Tags: sky

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Thursday, January 2nd, 2020

The Rise Of Skywalker

If you haven’t seen The Rise Of Skywalker, avert your gaze for I shall be revealing spoilers here…

I wrote about what I thought of The Force Awakens. I wrote about what I thought of The Last Jedi. It was inevitable that I was also going to write about what I think of The Rise Of Skywalker. If nothing else, I really enjoy going back and reading those older posts and reminding myself of my feelings at the time.

I went to a midnight screening with Jessica after we had both spent the evening playing Irish music at our local session. I was asking a lot of my bladder.

I have to admit that my first reaction was …ambivalent. I didn’t hate it but I didn’t love it either.

Now, if that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s pretty much what I said about Rogue One and The Last Jedi:

Maybe I just find it hard to really get into the flow when I’m seeing a new Star Wars film for the very first time.

This time there were very specific things that I could point to and say “I don’t like it!” For a start, there’s the return of Palpatine.

I think the Emperor has always been one of the dullest characters in Star Wars. Even in Return Of The Jedi, he just comes across as a paper-thin one-dimensional villain who’s evil just because he’s evil. That works great when he’s behind the scenes manipulating events, but it makes for dull on-screen shenanigans, in my opinion. The pantomime nature of Emperor Palpatine seems more Harry Potter than Star Wars to me.

When I heard the Emperor was returning, my expectations sank. To be fair though, I think it was a very good move not to make the return of Palpatine a surprise. I had months—ever since the release of the first teaser trailer—to come to terms with it. Putting it in the opening crawl and the first scene says, “Look, he’s back. Don’t ask how, just live with it.” That’s fair enough.

So in the end, the thing that I thought would bug me—the return of Palpatine—didn’t trouble me much. But what really bugged me was the unravelling of one of my favourite innovations in The Last Jedi regarding Rey’s provenance. I wrote at the time:

I had resigned myself to the inevitable reveal that would tie her heritage into an existing lineage. What an absolute joy, then, that The Force is finally returned into everyone’s hands!

What bothered me wasn’t so much that The Rise Of Skywalker undoes this, but that the undoing is so uneccessary. The plot would have worked just as well without the revelation that Rey is a Palpatine. If that revelation were crucial to the story, I would go with it, but it just felt like making A Big Reveal for the sake of making A Big Reveal. It felt …cheap.

I have to say, that’s how I responded to a lot of the kitchen sink elements in this film when I first saw it. It was trying really, really hard to please, and yet many of the decisions felt somewhat lazy to me. There were times when it felt like a checklist.

In a way, there was a checklist, or at least a brief. JJ Abrams has spoken about how this film needed to not just wrap up one trilogy, but all nine films. But did it though? I think I would’ve been happier if it had kept its scope within the bounds of these new sequels.

That’s been a recurring theme for me with all three of these films. I think they work best when they’re about the new characters. I’m totally invested in them. Leaning on nostalgia and the cultural memory of the previous films and their characters just isn’t needed. I would’ve been fine if Luke, Han, and Leia never showed up on screen in this trilogy—that’s how much I’m sold on Rey, Finn, and Poe.

But I get it. The brief here is to tie everything together. And as JJ Abrams has said, there was no way he was going to please everyone. But it’s strange that he would attempt to please the most toxic people clamouring for change. I’m talking about the racists and misogynists that were upset by The Last Jedi. The sidelining of Rose Tico in The Rise Of Skywalker sure reads a lot like a victory for them. Frankly, that’s the one aspect of this film that I’m always going to find disappointing.

Because it turns out that a lot of the other things that I was initially disappointed by evaporated upon second viewing.

Now, I totally get that a film needs to work for a first viewing. But if any category of film needs to stand up to repeat viewing, it’s a Star Wars film. In the case of The Rise Of Skywalker, I think that repeat viewing might have been prioritised. And I’m okay with that.

Take the ridiculously frenetic pace of the multiple maguffin-led plotlines. On first viewing, it felt rushed and messy. I got the feeling that the double-time pacing was there to brush over any inconsistencies that would reveal themselves if the film were to pause even for a minute to catch its breath.

But that wasn’t the case. On second viewing, things clicked together much more tightly. It felt much more like a well-oiled—if somewhat frenetic—machine rather than a cobbled-together Heath Robinson contraption that might collapse at any moment.

My personal experience of viewing the film for the second time was a lot of fun. I was with my friend Sammy, who is not yet a teenager. His enjoyment was infectious.

At the end, after we see Rey choose her new family name, Sammy said “I knew she was going to say Skywalker!”

“I guess that explains the title”, I said. “The Rise Of Skywalker.”

“Or”, said Sammy, “it could be talking about Ben Solo.”

I hadn’t thought of that.

When I first saw The Rise Of Skywalker, I was disappointed by all the ways it was walking back the audacious decisions made in The Last Jedi, particularly Rey’s parentage and the genetic component to The Force. But on second viewing, I noticed the ways that this film built on the previous one. Finn’s blossoming sensitivity keeps the democratisation of The Force on the table. And the mind-melding connection between Rey and Kylo Ren that started in The Last Jedi is crucial for the plot of The Rise Of Skywalker.

Once I was able to get over the decisions I didn’t agree with, I was able to judge the film on its own merits. And you know what? It’s really good!

On the technical level, it was always bound to be good, but I mean on an emotional level too. If I go with it, then I’m rewarded with a rollercoaster ride of emotions. There were moments when I welled up (they mostly involved Chewbacca: Chewie’s reaction to Leia’s death; Chewie getting the medal …the only moment that might have topped those was Han Solo’s “I know”).

So just in case there’s any doubt—given all the criticisms I’ve enumerated—let me clear: I like this film. I very much look forward to seeing it again (and again).

But I do think there’s some truth to what Eric says here:

A friend’s review of “The Rise of Skywalker”, which also serves as a perfect summary of JJ Abrams’ career: “A very well-executed lack of creativity.”

I think I might substitute the word “personality” for “creativity”. However you feel about The Last Jedi, there’s no denying that it embodies the vision of one person:

I think the reason why The Last Jedi works so well is that Rian Johnson makes no concessions to my childhood, or anyone else’s. This is his film. Of all the millions of us who were transported by this universe as children, only he gets to put his story onto the screen and into the saga. There are two ways to react to this. You can quite correctly exclaim “That’s not how I would do it!”, or you can go with it …even if that means letting go of some deeply-held feelings about what could’ve, should’ve, would’ve happened if it were our story.

JJ Abrams, on the other hand, has done his utmost to please us. I admire that, but I feel it comes at a price. The storytelling isn’t safe exactly, but it’s far from personal.

The result is that The Rise Of Skywalker is supremely entertaining—especially on repeat viewing—and it has a big heart. I just wish it had more guts.

Thursday, July 26th, 2018

Figures in the Stars

A lovely bit of data visualisation from Nadieh showing the differences and commonalities in constellations across cultures. As always, she’s written up the process too.

Monday, November 27th, 2017

Exploring the Linguistics Behind Regular Expressions

Before reading this article, I didn’t understand regular expressions. But now, having read this article, I don’t understand regular expressions and I don’t understand linguistics. Progress!

Tuesday, September 26th, 2017

No Planes Go (Upsideclown)

A near-future tale of post-Brexit Kafkaesque isolationism in the skies.

It turned out that taking back control also meant creating an aerial deadzone. Nothing can fly in here without a Library of Alexandria’s worth of paperwork, and nothing can fly out without the same.

Monday, June 30th, 2014

SKYLON Users’ Manual (PDF)

Tech specs for a spacecraft that doesn’t exist (yet).

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Star Axis is a profound meditation on the sky – Ross Andersen – Aeon

A beautiful exploration of the Star Axis sculpture—an artwork of the Long Now.

The ancients had pyramids to tame the sky’s mystery. We have Star Axis, a masterpiece forty years in the making.

Monday, August 20th, 2012

ServerSky - Server Sky

Orbiting data centers. Fuck yeah!

Earth can return to what it is good at – green and growing things – while space can be filled with gray and computing things.

Sunday, August 5th, 2012

SkyCube: The First Satellite Launched by You! by Tim DeBenedictis — Kickstarter

If this Kickstarter project gets launched, it will literally get launched.

Sunday, April 24th, 2011

YouTube - Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity Rover) Mission Animation

The plan to get Curiosity Rover onto the surface of Mars (ignore the cheesy sound effects in space).

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Tom Taylor : Projects : Clarke

A sweet little Skyhook/FireEagle desktop app from Tom. It updates your FireEagle location every five minutes by pinging Skyhook's API to triangulate your position. A small piece, loosely joining two small pieces.

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

Who Framed George Lakoff? - ChronicleReview.com

A detailed look at the troubled history of George Lakoff, the father of conceptual metaphor.

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

Translation From MS-Speak to English of Selected Portions of Joel Spolsky’s “Martian Headsets” [dive into mark]

Mark Pilgrim fisks Joel Spolsky. He's not greedy either: there's still plenty of straw men left in Spolsky's screed for the rest of us to skewer.

Monday, October 15th, 2007

Sussex Police Uncovered - H900 - The Eye In The Sky

Click on the "What's the helicopter doing over my house?" link to get the latest eye-in-the-sky reports. The latest is: "Person trampled by cows" on the South Downs.

Monday, July 30th, 2007

Type the sky | Slanted

Finding letters everywhere.

Thursday, June 22nd, 2006

callto: tel @ Make Data Make Sense

A greasemonkey script that allows you to call telephone numbers in web pages (marked up with hcard) using Skype.

Saturday, June 18th, 2005

How Skype and Kazaa changed the net

An interview with Niklas Zennström.

DittyBot - An Applescript Adventure

Coolest use of Automater ever. Send an SMS form your phone to your POP account and your Mac will call you back over Skype to play you an MP3.