This post contains huge spoilers for Star Wars, The Rise of Skywalker, so if you haven’t seen it, please go no further than the adorable Aki Aki mother and child of spoilerdom…
Okay, all good? We’ve all seen it, yes? Fine, you have been warned.
If you’ve been following my blog since the release of The Force Awakens you’ll know that I’ve been keen on these films, making several trips to the movies to see them in 2D, 3D and fill-your-eyes-with-space-joy IMAX. I liked The Force Awakens very much, with a few caveats, and I loved The Last Jedi precisely for the reasons that some folk hated it. I saw Rise of Skywalker at the movies on the opening weekend… and never went back.
It’s like a knickerbocker glory dessert: it looks great on the menu, piled high with the things you love, but by the time you’re halfway through you’re either sick or exhausted of it.
It hurtles along at a reckless pace in the hope that the viewer can barely draw breath long enough to realise that the plot doesn’t make a lick of sense, characters popping in and out of scenes for nuggets of exposition, constant fake-outs with characters seemingly doomed one minute then fine the next, and threads that only make sense if you go and buy the novelisation… It is, as my dear old nan used to say, a bugger’s muddle.
Of course, I immediately pre-ordered the Blu Ray.
I mean, I’ve got all the others, so why have a gap in my collection? (Curse my completist tendencies!) When it arrived, the first thing I watched was not the film, but a documentary called The Skywalker Legacy. It’s over two hours long and is worth the price of the Blu Ray alone. It reminded me of all the good things in this film: the level of craft on this production is phenomenal. The design, costume, hair & make-up, visual effects, special effects, animatronics, stunts (the stunt coordinator Eunice Huthart is a joy to watch) are all incredible. These are top people at their peak and they make the film look and sound amazing, and they and the actors all put their heart and souls into the film and they clearly had a great time making it. Except one person…
Chris Terrio is a fine screenwriter. His work on Argo saw him nominated for many awards and he won the Oscar for best adapted screenplay. There’s no doubting his credentials. On the Skywalker Legacy documentary he has the look of a deer in headlights, because he knows more than anyone (with the possible exception of JJ Abrams) the impossibility of what he has to deliver. Not only must he conjure up a blockbuster screenplay that wraps up a trilogy (never easy), he is also burdened with all eight other films in the series and countless spin off novels, comics, theme parks and cartoons.
As I was watching the documentary it dawned on me: how could this film be anything other than a disappointment? And I think Chris Terrio and JJ knew this too.
Once I accepted this… I was okay with the movie! I watched it again last night, and the same criticisms remain (it really makes no bloody sense whatsoever), but it works on an emotional level and for this soppy old sod that’s good enough for me. Also — and this is something Star Wars fans don’t like to talk about — the original films are full of similar story holes… (if anyone can explain the logic behind Luke’s plot to rescue Han in Return of the Jedi, then I’ll buy them a Mars Bar)
The truth is, nothing will recapture the giddy excitement of seeing those films as a child. I can remember each trip vividly, and all the emotional baggage of those films cannot possibly be matched by any screenplay, reboot or remake. I’m coming to terms with the idea that this universe will live on long after I’m gone. It’s not mine anymore, and I’m fine with that. I think… The Rise of Skywalker is the favourite film of some other child who had their mind blown by this incredible universe, and good for them.
Let’s end with the one person who never set a foot wrong throughout all nine films. Please be upstanding for Mr John Williams…
There’s been a lot of chatter online regarding a certain new space opera movie. I forget what it’s called. Flash Starkiller and The Laser Sword of Doom or something. In amongst all the manbaby cries of “You ruined my childhood by making it for girls!” there is a common criticism that actually carries some heft. Here’s when one reply I got when I blogged about how much I liked the film…
Did you see the same movie I saw? It was long, boring, and filled with plot holes that you could fly a star destroyer through.
It can’t be denied that the film has plot holes. One occured to me only this morning: if Luke flew his X-Wing to Ach-To, how did he do it without Artoo? I didn’t think you could fly an X-Wing without an astromech… okay, maybe you can, or because The Force, or whatever?
That’s just one of many little niggles in the story, but here’s the thing, and you might want to be sitting down for this one… Ready? You sure…?
ALL OF THOSE SPACE LASER SWORD MOVIES ARE FULL OF PLOT HOLES!
All of ’em. Here’s a few that come to mind…
Just how long was Luke traning on Dagobah? The weeks/months/years it takes to become a Jedi, or the few hours it took the Falcon to fly to Bespin?
Why would Obi Wan take a baby Skywalker to the planet where his dad was born and not bother to change the kid’s name?
Why did the Death Star come out of hyperspace so far away from Yavin and give the Rebels so much time to prepare?
Who did Leia’s hair and makeup in the Ewok village?
And that beloved saga isn’t the only one suffering from holy story syndrome:
How did Andy’s poster get back on the wall in his cell in The Shawshank Redemption?
Who heard Charles Foster Kane say “Rosebud”?
What was Bruce Willis doing in his downtime when he wasn’t hanging out with the kid on the Sixth Sense?
Almost all of the finale of Ocean’s 11
Every Bond film ever made
Just how did Tom Hagen cut that horse’s head off in the Godfather without waking anyone? And I’ll buy lunch for anyone who can explain the plot of The Godfather II to me without hesitation, repetition or deviation.
Most, if not all, stories have plot holes in them. I would go so far as to say that life itself is full of plot holes, but this isn’t a post-Brexit therapy group so let’s move on.
We’re willing to gloss over plot holes because WE RESPOND TO STORIES ON AN EMOTIONAL LEVEL. And boy do we get emotional when we talk about beloved series and characters. And because they’re so beloved they’re put under far more scrutiny than those lesser movies we might watch once and then forget.
As a writer, this doesn’t mean you now have licence to fill your script with gaping plot holes. We all vary in our tolerance of plot holes, and you need to work hard to ensure that your story makes sense. When you spot a hole you need to fix it, and don’t just paper over the cracks hoping we won’t notice.
Always work under the supposition that your audience is smarter than you are.However, it’s inevitable that one or two might slip through, no matter how rigorous you are, especially if you’re writing science fiction and fantasy where you’re working with magic and hyperspace and other wonders that don’t exist.
But ask yourself what’s more important: a watertight logic puzzle, or a fairytale that punches you in the gut? I know it’s not an either/or situation, but I know which end of the spectrum I veer towards.
May The Force Be With You and Toto’s still going to be put down by Mrs. Gulch when Dorothy wakes…
Until next time, happy writing!
PS. Don’t get me started on people who think they’re clever pointing out petty continuity errors in movies.
PPS. That novel I wrote with Mark Desvaux doesn’t have a single plot hole in it. Not one. I dare you to find one. Grab your copy here and prove me wrong.
This blog post has MASSIVE SPOILERS for Star Wars The Last Jedi, so if you haven’t seen it yet, please scroll no further than the porg of spoilderdom…
Ready for spoilery thoughts? Here we go…
“You have to kill the past,’ says Kylo Ren in Rian Johnson’s take on the Star Wars saga. To say that this film has been divisive would be an understatement, but the film wears its themes on its sleeve, and the viewer soon discovers that this will be no ordinary Star Wars story. It opens with a comedy sketch co-starring Adrian Edmonson, followed by Luke tossing his lightsaber over a cliff, then the Resistance fleet is all but wiped out, General Leia is ejected into space, Admiral Ackbar discovers that even he can’t repel scripts of this magnitude, and no one says “I have a very bad feeling about this,” or any of its variants, which might be a first for the series.
This is an irreverent movie, and thank the Maker for that. I enjoyed The Force Awakens and Rogue One very much, though both were quick to doff the cap to tradition and tiptoed very carefully through the minefield of fan expectation. Johnson’s film streaks gleefully through the minefield, flipping the bird at any man-baby fanboy appalled at the liberties he takes (and it does seem to be all men complaining… We really have to stop getting so petulant about stuff like this, guys).
As I watched, I kept thinking; “I didn’t know the Force could do that,” and “Ooh, that’s new!” and it engaged me in a way that a Star Wars film hasn’t done since Return of the Jedi, and it’s given me a fun quote that I’ll be using on my kids for years to come: “Congratulations. Everything you just said in that sentence is wrong.”
It’s not perfect. The middle is pretty baggy, Snoke is still uninteresting as a villain. and threads are set-up and resolved a little too quickly – mainly the excursion to Canto Bight and Poe Dameron’s mini-mutiny – though one has to wonder if the latter of these was affected by the sudden passing of Carrie Fisher. (Pauses to sniff and make excuses about something in my eye)
Fisher is heartbreakingly good in the few scenes she’s conscious in, and it makes you wonder how great she would have been had she lived to complete the role. Hamill shines, giving a career-best send-off to a character that started as a callow youth, and ends a grizzled, regretful war veteran in hiding. His final vision of two suns setting is a wonderful bookend to his story, and a genuine lump-in-the-throat moment.
For me, the most thrilling part of this film is its message that anyone can be the hero now. You don’t have to be a Skywalker, or even a distant second cousin, or a collection of immaculate midichlorians, as many thought Rey to be. You can be Rose, or her sister Paige, or that stable boy and his friends at the very end. Heroism doesn’t require a special lineage, you don’t need to come from a renowned family, or be in the top percentage of society. In a time when we’re seeing the powers-that-be on their worst behaviour, that’s a very important message for any yoot watching this film. And this is a film for the young fans; giving them ownership of the series with a range of diverse and interesting new characters. Maybe that’s why the older fanboys are so distressed…? Someone else is playing with their toys and they’re not playing by the rules…
Curiously, and refreshingly, the film doesn’t end on a cliffhanger. Rian Johnson has cleared the decks and JJ Abrams now has a free reign to wind-up the trilogy any way he pleases. I hope he has as much fun with his new film as Rian did with his, and takes advantage of how Rian Johnson just saved Star Wars saga from disappearing up its own continuity. The fact that none of us has the first clue where this is going next is really exciting and I can’t wait for Episode IX.
Be ye warned, I have all the spoilers in the article below and we can only proceed on the assumption that you’ve seen Rogue One: A Star Wars story and stayed awake to the very end.
Are we cool…?
Let us begin with a trailer showing a ton of shots that did not make it to the finished film…
I’ve seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story twice now, and I enjoyed it very much.
There has been chatter, some negative, about the stream of in-jokes and easter-eggs in the film, and no one has summarised this better than Adam Roberts in this article. But, despite all the scaremongering news of reshoots and rewrites (like this was the first film ever to suffer this), we have been gifted a very enjoyable film.
I’ve seen plenty of rave reviews, some saying it’s the best Star Wars film for thirty-odd years, though I wouldn’t go that far. When watching it for the second time its flaws became more apparent, and it got me wondering about the future of this series, which is very close to my heart, and the future of this kind of shared-universe storytelling.
But let’s start with the movie itself. It has a finale to rival any other in the series, and it’s full of incredible moments, but second time around I found the journey to reach that epic climax was slow and stodgy.
My biggest problem is our leads. Felicity Jones and Diego Luna are fine actors, but they’re both saddled with dour characters with downturned mouths. They’re very earnest and sober and lack any of the verve of Finn or Rey, let alone the swagger of Han Solo, or the infectious energy of Luke and Leia. They feel very one-note all the way through, and it’s hard work to care for them.
I blub at the drop of a hat at the movies, but I felt curiously unmoved by their sacrifice at the end. It was as if they knew they were doomed from the start and allowed their story to play out with a defeatist tone. How many kids will want to be Jyn or Cassian when acting out their adventures in the playground? I suspect Rey and Finn will remain the top ‘bagsy’ for some time.
The story is a patchwork of rewrites and you can still see some of the stitching. There are visual clues of discarded story threads, such as the unexplained wreckage of a still-smoking X-Wing on Jedha, but that stuff just adds to the intrigue of a bigger story, and can make for fun speculation.
More problematic are some of the character beats: Bodhi Rook is interrogated by the big jelly-Cthulu-like creature which, Saw Gerrera assures him, will make him lose his mind. Yet, one quick chat with charisma vacuum Cassian Andor and suddenly Bodhi is tickety-boo. Wouldn’t it have been more fun to rely on a defective defecting pilot who is one sandwich short of a picnic? And what should be a perfectly simple plan by Bodhi to hook-up a cable during the final battle needs explaining not once, but twice, and at great length… it feels like a cut-n-shut script solution to a bigger story problem.
And why did Saw Gerrera need to die when he does? Okay, he might have had to stop to oil his legs, or take a fresh puff from his oxygen mask, but he was perfectly capable of getting to a ship with the others. It makes absolutely no sense, other than that’s where Joseph Campbell says the mentor should die if you’ve been studying The Hero’s Journey. I suspect there was more to this story thread, but it was lost somewhere in the rewrites.
And speaking of ships, why do space ships in science fiction movies land so far away from their final destination? You travel halfway across the galaxy to your quarry’s farm in Iceland, and park two miles from his house. Why??
We also have an utterly pointless excursion by Krennick to see Vader’s compact and bijoux residence with hot and cold running lava, which feels like an awful lot of unnecessary shoe leather for such a short conversation. Wouldn’t a quick holo-call have done? Then Vader could have at least stayed in the bath…
But, much of this is nitpicking. Overall, the film was a blast. One for the fans, made by the fans. I think this film marks a turning point in the Star Wars canon, and how these kinds of films will be made. This is where the fanboys have taken over the franchise. Yes, The Force Awakens was made with affection and nostalgia, but, crucially, it was written by the man who wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi. Not a fanboy.
With these stand-alone stories we’re now seeing a progression to a different kind of storytelling, where men (and it is all men writing and directing these films) of a certain age, who grew up playing with their Star Wars action figures, are now getting to play in the sandbox of the Star Wars movie universe. When I first saw the trailers for this film, it reminded me of the games I would play with my toys as a child. Stories that focused away from the main saga, and were free to dabble in corners of the universe that we’ve not seen before. And it is play: watching the end sequence of this film – a triumphant, crowd-pleasing finale – it played out like a live-action version of the game Star Wars: Battlefront, each problem they were presented with felt like the next level of a platform game. Even Vader’s thrilling moment scything through rebel soldiers was seemingly taken straight from the Battlefront Hoth map…
Don’t get me wrong; this is all fun stuff, but these adventures are feeling less like iconic movies, and more like serial TV. We have a very capable show runner in the redoubtable Kathleen Kennedy, and we have the Lucasfilm Story Group (mostly comprising of women, which is encouraging), to keep everything on track. I don’t envy them. This must be like a game of Jenga, where writers have to make extremely delicate manoeuvres to ensure that the whole edifice doesn’t come tumbling down.
The Star Wars universe is no longer the vision of just one man, it’s a big business that will be squeezed for all its worth for at least the next two decades, in movies, TV, games, theme park attractions, books, toys, food and clothes. Along with Marvel, Disney, DC, Harry Potter and Bond, this is industrialised storytelling and it’s here to stay.
There was a time in the late ’80s where I felt like I was the only Star Wars fan in the world. The films were done with, they had stopped making the toys, and a fan could almost know everything there was to know about the saga. And then, when something new came along, like the Timothy Zahn books, it was a thrilling event, but an isolated incident. Those days are gone, and eventually we’ll reach a saturation point where I fear I’ll be sick to the tits with anything Star Wars. I’m guessing this is what fuels a lot of the impotent male rage you see online; the idea that something that was once special to them is now cherished by the masses, and – heaven forbid – girls. But to complain about this is to reveal a thin skin. I love that my kids are enjoying a golden age of Star Wars, that they can enjoy exciting stories with a cast of characters as diverse as those in The Force Awakens and Rogue One, but already I can see a day when the bubble bursts. All it takes is a disappointing opening weekend and the franchise will begin to die. And, with each new iteration of an increasingly-complex storyline, the odds of a disappointment will increase and the Jenga tower will fall, and the masses will suddenly be interested in a new shiny thing to decorate their bedrooms with. So, let’s enjoy it while we can. Just because a thing doesn’t last, it doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. The fanboys and fangirls are running the show, and they’re off to a pretty good start.
UPDATED – SCROLL DOWN FOR JOHN WILLIAMS’ THOUGHTS ON REY’S THEME…
Okay before we get into this, let’s try a little warm-up. Get on your feet, jog on the spot a bit, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, and just keep repeating to yourself: It’s only a film, it’s only a film, it’s only a film…
I mean, obviously, in about five hundred years’ time, after the atomic wars and the mutant uprising, Star Wars will be the basis for a worldwide religion, but until then let’s just remind ourselves that it’s a story designed to entertain and delight. I mention this only because the release of STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS has brought out the cray-cray in people, and not just the wonderful geeks queueing in cosplay, but the morons who tried and failed to generate a boycott of the film because John Boyega happens to be black, or the fuss over Max Landis’ assertion that Rey is a “Mary Sue” character, or my friend on Facebook who went off on a rant about how the whole series is “one huge expungement of western guilt”, which is an interesting interpretation of the films, perhaps straying from the filmmakers’ conscious intent, but it got him so much flak that he just got more ranty and it became embarrassing for all concerned (by the way, all of Hollywood is one huge expungement of western guilt… start picking at that thread and the whole system collapses!).
So, anyway, the film…
BE WARNED – FROM HERE WE’LL BE IN THE SPOILER ZONE – DO NOT PROCEED UNLESS YOU’VE SEEN THE FILM!
YOU’RE STILL HERE AND HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM? YOU’VE ONLY GOT YOURSELF TO BLAME!
LAST TRAIN OUT OF SPOILERVILLE…
OKAY, HERE WE GO…
I’ve seen it twice, once in 2D, then in 3D, and I loved it both times. If anything, seeing it the second time without the weight of expectation and me being a smartarse trying to second-guess the storyline, was even more enjoyable.
It’s not perfect; essentially a greatest hits, tribute band, mash-up of the first trilogy. But with a $4.5 billion investment at stake they were always going to have to play to the gallery a bit, especially that big Chinese gallery at the back, which can make or break your membership into the billion dollar box office club, and China doesn’t have the social and historical association with the series which can guarantee a big turnout. So, the order of the day was to stick to what works and put it in a safe pair of hands… Who’s done this kind of high-risk reboot before? Hmm. That JJ guy seems to know his stuff… So let’s take all that as a given, put it to one side, and enjoy the film on its own terms. Here are my thinkings…
Things that niggled:
There is a Star Wars tradition known as the Terence Stamp Contingency, whereby they hire great actors, make a huge fuss about them in the pre-release publicity, and then not do very much with them in the finished film: here’s hoping Max Von Sydow, Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong’o, Gwendoline Christie, and the guys from THE RAID can console themselves with a few deleted scenes on the Blu-Ray.
The Maz Kanata sequence: so Finn suddenly realises out of the blue the First Order can’t be beaten, decides to do a runner and then five minutes later, he’s back. Did we believe any of that? An oddly muddled chunk of the film that could maybe have benefitted from a bit of a trim.
Snoke: he’s clearly compensating for something with that enormous hologram. Maybe he’s a Jawa fed up with jokes about his height? I’m sure more will be revealed as the series goes on (a current leading fan theory is that he’s Darth Plagueis), but for the moment he seems a tad… unfinished… The CG made me think of THE MUMMY, and that’s not a good thing.
Nostalgia: I think this harks back to the “greatest hits” agenda that set the tone for the film. I love an in-joke or callback as much as the next uberfan, but I wonder if they’ll become grating with repeated viewing? New rule for the next film: no in-jokes. Not one. Make your own history.
Stuff I’m on the fence about:
The 3D: The Star Destroyer poking out of the screen was a genuinely gasp-inducing moment, and 3D conversions have come a loooong way since I last saw one, and the aerial sequences were cool in a Disney-ride way, but I’m not sure what it added to the film, and there were a number of wide shots where small buildings looked like models. Not something I noticed with the 2D screening.
R2D2 seemed to be running a Apple OSX software update throughout the story. Seems a bit of a waste of a much-loved character, but then is there room for two cute robots in the same movie?
The opening crawl: Luke Skywalker has disappeared! Wait, what?! That’s how you grab people’s attention. None of this trade embargo balls.
Rey’s theme. The score doesn’t have an immediate, bombastic theme like the The Imperial March or Duel Of The Fates, but it does have a beautifully light and subtle theme for Rey, which makes me want to gaily skip off with a knapsack on my back and have an adventure of my own.
UPDATE: John Williams on Rey’s Theme and the promise of adventure…
Han’s death. We all knew that they only way they were going to get Harrison Ford back was by offering him the glorious, redemptive death scene he was denied in Return of the Jedi, didn’t we? And it was pretty heavily telegraphed from the moment Han chose to go back into the lion’s den. It didn’t quite land for me the first time, but on a second viewing there’s so much going on. I love the way he touches his son’s face before he falls away. And compare the dialogue here — “I don’t know if I have the strength to do this. Will you help me?” — to Revenge of the Sith’s “The Jedi are evil from my point of view” clunk-a-thon. These are two human beings here, father and son. Kasdan does this stuff so well, and I get a bit lip-wobbly now just thinking about it.
Kylo Ren: Now this is how you do inner-torment and a young man turning to the dark side. Adam Driver is a fine actor and Kylo Ren promises to be the most conflicted and interesting villain of the series.
Skellig Michael: The first Jedi Temple is off the South West Coast of Ireland. Whoda thunk it? And which of us will be the first to swing a lightsaber there? I hear tourist trade is already booming. It’s heartwarming to see such an extraordinary location being used to great effect. And so windswept that it’s done wonders with Luke’s hair.
Rey and Daisy Ridley: Yes, the scene where she whips Luke’s lightsaber out of the snow, yes, when she flies the Falcon through the wreck of a Super Star Destroyer, but most of all for yelling “Oi, gerrof!” in a London accent in the cockpit of the Falcon… a first for the series, I think.
Finn and John Boyega: this guy is my new hero. On the press tour he’s been funny, smart and charming, and he’s the perfect mix of fanboy and actor. He’s got great drama and comedy chops in this movie, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Poe Dameron: So good they brought him back from the dead. Apparently his character was supposed to die in the Tie Fighter crash, but Oscar Isaac escaped the Terence Stamp Contingency to live again, leading to one of the lamest “I woke up and you were gone” plot hole patch-ups ever. But, who cares? I want to see him and Finn having more adventures.
The fun: this has more gags than most comedies, and has such a delightful tone that it could draw criticism for being too light, but man that stuff is hard to get right, and this tone is the biggest callback to the original Star Wars, and one the filmmakers should definitely keep for the remaining films.
So, yes, they played it safe with the plot, and here’s hoping they’ll take a few more risks next time, but when a film is made with so much verve, love and delight that I can forgive its minor sins and enjoy for what it is. A film. An entertainment. A delight.