels seen in Clone Wars and Rebels, but also generally unexplained. Finn’s thing that he was going to tell Rey has allegedly been confirmed by Abrams to be a reference to his own force sensitivity, which is both cool and makes sense; it’s hinted it quite a bit in the film. There’s also the problem of consistency. This film suggests that Rey was the Chosen One after all, but that’s not possible. There’s a whole 3-4 episode arc on the Clone Wars, including confirmation from the Mortis Gods, that Anakin was in fact the Chosen One. Not sure how they’ve gotten around that. Between that and the concept of this mysterious ‘dyad’ in the force, TROS doesn’t go out of its way to explain its logic, which made for a slightly frustrating experience as opposed to a particularly satisfying one.

The other massive issue I had was with the writing. Like I said, the broad strokes plot-work was pretty great; it did everything it needed to do. From typically Star Wars plot details to character development (if I had the time, I’d get into Rey and Ben’s frickin God level force powers) to newer, interesting characters like Zorri and Babu Frik, they do a fantastic job, but the issues come in the nuances in a script that goes for the blunt force cliché as opposed to any deft dialogue. The script’s syntax is downright poor at times, something that we really oughtn’t be worrying about at this level of filmmaking. Terrio (who, I’ll remind you, also orchestrated much of the DCEU. Just saying.) and Abrams did a great job with the story and with a few very well placed examples of symbolism, but completely pulled their punches on the nuances of the film in a way that took from a lot more than just the artistic experience. It wasn’t just bad writing in terms of dialogue; there was a serious overindulgence of 3PO, by way of more spotlight than he deserved, as well as some seriously out of character sarcasm, and almost nothing from R2. The criticism I’ve been reading over and over again is that it clings to callbacks and nostalgia, which I don’t personally agree with. The nostalgia is almost always in good taste (Luke lifting the X-wing was my personal favourite), the real problem for me was some of the ways on which it was carried out, particularly in the cameo onslaught of the ultimate climax. The voices of Jedi gone past were kind of a lame way to combine the entire history and lineage of Jedi into one massive final move. The way Rey finally beat Palps was very reminiscent of Voldemort’s death-by-Avada-Kedavra-rebound in the Harry Potter films, come to think of it, the voices of the Jedi might’ve been akin to the Resurrection stone scene. Wayfinders were horcruxes? Hey, worse places to steal from I guess. A decision I big time would’ve changed was the lack of scoring during Rey and Ben’s final fight on the remains of the Death Star. Instead of scoring, Abrams left the sound of the waves to score the fight. If ever there was a place to rehash some old music from the franchise, this was the moment to use the Mustafar fight theme. I was just a little let down by the slightly low level of emotion in that fight, in comparison to the Mustafar fight, which has to be my favourite fight sequence in film. The lightsaber fighting in the sequel trilogy was far inferior to the prequels across the board (with the possible exception of digital Luke vs. digital Leia). It was actually nice to see Disney maintain Leia’s Jedi training from Lucas’ original version of the story beyond Return. I feel I have gone on a tangent here.

My point was that the script was a little blunt, a little clunky, and chose to put certain things across in ways that were less subtle than they could’ve been. Between that and the tonnage of lore that was left unexplained, the film lacked much subtlety and clarity for a fan to be getting along with. This in spite of some really excellent conceptual photography, backed by some solid performances. TROS actually does all it needed to do in terms of wrapping up the franchise, but falls short on the details such that it left me not particularly satisfied. I very much appreciate the message, the idea that you can choose your family, choose what you stand for, and that “some things are stronger than blood.” I don’t think the problem was a lack of thought that had been put in my any means. I have unyielding respect for JJ Abrams and the work that he has done in the past and present, I only disagree with the way he did certain things in this film, which I definitely would have done differently. He recently addressed the mixed response to the film, saying that people on both sides of the spectrum were “both right”. If ever there has been an idea I could respect.

So, the Skywalker story is over. I actually wonder if that will be the case. The film ends in a way where we could theoretically get more from that particular part of the galaxy far, far away, so we’ll have to wait and see. As of right this second, however, it would appear we’ve had all we were going to get. A more fitting final image than the two suns we could not have received.

The question, for me at least, becomes ought they have made this trilogy? Did it overcomplicate things? Or was it the addition we all needed? Hard to say. I think I’m just as mixed about this as I am about the film in general; I think they’ve done a hell of a job broadly speaking with this film, but some of the specifics left me wanting for more. Hey, maybe they’ll give it to me, in the form of TV shows and novels, I don’t think we can reasonably suggest that this is the last we’ve seen of these characters. In the meantime, it’s time to get crazy excited for the Clone Wars next season, which comes out in Feb. The damn train just never stops.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 78/100                                                         Aryamaan’s Score –

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel – S3: Series Review

Image result for maisel s3"

Season 3 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel released on Amazon Prime early this month. The show, for those unfamiliar (though if that’s true I don’t recommend starting from Season 3 anyway) is set in the 60s and centres around Midge Maisel, an aspiring stand-up comic, and her family. Veteran fans of the show will know, however, that that description has long since failed to capture the essence of this hilarious and stylistically distinct series. Season 3 follows Midge and Susie across America as she heads on tour with Shy Baldwin, leaving behind a Weissman clan that is going through hefty change in their lives. The entire cast returns, including Rachel Brosnahan, Michael Zegen, Alex Borstein, and Tony Shalhoub among others, as well as the addition of Sterling K. Brown this season, playing Shy’s manager Reggie.

Oh, how I missed Maisel. Truth is, I hadn’t seen any of the show up until a couple months ago, at which point I binged as no one has binged before. Being funny is one thing, being intelligent much the same, but the way this show does it with such irresistible personality and style is downright infatuating, and I defy any to stop once they’ve started. This season was much the same in just about every way. So much so that it’s almost hard for me to review; there’s an infallible consistency to the way the show runs.

The aesthetic style is hard to describe but unmistakable for anyone who’s seen the show. It’s almost a weird thing to witness. For obvious reasons, the world pre-colored TV always seems black-and-white in our heads. There’s something about the vibrance 60s New York they capture, even if the cultural elements seem tinged with a hint more modernity than is realistic. Regardless, the visual creation is excellent, and a lot of fun on the eye. This season added to it with some more locations, as well as a couple examples of sequences that were very pointedly stylized (the dancing at the club that Lenny and Midge go to or the two boys tap dancing at the Apollo, for example).

Season 3 takes Midge and Susie away from New York for the most part, LA and Miami for the most part, leaving Abe and Rose stranded between the Devil and the deep blue sea: homelessness, or living with Moishe and Shirley. Rose’s kerfuffle with her family’s trust-fund committee was an interesting thing to see as far as her character development went, and it was even acknowledged in a dramatically satisfying way during an outburst between herself and Midge. Abe, the unsung hero of this whole damn show if you ask me, obviously brought some of the most quality content. The funniest recurring joke of the season was, by some distance in my opinion, that of him and his pseudo-rebellious band. Then there is, of course, the beautiful, gorgeous situation of the Weissmans dealing with financial trouble by lodging with the Maisels, which produces every ounce of hilarity that you’re imagining. Joel’s arc takes an interesting turn with the opening of his club (in spite of the Chinese gambling operation going on in the basement). One of the most important moments of the show thus far would have to be the moment at the courthouse, where Joel and Midge were finally confronted by the main plot-hole of the show: why in the hell did Joel and Midge split up in the first place? A great scene aside, it was a much-needed acknowledgement of a serious gap in logic that has been, up until now completely unaddressed. Now, it’s not that that scene actually addressed it, but the bewilderment of the judge was a refreshing “I know, right!” moment. Aside from that, I came round on Mei after being less than impressed with her at first. It was made pretty clear not long after that her inclusion was more than just token Asian representation, she’s got too much character for that, and I came to really appreciate what she added to Joel’s character as well.

The quality of Midge and Susie’s continued interaction and development goes without saying. The writers have fully and completely entered the rhythm with those two, they’ve found the formula that just keeps on giving, while at the same time adding some interesting elements that deepens the intrigue without overcomplicating matters’ case in point is Susie’s gambling issue that develops over the course of the tour. Her back and forth with Sophie Lennon could’ve be done without, perhaps, but it more or less paid off by the end with a can’t-believe-what-I’m-watching final performance on Broadway that ends in the best kind of disaster.

They make an interesting case of Shy’s character and the environment of the tour, particularly Midge’s growth on the trail. That whole will-they-won’t-they with Lenny Bruce was really tastefully. The show at the Apollo was only ever going to end badly; the references to Shy’s sexuality were pretty explicit to anyone who was paying attention. Why, however, the consequences were treated with as much gravity as they were in the final moments of the show eludes me a little bit. Midge had been touring for Shy Baldwin for a while, which is already a bit of a name made for herself. She’d also just killed at the Apollo, which is going to mean something. It didn’t sound like Reggie was out to destroy her career. One thing they never explained was why she was forced to do radio voice work while the tour was on sabbatical, but I can’t imagine that she’s that far away from a show at the Copa or something big soon. She won’t lose the house (the scene where she walked through it after buying it back was the most satisfying of the season by far) since Susie got Midge’s share of the money back. Susie’s a little screwed, but no more than usual.

All in all, this was an immensely satisfying season of Maisel. More than ever I find myself wishing that more shows would stop dropping on streaming services all at once and letting us savour the hours on a weekly basis. God knows when we’re going to get the next 8 episodes. In the meantime, I’ll have to make do with the occasional re-watch of a season that was entirely worthy of those that have come before it. Despite a couple plot-holes and some unanswered questions, a fantastic season of television.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 87/100                                                                     Aryamaan’s Score –

Knives Out: Film Review

Image result for knives out

Hailed as the dark horse movie of the year by critics and audience alike, Knives Out is a Whodunnit written and directed by Star Wars the Last Jedi and Looper director Rian Johnson in lieu of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. The film centres around the death of acclaimed murder mystery writer Harlan Thrombey’s apparent suicide. A seemingly open-shut case is pushed open by the illustrious Benoit Blanc, played by Daniel Craig, diving into the circumstances of familial dispute and a comedy of errors. The film also stars Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Katherine Langford, Michael Shannon, Jaimee Lee Curtis, and Christopher Plummer among many others.

I was almost expecting to be pleasantly surprised by this film. I was not, perhaps, expecting to see arguably the best film of this year. Knives Out is a wacky, intelligent, quirky addition to a legendary sub-genre. Rian Johnson, who one could argue had something to atone for (TLJ was, in his defence a very good film, just not a good Star Wars film), has written a brilliant script that oozes intelligence and wackiness (you’re gonna be reading that word a lot in the coming minutes). It’s got a very unique, sense of humour, a lot of really subtle gaffes and pot-shots that you’ll only get as a reward for paying closer attention. Not a hard thing to do with an intricate plot and a pace, a rhythm almost, that’s equally unique and exciting. From a conceptual point of view it’s a deeply intelligent film. I obviously don’t want to give too much away, but the twists and turns are deeply intriguing, and the way it all falls into place at the end is a little bit genius. Characters, which I’ll go into more detail about in a minute, are hilarious and wonderfully appropriate to the situation. In terms of syntax, there’s a lot of cleverness about the way the story moves forward, a lot of subtle inconsistencies and intriguing decisions which add up to that sense of intrigue. There’s something very intrinsically weird about the film, but a welcome kind of weird. Johnson’s done this brilliant dance of conforming to a genre-based formula and subverting that formula at the same time, revealing more than you expect earlier than you expected it, but maintaining that sense of incompleteness. That tone is one of the most impressive things, the way you’re just never convinced and you can’t put your finger on why.

The characters, and the circumstance to a large extent, are an homage to exactly the kind of story Johnson was trying to mimic and then make modern. Christopher Plummer plays the unfortunate victim, as well as the wealthy father of a very ambitious, very greedy, and very entitled family, all of whom are guilty of the classic waiting-on-the-inheritance-money trope that we so often see in this kind of story. A not so self-made millionaire, the head of his father’s publishing company, a Gwenyth Paltrow-esque lifestyle manager, as well as a pair of SJW and right wing troll for cousins, and a trust-fund good for nothing makes for a wildly entertaining living room as a stage for the main conflicts of the film. Ana de Armas compliments as Harlan’s nurse/emotional support, the effective main character of the film, as well as a strikingly interesting concept: a character in a whodunit who physically cannot lie. How’s that for fascinating.

It’s rounded off, of course, by the pivot of the whole thing, the donut’s hole if you will (anyone who’s seen the film will get that) by Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc. The more I think about it, the more I realise just how brilliant Craig is in this film. Blanc is very obviously based on a Poirot/Columbo blueprint, somewhat aloof yet extremely perceptive. Craig has also been made to put on a southern accent for this film, which lands in every way possible. It’s very self-aware, the way they use Craig’s accent for comedy. The accent itself is fine, it’s more the fact that it’s Craig of all people doing it that leaves you in splits every time he opens his mouth (a moment of singing might’ve actually killed me). Craig’s performance, therefore, considering the intention of adding to the wackiness and somewhat surreal-ness of the whole thing, is delightful, as well as the respective performances of everyone else in the cast. Chris Evans is somewhat miscast, but makes as much as he can with that circumstance and ultimately delivers a strong performance. A special mention must go to Ana de Armas, who, had she not been every bit as convincing as earnest and convincing as she was, the film would not have held water.

I really loved this movie. The buzz around it told me what to expect, but I don’t think even high expectations really prepared me for just how much I would enjoy it. Knives Out is just so full of character, a somewhat odd situation to be in when talking about the mother of all formula genres. Rian Johnson has reminded us all what a first-rate filmmaker he is, in a unique, intelligent, hilarious, and visually beautiful (didn’t get a chance to talk about that, there’s a lot of very grand setting and hard colours that’re very easy on the eye). It’s a success he deserves very much, after a disingenuous and frankly barbaric response from the Star Wars fandom after TLJ. All in all, Knives Out is a wildly entertaining, delightfully wacky, and beautifully crafted contender for my favourite film of the year.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 89/100                                                           Aryamaan’s Score –