Worth seeing: to find out how Disney uses stunning action sequences to pull together a nonsensical and contrived plot that ties up the loose ends of the Skywalker saga
Director: JJ Abrams
Featuring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Anthony Daniels, Billie Lourd, Billy Dee Williams, Carrie Fisher, Domhnall Gleeson, Dominic Monaghan, Greg Grunberg, Harrison Ford, Ian McDiarmid, Jodie Comer, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Keri Russell, Lupita Nyong'o, Mark Hamill, Naomi Ackie, Richard E Grant, Shirley Henderson, Warwick Davis
Length: 141 minutes
Released: 19th December 2019
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
A long time ago, in a galaxy far away…
Rey (Daisy Ridley) is nearing the end of her training to become a Jedi Knight and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is consolidating his grip on power at the helm of the evil First Order.
When it emerges that the Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is not dead, as widely believed, his return conjures up a whirlpool of events, culminating in a final battle between the light and dark sides of the Force.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
As a starting position, it’s certainly the case that a critic’s review will have about as much impact on this film’s box office prospects as a light sabre on the Death Star.
This is all about whether Disney’s already crowd-pleasing franchise can have this particular storyline brought to a satisfying conclusion, 42 years after George Lucas introduced us to the rebels resisting the brutal Empire in what turned out to be Star Wars: Episode IV, A New Hope.
And one interesting sideline is whether this is indeed the way Lucas intended the Skywalker Saga to come to an end when he started with the second of three trilogies, back in the late 1970s, when his storytelling and the techniques used to bring it to the big screen were ground-breaking and genre-defining.
It’s a lot to live up to.
At its heart, this has always been a soap opera, set in space, with a cast of interconnected, unexpectedly related characters – many resurrecting from apparent death – fighting the battle between good and evil.
The initial – chronologically the middle – trilogy remain modern classics of cinema, while Lucas’ own ill-judged prequel trilogy is widely regarded as self-indulgent nonsense.
But under the guidance of JJ Abrams, the jury is still out on episodes 7, 8 and 9.
There’s no question that the action is thrilling, they’re bristling with humour, bursting with imagination and largely faithful in tone to the earliest films.
But with so much history, the opening title crawl can’t come close to preparing viewers who aren’t up to speed on Jedi and Sith lore, the Empire, First Order, Rebellion, eight films’ worth of characters and a narrative as twisted and complex as a string of DNA. Even for audiences who’ve seen all of the previous films, a TV-style “previously on Star Wars” would’ve provided a useful refresher for those whose memories start to lose detail over more than four decades.
If this is you, the plot to Episode IX will largely be labyrinthine nonsense, packed full of exposition and with almost every highly anticipated twist being delivered clumsily, bereft of dramatic tension, in a single line of dialogue, before the characters stumble along to the next planet on their quest or their next confrontation.
The typical narrative device of set-up and “pay-off” is largely eschewed for a lazy and often clumsy-feeling formula of “action-action-quick-bit-of-exposition-action-action.”
But if you know your X-wings from your TIE Fighters and your Exogol from your Endor, and you’re engaged enough not to be bothered by such expedient narrative short-cuts, you’ll find yourself in heaven – or wherever it is that Star Wars characters go while they’re waiting to return to life. This whole enterprise has clearly been structured to appeal to fans of Star Wars than enthusiasts of cinema – it’s very much preaching to the converted, after all, they might have concluded that anyone who has invested 42 years and all the hours that repeated viewings of eight films would entail would be engaged enough to forgive the odd incoherent bump.
But for too many viewers, the childish glee, the nostalgic lift deriving from John Williams’ classic score, as the first stars begin to twinkle on screen will be the emotional high-point of this cinematic experience.
With so many characters having storylines somewhat up in the air from eight films over the past 42 years, this does feel a little like a Star Wars greatest hits – some of which will delight audiences, while others are more likely to elicit groans. Tying up all these stories conveniently makes it feel a little like a box-ticking exercise; right, who shall we do next?
And with opportunities dwindling to bring in new characters, they make sure there’s another cute little robot to join the merchandising catalogue, before they shut-up shop.
So it’s a generally satisfying conclusion to the saga, in the shape of a rather mediocre and even forgettable film that warmly pays homage to the original vision, without sharing the impact of the glory days. But in reality, it was probably unreasonable to expect that any film could truly live up to the anticipation of a conclusion that’s been 42 years in the making.
For the impartial viewer, a key point of interest is Carrie Fisher’s inclusion, with a combination of unused footage, CGI techniques and judicious reshoots putting Princess Leia back on screen, just shy of three years since the actress’ premature death. It’s comforting to see her back but there are certainly times where her plot-lines feel bizarrely contrived to fit the available footage.
”Nothing is impossible,” she remarks, in her first scene, and so it seems. But there’s then a sense that if actors can be brought back from the dead, why shouldn’t characters, which then begs the question, if they can be, what’s to stop the end of the Skywalker Saga not being the end after all?