Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

J.J. Abrams ends the Skywalker saga with a hot but entertaining mess

The circle is complete. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker finds J.J. Abrams returning to the trilogy he kicked off five years ago, and the result is…a hot mess, to be honest.

Admittedly, two and a half hours isn’t a lot of time when you have to introduce three new humanoid characters and a few highly-merchandisable non-humans, re-introduce two legacy characters, resolve two films’ worth of dangling plotlines, and provide some sort of tribute to the late Carrie Fisher. So Abrams wastes no time in establishing the basic plot, which boils down to the search for Emperor Palpatine‽ (interrobang required), who has…returned…somehow (cue a million diehard fans crying out in rage at Abrams for pilfering the now-decanonized pre-Disney EU for ideas).

Abrams’ strong points are developing characters and establishing mysteries, which is why he was a great choice to kick off the sequel trilogy. His weak point is resolving those mysteries; ask fans of Felicity and Alias if they thought those series ended satisfactorily. (For the thousandth time, Lost doesn’t count because by the time that show ended, he had zero creative input.) So you can probably see the problems coming a parsec away.

Predictably, the things’s a mess. The narrative lurches from set-piece to set-piece, each one more heavily laden with fan service than the last. Rey, Kylo Ren, and Palpatine all now have nearly godlike proficiency in the Force, making their altercations feel like superhero battles. The now-requisite climactic dogfight-in-space, pitting the scrappy Resistance against an impossibly huge fleet of Ginormous Star Destroyers, lacks a sense of true stakes.

As for Skywalker‘s relationship with its predecessor, Rian Johnson’s contentious (but excellent) The Last Jedi…well, Abrams clearly doesn’t approve of Johnson’s twists and subversions and walks them back as much as he can. To his credit, he manages to squeeze out two or three genuine surprises and manages to make them work surprisingly well. It would have been nice if he had rolled with the changes, though.

Now, you may get the idea that I hated this film, and that’s far, far from the truth. Yes, it’s very uneven, with too many scenes eliciting eye-rolls or groans. Yet the scenes that work work exceptionally well. A lot of it comes down to the sequel series cast, with Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac holding things together brilliantly. (Sadly, Kelly Marie Tran gets short shrift, garnering less screen time and fewer lines than Abrams’s Lost buddy Dominic Monaghan.)

The new additions shine as well. Keri Russell and Naomi Ackie squeeze sparks out of their scenes with Isaac and Boyega, respectively. Richard E. Grant is such an obvious to play a First Order/Imperial officer that one wonders why it took so long to get him into a Star Wars movie. Also, D-O is adorable.

The legacy cast doesn’t fare quite as well. Carrie Fisher’s scenes feel isolated and detached from the rest of the proceedings (which is understandable, as they were cobbled together from Force Awakens and Last Jedi outtakes). Mark Hamill gets one lame scene. It’s great to see Billy Dee Williams again, even if he doesn’t actually do a whole lot.

Abrams’ direction, while somewhat pedestrian (he’s certainly no stylist), at least keeps the energy level high enough to prevent the audience from noticing the glaring plot holes until they get home from the theater.

As the (apparent) official close to both the sequel trilogy and the larger Skywalker saga, The Rise of Skywalker just about does the job. It can’t help but disappoint, but it could have been a whole lot worse.

Ultimately, though, 2019 will be remembered as the year of The Mandalorian; so if you don’t mind, I’ve got a date with Baby Yoda.

Starring Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid, Billy Dee Williams. Directed by J.J. Abrams. 141 minutes.

My Year in Film: 2017

My favorite things in film in 2017

The Top Films of 2017

Yes, I know I’m late with my lists. So sue me.

Favorite Film of 2017: The Last Jedi

Favorite Movie of 2017 — Star Wars: The Last Jedi

14 Runners-Up: The Shape of Water

Fourteen Runners-Up

Yes, there were good movies released in 2017 whose titles did not involve the words Star and Wars.

  1. The Shape of Water
  2. Baby Driver
  3. Get Out
  4. It Comes at Night
  5. The Post
  6. Kedi
  7. Okja
  8. Blade Runner 2049
  9. Good Time
  10. It
  11. Colossal
  12. Marjorie Prime
  13. Dunkirk
  14. Super Dark Times

The Blackcoat's Daughter

Five Honorable Mentions

The Blackcoat’s Daughter worked the festival circuit in 2015 (when I saw it under its original title, February) and 2016, but A24 didn’t release it until early this year. I tried very hard to justify it as a 2017 film, but ultimately, I just couldn’t. If I could, these lists would look very different.

When I first wrote about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri a couple of months ago, I declared it one of the best films of the year. Since then, I’ve given it some reconsideration and it turns out I don’t like it as much as I initially did. I’d hoped to do a full piece on it, but I never had time to write it. Oh well.

I wanted to rewatch Buster’s Mal Heartmother!, and Raw before finalizing this list, but ultimately couldn’t make the time.

Sicilian Ghost Story

The Five Best Non-Qualifying Films

I tend to find film festival programs work at odds with best-of-year lists. What’s the point of naming such-and-such a movie one of the best of the year if it played only a handful of film festivals? Here are the five best 2017 films I saw at festivals that didn’t see wider release.

  1. Sicilian Ghost Story (Chicago International Film Festival)
  2. Mohawk (Cinepocalypse)
  3. Trench 11 (Cinepocalypse)
  4. The Endless (CIFF)
  5. The Crescent (Cinepocalypse)

Individual Acheivements

Best Director: Guillermo del Toro

Best Director — Guillermo Del Toro, The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

Runners-Up:

  • Rian Johnson, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • Jordan Peele, Get Out
  • Trey Edward Schulte, It Comes At Night
  • Denis Villeneuve, Blade Runner 2049
  • Edgar Wright, Baby Driver

Best Leading Actress: Sally Hawkins

Best Actress in a Leading Role — Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water

Runners-Up:

  • Nicole Kidman as Dr. Anna Murphy, The Killing of a Sacred Deer
  • Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Noomi Rapace as Monday et alWhat Happened to Monday
  • Daisy Ridley as Rey, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • Meryl Streep as Katherine Graham, The Post

Best Supporting Actress: Carrie Fisher

Best Actress in a Supporting Role — Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Runners-Up:

  • Carmen Ejogo as Sarah, It Comes at Night
  • Marianna Palka as Jill Hart, Bitch
  • Octavia Spencer as Zelda Fuller, The Shape of Water
  • Lois Smith as Marjorie, Marjorie Prime
  • Allison Williams as Rose Armitage, Get Out

Best Actor: Daniel Kaluuya

Best Actor in a Leading Role — Daniel Kaluuya as Chris Washington, Get Out

Runners-Up:

  • Timothée Chalamet as Elio Perlman, Call Me by Your Name
  • Adam Driver as Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • James McAvoy as Kevin Wendell Crumb et alSplit
  • Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, Darkest Hour
  • Robert Pattinson as Constantine “Connie” Nikas, Good Time

Best Supporting Actor: Mark Hamill

Best Actor in a Supporting Role — Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Runners-Up:

  • Armie Hammer as Oliver, Call Me by Your Name
  • Richard Jenkins as Giles, The Shape of Water
  • Patrick Stewart as Charles, Logan
  • Michael Stuhlbarg as Mr. Perlman, Call Me by Your Name
  • Jason Sudeikis as Oscar, Colossal

Best Ensemble Cast: Get Out

Best Ensemble Cast: Get Out

(Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel, Lakeith Stanfield, Stephen Root, LilRel Howery)

Runners-Up:

  • Call Me by Your Name (Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garell)
  • It (Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Bill Skarsgård, Nicholas Hamilton)
  • The Post (Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Tracey Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, David Cross)
  • The Shape of Water (Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Doug Jones)
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro, Frank Oz, Billie Lourd, Joonas Suotamo, Jimmy Vee)

Best Screenplay: Jordan Peele

Best Screenplay — Get Out, written by Jordan Peele

Runners-Up:

  • Colossal, written by Nacho Vigalondo
  • Good Time, written by Ronald Bronstein and Josh Safdie
  • Marjorie Prime, screenplay by Michael Almereyda, based on the stage play by Jordan Harrison
  • The Post, written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer
  • The Shape of Water, screenplay by Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, story by Guillermo del Toro

Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins

Best Cinematography — Roger Deakins, Blade Runner 2049

Runners-Up:

  • Drew Daniels, It Comes at Night
  • Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, Call Me by Your Name
  • Andrew Droz Palermo, A Ghost Story
  • Hoyte van Hoytema, Dunkirk
  • Sean Price Williams, Good Time

Best Original Score — Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never), Good Time

Runners-Up:

  • Alexandre Desplat, The Shape of Water
  • Daniel Hart, A Ghost Story
  • Kira Fontana, Kedi
  • Brian McOmber, It Comes at Night
  • Hans Zimmer, Dunkirk

Best Original Song — “Mystery of Love,” Call Me by Your Name (performed by Sufjan Stevens)

Runners-Up:

  • “I Get Overwhelmed,” A Ghost Story (performed by Dark Rooms)
  • “The Pure and the Damned,” Good Time (performed by Oneohtrix Point Never featuring Iggy Pop)
  • “To Be Human,” Wonder Woman (performed by Sia featuring Labrinth)

Best Use of Non-Original Music: "Love My Way" from Call Me by Your Name

Best Use of Non-Original Music — “Love My Way,” Call Me by Your Name (performed by the Psychedelic Furs)

Runners-Up:

  • “Bellbottoms,” Baby Driver (performed by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion)
  • “Dear God,” It (performed by XTC)
  • “Hocus Pocus,” Baby Driver (performed by Focus)
  • “Mr. Blue Sky,” Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (performed by the Electric Light Orchestra)
  • “Voices Carry,” Atomic Blonde (performed by ‘Til Tuesday)

PORG

Breakout Star of 2017 — The Porg in the co-pilot’s seat on the Millennium Falcon, Star Wars: The Last Jedi