STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER – WORTHY CULMINATION OF 42 YEARS AND NINE FILMS

SHORT TAKE:

The culmination of 42 years and nine films, the “last” Star Wars installment, which follows Rey as she seeks out the truth about her parentage.

WHO SHOULD GO:

No inappropriate sexuality, tiny amount of mild profanities, no blasphemy, BUT there is a good deal of very intense and cartoon-violence fighting scenes in a variety of frightening landscapes: underground, in extremely high seas, space, etc. So young teens or, with parental discretion, any age.

LONG TAKE:

I had read a lot of bad press about this latest Star Wars installment: Disney princess-fied, rehashing of old storyline, feminist diatribe, devaluing of men. So two of my kids and I went in as fairly hostile audience members. Honestly, none of the complaints were truly justified. We all kept waiting for it to be bad or get bad and it never happened.

Now if repetition is your irritant of choice, certainly there was an avalanche of nostalgic homages in this (supposed) last installment of the 42-year franchise, but that was to be expected.  And director J.J. Abrams (contributor to Star Trek, Star Wars and Mission Impossible installments) with his team of writers does not disappoint with: exciting non-stop action, classically Star Wars-ian pseudo-science/fantasy, exotic species, deeply committed and self-sacrificing leads and smart aleck supporting cast dialogue.

The late Carrie Fisher appears thanks to CGI, left over footage and clever cinematography by Dan Mindel who has lent his talents to many franchises including Star Wars, Mission Impossible, and Star Trek. The most prominent of supporting cast members also include: Oscar Issacs (multi-talented actor whose resume includes The Nativity Story, Operation Finale, and X-Men) as Poe, the wisecracking pilot; John Boyega as Finn, former First Order (read new Storm Trooper) inductee and Rey’s best friend; Anthony Daniels reprising C3PO as the only cast member to be in ALL NINE movies (R2D2’s Kenny Baker having passed away); Domhnall Gleeson (About Time, the Cohen brothers True Grit, and Peter Rabbit) as the comically nefarious General Hux (whose success rate is about that of Colonel Klink in Hogan’s Heroes); Billy Dee Williams who cheerily reprises Lando with contagious enthusiasm; Ian McDiarmid returning as the oozy evil Emperor Palpatine; and the list goes on for miles. The majority of every character and actor who have ever appeared in a Star Wars movie show up regardless of whether they and/or their characters are currently dead or not.

Abrams’ writing team includes himself, Chris Terrio (D.C. universe and Argo), Derek Connolly (Pokémon Detective Pikachu, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom SEE REVIEW HERE, and Kong: Skull Island), and Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom). There is a lot of sci-fi fantasy credentials involved and it shows.

This – allegedly – last Star Wars film examines who Rey (Daisy Ridley – Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express) really is as she fights the last remnants of the Empire with a coalition of freedom fighters. As to having a female in the lead I saw nothing wrong with their handling of this story decision. Anyone who has read previous reviews knows I am adamantly against rewrites to crowbar in females where men had previously starred (ahem – Ghostbusters 2), and am on record for looking with a jaundiced eye at female led action movies. However, I also am equally vocal in praise of well done movies like Wonder Woman and characters like Black Widow, where the protagonist is awesome and the storyline well done and the lead just happens to be a female – hero first, woman second. Rey, here, is an action hero first who just happens to be a female. Well done her.

The music by John Williams (who else?!) blends smoothly with all the rest of the franchise music. It is but a variation on the same themes, but that is not a bad thing. (They don’t call the original soundtrack the “Star Wars Symphony” for nothing.) This iconic music is as much a character in all nine of the movies as Chewie or R2 or Lando or Leia or, for that matter, the Millennium Falcon.

The cinematography is visually spectacular – as you would expect from any Star Wars film. From a stark desert landscape to a fight surrounded by CAT 5 hurricane level waves, from a space dog fight to a duel underground, the screenwriters went out of their way to be sure we got the length and breadth of how a Jedi deals with hostile environments of all kinds.

If it were not for the fact this movie is supposed to be the wrap up to four decades of films catering to three generations of Star Wars fans, I would think they maybe had over egged the pudding. As it was there were both cheers and tears from the audience as the storyline went through its paces in a most satisfying effort to pull out all the stops.

I couldn’t help but see the parallel to the long running thread at the heart of  The Blacklist‘s seven-season (and still going strong) tale, wherein the FBI’s most wanted (James Spader’s Red Reddington) turns himself in to aid the FBI in hunting down criminals so dangerous and elusive the FBI doesn’t even know they exist. But Red will only speak to Elizabeth Keen, newbie Quantico grad, who has never even heard of Reddington aside from his rap sheet. Though the titular storyline involves pursuing bad guys in clever ways, who Keen is to Red is the engine that propels the core of the show.

Similarly, the Star Wars Saga’s wrap up films have explored Rey’s search for closure. Rey is their new version of Luke – the Padawan with inexplicably extraordinary Force abilities – who searches for her parents and is occasionally sorry she asked.

There is something eternally appealing to the quest to reveal our origins, harkening back to our search for our place in the Universe and ultimately our relationship with our Creator. The annals of cinema history is rife with examples of orphans searching for their place in the Universe: Little Orphan Annie, Oliver Twist, Heidi, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Cosette from Les Mis, even Billy Batson from Shazaam! and Peter Pan – all search for what they see as their missing piece. Some, like Billy and Dorothy discover they never truly lacked anything to begin with and there was no place like home with people who already loved them. Others were disabused of idealized fantasies. And this is the identity crisis with which both Rey and her antagonist Kylo Ren (Adam Driver – Paterson SEE REVIEW HERE and Logan Lucky SEE REVIEW HERE) wrestle. Rey wants to know who her mom and dad are/were and why they left her. On the other hand, while Ren knows who his parents are, he is in a constant state of struggle in coming to terms with them and their beliefs. (And boy with 6 kids isn’t THAT a familiar theme.)

SPOILERS

Dove-tailing with the search for identity embarked upon by the lead antagonists, the resolution for Kylo Ren comes from a very Christian based theology. Ren has done terrible things: genocide, patricide, torture of innocents, random violence, all in the service of becoming a galactic tyrant.  All very NON-Jedi activities. For the 3 or 4 people in the solar system who might not know, a Jedi is a monk-like warrior who leads a fairly aesthetic existence while fighting, armed only with a light saber and his connection to the “Force” of life, to ensure freedom and protection for innocents, even at the cost of their lives. Ren is the polar opposite of this, despite his parentage of Princess Leia, twin sister to Luke, a powerful Jedi master-knight and Han Solo, Luke’s best friend. But when Rey fatally bests him in battle, then, in an act of mercy, shares some of her life force with him to heal his mortal wound, he turns his back on what he has become. Ren repents! And when  he dies, in a turn about to save Rey by re-offering ALL of his life force back to her, he disappears as Yoda and Obi Wan had done – a sign of ultimate acceptance by the Jedi Force of his worthiness.

So with Ren’s genuine repentance and his willingness to die for his one time enemy, to love his “neighbor” as himself, came true redemption. A laudable and admirable lesson with which to close out (if this truly IS the last) the Star Wars Saga.

On a completely different topic – A lot of ink has been spilled over a same-sex kiss. The film makers made a big deal about this but it is truly “much ado about nothing” and a ridiculous effort at some glad handing political correctness. It occurs during a World War II Victory-like moment of joyous abandonment and celebration of life so that everyone is hugging and kissing everyone else. The kiss was about a sexual as if, in the joy of the moment Poe had kissed Maz or Rey had smooched Chewbacca. It had the same feel as when Ernie kissed Burt on the forehead after they finish singing for George and Mary’s wedding in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Were it not for the hypersensitivity in this artificially created lame-stream media’s constant attempts at shoving politically correct agendas down mainstream audiences throats, I don’t even think anyone would have noticed. Noticing it and attributing any particular significance to it hints at a subtext. But the kiss comes out of nowhere and BECAUSE of the attention brought to it in advertising campaigns, it effectively commits the cardinal sin of breaking the suspension of disbelief, needlessly popping the viewer out of this otherwise wonderful moment which was 42 years in the making.

The only other significant critique I would give is the insufficient amount of time given to the, as my kids put it, non-“Emo” Kylo Ren. Ren spends the majority of his time in these movies growling behind a Vader-like mask, barking orders, destroying things in fits of anger, glowering, killing people, and generally  being a REALLY tough audience. Ren’s moments of slight gentle humor after his miraculous healing by Rey are a surprise and delight. They are simple and little but effective moments where Ren is FINALLY channeling his father, Han Solo – like saying “Ow” after a fall or giving a wry smile and shrug as he pulls a lightsaber from nowhere to school some opponents. These are the best moments in all of Ren’s appearances in the entire franchise. They are memorable but tragically ever so brief minutes before he dies. Would that they had made an entire feature film with this aspect of his character.

So after all the reveals and (sort of) character deaths and familial connections resolved within the Star Wars Universe, you might think they really mean it when they say this is the LAST Star Wars movie to ever be made. Everyone who believes that shout out loud. (*so quiet crickets can be heard*) I agree and that’s just fine. See you at the NEXT “final” Star Wars movie.

WEIGHING IN ON THE PETER RABBIT “CONTROVERSY”

On the Peter Rabbit bullying controversy. This is one of the dumbest things I have ever heard of or read. It only goes to prove that some people have way too much time on their hands. Perhaps in responding to this it indicates that I do too. However, I review movies. What's their excuse?!

If you have not heard of this dumb thing: Peter "bullies" the younger McGregor by capitalizing on his allergies and slingshotting a Blackberry into his mouth. They call it "allergy bullying". Of course, McGregor was, at the time, trying – with cause – to kill Peter and his siblings. At first I thought the protestors were kidding but then I realized that people who gin up this kind of complaint generally do not have a sense of humor.  

I got news!! Peter and Thomas McGregor are in MORTAL COMBAT. We're talking Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, Sylvester and Tweety, Tom and Jerry, Daffy Duck and Yosemite Sam. Peter is a 5 pound rabbit. Thomas McGregor is a 170 lb 6 foot one inch grown man.  They are trying to EXTERMINATE each other!!! And to see this rabbit get the best of McGregor and watch as McGregor attempts to retaliate is very very funny.

To paraphrase John Cleese from Monty Python's the "Dead Parrot Sketch" Peter and Thomas are trying to enroll each other in the Choir Celestial. They're engaged in attempting to make each other push up daisies. They are trying to introduce each other to our Creator. They are, with great earnestness, endeavoring to KILL EACH OTHER.

Thomas McGregor tries to chop the bunnies in half with with a hoe! He sets up fatal animal traps in hopes of breaking their necks. His Uncle ATE Peter's father! Peter on the other hand tries to electrocute, trap, and beat Thomas McGregor to death. At one time he and his friends successfully manage to get the young McGregor to fall off the roof of a two-story house. Had he fallen onto something harder than the turned earth below him it would have been a lethal fall. As it is he is rendered unconscious and the animals all comment about how it will be lovely when the ice cream truck comes to pick him up – referring to the ambulance that came and took away the late Elder McGregor.

This is Shakespearean level tragic stuff. Two males vying, with different but equally compelling motives, for the same woman's affections, try to murder each other in a variety of ways and in the attempt almost succeed! AND, as a side effect, almost kill the young lady as well. Had this not been a child's movie it is likely all three would have ended up dead.

To then be concerned about a relatively minor, but honestly clever, attack with a blackberry is ludicrous – which is really an insult to genuinely ludicrous things. It reminds me of the Monty Python sketch "Self Defense Against Fresh Fruit" where an incompetent self defense instructor explains the fine points of defending oneself against a banana! SEE SKIT HERE

Peter Rabbit is SLAPSTICK. Do these people have no sense of humor!? (Rhetorical question.)  Have the "protestors" never seen what the Three Stooges do to each other?! I have family members with serious food allergies too and I took ZERO offense. To paraphrase John Adams from the musical 1776 – It's a comedy – you have to offend SOMEBODY!

What I am sorry for is that Sony actually apologized for this scene and did not have the steel in their collective important body parts to tell the boycotters to GET A LIFE! I am all out of patience with oversensitive snowflakes who run around looking for some reason to be put out. And frankly I'M OFFENDED BY THEIR BEING OFFENDED!!! How about THEY apologize to Sony and the other members of the audience for being so boorish?

I'm not condoning the behavior of EITHER characters in the movie but neither do I suggest children or other adults should: set animal traps in beds, electrify door knobs, use slingshots in an effort to emasculate someone with vegetables or blow each other up with dynamite – ALL of which happen in this movie! If you don't want your children seeing this then use a bit of parental discretion and do not go! But don't make the world more peevish and unpleasant for the rest of us.

I can only hope that in the future the people who spent effort stirring up this silly controversy manage to find better things to do with their time….then I can too.

PETER RABBIT – CHARMINGLY PRESENTED RABBIT … TAIL

 

SHORT TAKE:

Lovely and fun family friendly homage to the classic story of the mischievous rabbit, using all the talents of the modern animation techniques as well as some very skillful voice and pantomiming actors.

WHO SHOULD GO: Very family friendly for all ages (despite the stupid controversy about the "allergy bullying" – see my other blog on this: WEIGHING IN ON THE PETER RABBIT “CONTROVERSY”). Take everyone from the youngest who will sit through a feature length film to the Grandparents. Everyone will find something to enjoy.

CHECK OUT DETAILED AND SPECIFIC CONTENT STATISTICS AT SCREENIT.COM.

LONG TAKE:

Domhnall Gleeson is a good sport. Son of the immensely talented Brendan Gleeson who has appeared in everything from Tom Cruise's sci fi Live, Die, Repeat to Mad Eyed Moody in the Harry Potter franchise, Domhnall does not fall far from that gifted tree.

star warsDomhnall Gleeson has appeared in Star Wars as the new and somewhat comedically incompetent baddie, General Hux, occasionally thrown unceremoniously around by a miffed Kylo Ren. He has appeared often with his brothers and father in genres from dark comedy (Calvary) to about timerom-com fantasy (About Time) to an true gritAmerican western (True Grit). He's been shot, tossed, wolf bitten, has murdered his own real life brother as a modern day Cain in Mother! and fallen in love with an android (Ex Machina).

Irish born and naturally heavily accented, he nonetheless has solid command of a variety of accents. He's been an iconic upper class British writer (A. A. Milne in Goodbye, Christopher Robin) and an over the top American CIA agent (American Made). There's a boyish charm he exudes, even in his darkest roles, which makes his characters inherently likeable, especially as he endures whatever indignities required of his roles with an amused sangfroid even when it's against a green screen necessitating pantomime.

But no where is he required to endure more humiliations with a smile against an imaginary antagonist than in Peter Rabbit.

The premise is that Old Man MacGregor, portrayed briefly in broad good natured ranting and raving by

Sam (Jurassic Park) Neill, bequeathes his farm to his great nephew, Thomas. My daughter, Elizabeth, pointed out that once again, in Peter Rabbit, Sam Neil tackles intelligent animals out to get him. LOL

gleeson at harrodsDomhnall's Thomas is as precise in his habits as Phileas Phogg and as cantankerous and anti-wildlife as his rabbit pie eating Uncle. He moves into the MacGreor house with the intention of selling it but the anthropomorphized animals will have none of it. Peter's coat wearing, wise cracking, English speaking rabbit family are as anxious to be rid of this new human interloper as he is of them.

The adorable complicating factor in all of this is Bea (presumably a version of "BEA"atrix Potter, the author of the original Peter Rabbit stories, who mothers the rabbits and lovingly paints them, with whom Peter has attached and in whom Thomas falls immediately in love. peter and beaThis sets off a series of comical incidents where each side tries to do away with the other all while pretending to be pals for the sake of Bea.

While the stuff of Shakespearean tragedy, this is a kids' film and, as such, you can be sure that subsequent to a series of outrageous hijinx all will be well that will end well.

Domhnall, during the course of the film is beaten, tripped, electrically shocked, subjected to animal traps, used as a bulleye's in uncomfortable places with well aimed vegetables, kicked, bitten and wrestled with by —- nothing. He didn't even have the benefit of the voice actors nearby.

James Cordan (who appears in two Dr. Who's as a love lorn fellow tenant of a town house then again as the same character, now as a well meaning but overwhelmed father) does the voice of Peter. By his own description, Cordan was working in his pajamas in England, while the intrepid Mr. Gleeson was sweating it out in 100 degree Australian heat pretending to be in the far cooler northern rural U.K.

In interviews, Gleeson good naturedly describes how he hurt himself early and often during the course of the filming – wrenching and bruising ankles, back, ribs – as hegleeson flying leaps, gleeson with trapsfalls,

slams into furniture and generally gets banged around.

All for a good cause as my two grandsons loved the movie. gleeson and pigThe littlest laughed hardest whenever Pigling Bland appeared to aristocratically gorge himself on whatever happened to be within reach.

The movie is good natured and silly, Peter on steroids, as the slightly mischievous bunny of the books becomes a Gleeson and rabbitsninja-like, almost superhuman terror, turning the young MacGregor's modern gizmos back onto his unwary human antagonist.

Both Thomas and Peter must ultimately come to terms on behalf of the sweet Bea but it's their rivalry that provides the most entertainment as Peter is more Bugs Bunny than Potter and gleeson with hoeThomas would definitely be able to empathize with Elmer Fudd.

The voice acting is enthusiastic and bright.

Margo Robbie of Suicide Squad narrates and speaks for Flopsy.

Elizabeth Debicki from both Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Valerian is Mopsy. And in a creative, if not physical, reunion

Daisy Ridley rejoins her Star Wars alumni, Domhnall, in the cast as Cotton-Tail. Each actress provides a cute and distinctive personality to the triplet sisters.

Take your little ones to go see this adorable homage to the classic rabbit tail — I mean tale. Although, honestly, some of the sight gags are repeated a bit too much as though they are dragging out their run time, at the end the audience I attended with applauded. My grandsons enjoyed it and that is endorsement enough. And rest assured, this Peter Rabbit will find something for every age in your family at which to chuckle.