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.

OSCAR WINNER 2018 CEREMONY – AN ANALYSIS – WE GOT THEM ALL RIGHT!!!!

Now that the Oscars have come and gone I thought I'd made some observations. First off, if you listened to the Lake Charles' Best Sport Show culture segment on Sunday morning starting at 8:15 am CST, you would have heard Matt, Chad, Corey and my predictions, which were, if I say so myself – pretty good.

WE PICKED ALL THE RIGHT WINNERS! Unfortunately, the Academy didn't always agree with us.

Keeping in mind that we limited our picks to the nominees chosen by the Academy, we hereby present the REEL…I mean REAL…wait maybe I DO mean REEL…winners of the awards given annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, more familiarly known as Oscar since the 1930's when the Academy librarian mentioned she thought it looked like her Uncle Oscar.

In no particular order:

BEST ACTOR

Let's start with a nominee on which we all unanimously concurred. Gary Oldman's breathtaking performance as Churchill in Darkest Hour was a well nigh impossible hurdle for any other actor to overcome. In a role that obviously brought a lifetime of skill and experience to bear, Oldman WAS Winston Churchill for 2 hours and 5 minutes. For more details on this stunning performance in this great film click here – Darkest Hour

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Next up, Sam Rockwell handily shone above all the other contenders INCLUDING his co-star Woody Harrelson who, had Rockwell not been so amazing, I think would have won. Rockwell's portrayal of the massively flawed but redeemable deputy Dixon in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri earned this golden statue. Click on the name for my review. (As a side note I remember the first time I ever saw Rockwell. His performance in Galaxy Quest – the Star Trek homage/spoof/love letter was quite memorable. In what instantly became one of my all time favorite movies, he was arguably the most adorably goofy character in a tremendous ensemble of gifted actors including Sigourney Weaver, the late Alan Rickman, Tony Shaloub and Tim Allen.)

BEST ACTRESS

 In another example of where the Academy occasionally gets it right, the brilliantly talented Frances McDormand picked up her second best actress Oscar. The first was for the charming, very pregnant and easily underestimateable Sheriff Marge in the weirdly quirky crime comedy-drama Fargo at the 1997 ceremony. This one was for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This round she is the desperately grieving mother of a murdered daughter who takes her frustration over the lack of progress out on the local constabulary, who are just as anxious to get results as she is. It is a case of two groups separated by a common goal who come to loggerheads because they can not find the real culprit. But interestingly, that is not what the movie is about. For more information on this complex and moving film see my review on Three Billboards subtitled: The Main Character is Not Who You Expect

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Here is where the Academy started to get it wrong. They picked Alison Janney for I, Tonya. A solid performance, certainly, in a dramedy/documentary about the life and scandal surrounding Tonya Harding and her complicity in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan just before the 1994 Olympics. While meaning no disrespect to Ms. Janney, as often actors are limited, obviously, by the roles they inhabit, Janney's character as Tonya Harding's mother was a monotone. Mrs. Harding was portrayed as a manipulative, abusive, emotionally calloused mother. She was not allowed, due to the nature of the script and person she was playing, to use much off the pallette of colors from those she was given. The result was almost a caricature of a person. Ms. Janney performed Mrs. Harding well, but it was by no means as challenging a part to play as the one tackled by Laurie Metcalf in Ladybird.

Laurie Metcalf's Marion is the mother of a rebellious, hormonal teenager struggling with her transition from child to woman. Marion actually has some traits in common with the notorious Mrs. Harding. Marion is distant and harsh at times, but despite her personal difficulties and conflicts with her daughter, manages to convey motherly purpose, love and conviction into a character that would have been unpleasant and unsympathetic in other hands. Metcalf's role was a very tricky hand to play. Too much and she would have been off putting, less and she would have seemed incapable as a mother. As it was Metcalf walked that fine ine between a flawed unpleasant character and a character with whom you feel empathy.

I have HAD the conversations Marion had with her daughter, Lady Bird – both as a daughter AND as the mother of a daughter, and I can tell you her portrayal was spot on.

For more on Ladybird see my review at: Lady Bird: To Anyone Who Knows a Teenaged Girl

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

There is no other way to describe the Academy's pick for best adapted screenplay as anything other than offensive and morally repugnant. Call me by Your Name was nothing but an attempt to lionize and romanticize pedophilia. Frankly, the author and everyone involved in the making of this movie should not have been awarded anything but jail sentences.

To be fair to the other nominees, I have to say I did not see any of them – mostly because I missed opportunities to do so and plan to catch up later. So, in this case, I deferred to my son who had at least seen Logan. He reported that Logan was an extremely good adaptation of the comic book series, exploring multi-dimensional character exposition while following the complex storyline set down by the original authors. If it later turns out one of the remaining three viable candidates did a better job, at least we can say that Logan deserved its place in the list of nominees.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

I saw all five of the nominees and I can safely say that not only is Get Out the best original screenplay – in that it was not based upon any pre-existing source material – but that it was – literally – one of the most original screenplays I have ever seen and certainly the most original of the nominees which included Lady Bird, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and The Big Sick, all of which were excellent. While in good company, Get Out still outshone them all in its innovative and creative story ideas, theme, plot and execution.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

The Academy chose, Coco, what I thought was second best. They certainly chose the best CHILD'S animated feature film, but that is not what the category is. The category is for best animated feature film. I do not understand how they could compare Coco, which is what can only be described as a cute Halloween-like movie about a child searching for his grandfather among the dead, to the genuinely unique, classically and masterfully conjured  tour de force that is Loving Vincent.

Loving Vincent follows Armand, an ersatz and initially reluctant detective, who pursues the stories surrounding the death of Vincent Van Gogh. The entire film is animated using paintings made by hundreds of talented artists in the style of Vincent Van Gogh himself. The entire film is animated the way Vincent might have seen the proceedings. As satisfactory as Coco was, choosing it over Loving Vincent would be a bit like picking a cel from a Bugs Bunny cartoon over Starry Night. For more details on this daringly imaginative labor of love and brilliant masterpiece of animation, including links to where to obtain a copy, please see my review at – Loving Vincent – an Animated Biography.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT

At least the Academy got this right. Dear Basketball is a lovely inspirational animated film based on the poem Kobe Bryant wrote about his love of the sport, commemorating his retirement and presented at the ceremony honoring him for his lifetime achievements.

BEST PICTURE

The only positive thing I can say about the Academy's ill-considered choice of The Shape of Water as best picture is that at least they didn't pick the movie about the pedophile. Please read my review of this misbegotten movie at: Shape of Water – Offensive on so Many Levels.

There were many excellent choices to be had but hands down my pick would have been Darkest HourDarkest Hour features one of the best performances anywhere by anyone. Darkest Hour also is a detailed and fascinating account of a moment in time shaped by courageous men, great and small, who changed the course of history almost solely by their foresight, heroism, stalwart determination to stand up to the face of evil and refusal to buckle under the massive pressure of others' cowardice. Simultaneously, the movie openly presents the foibles, and occasionally almost whimsical personality of one of the most powerful men in history – Winston Churchill, humanizing him in ways that make it easy to believe we can all aspire to greatness in our own way, if we are but willing to self-sacrifice for honor and the protection of others.

I just do not see how they could reject such a magnificent film as Darkest Hour in favor of a movie which examines a woman's selfish and disturbing descent into bestiality.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

  I deferred on this category to my husband who is a gifted amateur photographer. After examining the work done in all of the nominated films he thought Dunkirk should have squeaked past Blade Runner 2049, though he admitted that Blade Runner 2049 demonstrated exceptionally good craftsmanship in that art. So I am pretty content with the Academy's choice of Roger Deakins for Blade Runner 2049 here.

COSTUME DESIGN

I know just about nothing concerning fashion and whether or not a particular costume was brilliantly recreated, difficult to construct or pulled off of a rack at Walmart. Therefore, I figure it is safe to assume that Mark Bridges' acquisition of that award for his work in Phantom Thread ABOUT a fashion designer is a pretty good bet. besides, the dresses are really pretty. LOL

BEST DIRECTOR

My objections to The Shape of Water are the same as those given above for Best Picture only more so as the director of a film is the captain of the ship and therefore the court of last resort and where the buck stops for the disaster or masterpiece which is created.

To my thinking, even had The Shape of Water not contained such offensive elements, Jordan Peele deserved the best director Oscar far more for Get Out. Jordan Peele both wrote and directed this fable exposing the truth behind the smug and smarmy smiles of wealthy elitist white liberals towards minorities whose lives they carelessly use like so much marketplace clutter.

Mr. Peele's use of sound and cinematography, fantasy elements and music, editing choices and plot twists all managed to deftly balance across a tightrope between horror and humor, creating a movie the likes of which I have not ever seen. Although there were many creative people involved and he did not singlehandedly make this film Mr Peele was the one who chose amongst an infinite choice of elements available to him to scupt this mesmerizing tale. Again, as the captain of this shiop he deserves the kudos, just as del Toro deserves the disapprobation. Hitchcock, I would be so bold as to guess, would have enjoyed Get Out, so suspenseful and woven throughout with intrigue, misdirection and cleverly laid clues it is. I can not help but wonder if the shoe Mr. Peele constructed of liberal hypocricies fit just a bit too tight for them to be comfortable in conferring the award Mr. Peele so clearly deserved.

FILM EDITING

Another choice where the Academy got it right. Dunkirk was chosen. The filmmakers had the interesting challenge of how to present one story wherein a certain aspect took place over a period of weeks, another essential element took days and a third was only a matter of hours. And I think the editor, Lee Smith, cracked this nut quite effectively and cleverly.

MAKEUP AND HAIR STYLING

One of the few others that the Academy chose wisely. Although Wonder was brilliant the makeup for Darkest Hour was transformative. Not only Gary Oldman's face but his entire body structure was altered to reproduce the distinctive Churchill physique.

ORIGINAL SCORE

All of the music in all five of the nominees was beautiful and I will not begrudge the fact that The Shape of Water won for what is rightfully a lovely score by Alexandre Desplat, but you think they would have at least thrown a bone to Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I mean it IS John Williams!!

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

While "Remember Me" from Coco , the song chosen by the Academy, was kind of cute in a harmless, innocuous, forgettably Disney-ish sort of way, I can't remember how it goes off the top of my head. But "This is Me" by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul from The Greatest Showman should have won.

"This is Me" is the kind of song that will stick with you – not only because it is very catchy and fun to hear and sing, but it is inspirational and uplifting and is something you will want to recall in moments of frustration or challenge or even despair. "This is Me" is an anthem for those who are determined to pick themselves up and start over, who desire nothing more than to be left alone to strive for greatness without the burden of artificial obstacles placed in their way by interfering hypocritical cliquish elitists who think they are better than others because of the privilege to which they were born – oh wait, now I see why the liberal elite in the voting Hollywood establishment didn't want to pick it. Silly me.

PRODUCTION DESIGN

OK I'll give The Shape of Water this one as one it might actually have legitimately won. Although all the nominees created amazing worlds, there is an argument for the dream and water worlds created in Shape of Water. It is just a shame they didn't put these beautiful sets to better purpose than this egregiously misanthropic excuse for extreme selfishness and sexual depravity.

SOUND EDITING and SOUND MIXING

To me these awards were a toss up between Baby Driver and Dunkirk, and Dunkirk won. The challenge of combining dialogue, sound effects and music into a cohesive whole must have posed an especially creative challenge given the surroundings ran the gamut from inside a metal ship run aground to the open sea to being able to reasonably hear over World War II aircraft during a dog fight, sounds one might hear underwater, explosions and the clacking of boots on empty streets. I can applaud and respect this choice.

VISUAL EFFECTS

Lastly, Blade Runner 2049 earned its award for visual effects handily in the world of red lighted dust, dark rain swept vistas and holograph enhanced interactive environments. It's beautiful but stark and intimidating world deserved its win.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

DOCUMENTARY SHORT

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

LIVE ACTION SHORT

Sadly I saw none of the nominees for these last four categories.

Let me know in the comments what your favorites were in any or all of the categories. If you like, present a convincing argument and I might post it as all or part of a guest rebuttal.

Thanks for reading!