Jim’s review published on Letterboxd:
1 STAR WAR
During the summer, an old friend of mine sent me a link to a Reddit post that outlined the plot of this film in very specific detail. (It turns out now that the link was completely true. All of it.) He asked what I thought about it. Could it be true? I didn’t give it much thought because I thought that there was no way it could be true. Luke Skywalker would never renounce his own ultimate sacrifice! Surely not. Surely not. It made no sense.
Wipe transition to a few days ago. The dead speak on the social microblogging site called TWITTER. I mention a classic Star Wars character in a tweet while reflecting on the happier, naïver times of my life where Star Wars made the ultimate sense. A Twitter user with a Darth Bane avatar (do you know who Darth Bane is? I do, unfortunately) who I do not know replies with an image designed to spoil as much of The Rise of Skywalker as it possibly could within the two seconds we allot to processing twimages. It looked really very not good at all in any way. Yet my reaction, to my surprise, was one of complete indifference! A genuine absence of emotion when confronted with the proposed final finale of a mythology I’ve held dear since the age of seven. As far as I was concerned, it seems, the Skywalker Saga ended on the salted flats of Crait.
There was never any doubt, from the moment this film was handed to JJ Abrams, that it would be anything other than the broadest attempt at appeasement that a corporation could possibly devise from the comfort of their boardroom. I work for a corporation myself. I know how people talk behind a desk or a big table. Disney, on a grander scale, could not possibly be different. I know it to be true! My business might be semantically different, but I know that in a board room, the end product and all related elses are irrelevant in the facets of a profit margin uber alles. This is a property we’re talking about. Not a prophecy.
I’m a guy who has read The Glove of Darth Vader. I’m a guy who has listened to the audiobook where Luke Skywalker falls in love with a spaceship. I’m the guy whose professional career essentially started when he began scripting computer logic for Star Wars: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast maps in the Quake 3 engine. I’m the guy who could draw the whole sordid Skywalker family tree from memory. I’m a loser who genuinely believes that he understands this Star Wars universe, despite and in spite of all of its flaws. But I did not understand this film that aggressively came before me. Nothing in it makes sense. It’s a series of chase sequences that lead to maps that lead to nowhere. I’m lost.
In order to reorient myself, let’s talk about something that everyone reviewing this film seems understandably reticent to talk about or understand. The real heart of the Star Wars saga. Carrie Fisher. Our Princess Leia. Personally, I’m a big Carrie Fisher fan. Legitimately a fan of the person who was called Carrie Fisher. I love her in these films, but most of all, I love her writing. Carrie Fisher was a writer who did acting, first and foremost. She wrote about her problems with her family, her friends, her lifestyle, her drugs, herself. Through her writing, I felt like I truly understood those issues, including herself. No one can write about intoxication like Carrie. One thing she wrote about a lot was her image and its nauseating effect; who she persisted as in popular brain imaging. She wrote these thoughts down in the 1980s, but the memory of that writing persists clearly in the dying light of the 2010s. Carrie accepted that she was Princess Leia and that Princess Leia would exist beyond her forever. Seeing her in this film - that animatron, that puppet, that plot machine - was deeply upsettling. I cannot adequately convey what it felt like to see her digital unembodiment speak to me on that screen after all that she lived through, but I assume that you, a fellow fan of Carrie Fisher, understand me.
Two years ago, on the 14th of December 2017, my grandfather, James Purvis, and my other hero, Luke Skywalker, died on the same day. I still went to the Last Jedi midnight screening despite my news. But it never felt like either was really gone, despite the material realities of my situation. I felt James and Luke’s hands were on my shoulder when they told me that no one was really gone. Hope was not lost. This time? December 19th 2019? With Carrie under that crude computer-generated sheet and her image fighting against that crude digital cross-stitch pattern? I want nothing but to forget and move on.
And this is only the beginning of what Disney has planned. Don’t lie to yourself. Do nor kid yourself that the most powerful corporate machine to ever exist ever has even a modicum of respect for our death. The scene in this “film” where “Young Mark Hamill” and “Young Carrie Fisher” duel with laser swords in an indistinct forest of computer generated images is only the beginning of the grand Disney conquest. One day, a corporation greater than Walter Disney’s legacy will own your image and my image and our images and our dust. And they will drive them all into what is left of the planet’s dirt in the name of immeasurable profit. That is their Final Order, the one we are powerless to resist. Democracy died to the thunderously hollow applause of midnight audiences applauding overdue medals for Chewbacca.
Something I couldn’t stop thinking about during this screening was a webcomic that came out the day after The Force Awakens. In that comic, Rey, Poe and Finn thwart a plan by Snoke and swing past a big window where Kylo Ren watches on in furious dismay. Nothing complicated, just some good clean Star Wars fun without complication. I loved it, but I don’t know where that comic is now because the digital era is simultaneously permanent and impermanent. For four whole years, I genuinely believed that a moment like that would come alive among this trilogy. That Star Wars would do what Star Wars does, even within the restrictive confines of its franchise format. Its place and its characters would triumph above all else. After this Rise of Skywalker, I’m still waiting. And now, I imagine, always will be. Two reviews of it and I still haven’t even tried to pick the this film apart. Like the film, I don’t think much of this review makes any sense.
But I guess for me, this Rise will perennially stand as a monument to the twenty years of my life that I tried to kneel steadfast at the altar of a neoliberal religion that was about naught but consumer devotion. It’s my own fault, really. A learning experience to take home and place on a shelf with my X-Wing toys. Here’s what I do know now, though. This latest film, despite all its incoherent flaws that extend beyond the hyperspace of a screen, can never rob me of the experience I had in 1997 when me and my dad and saw the Special Edition trench run in the darkness of the East Kilbride’s Odeon. It can never deprive me of seeing Imperial Walkers falling on their knees among the sticky seats of the Coatbridge Showcase. It can never stop me from remembering the moment my ardent Catholic grandmother told me to bin my Return of the Jedi tape because Princess Leia was struggling in a gold bikini. None of those memories are ever really gone until I forget them. And that’s how the Force will be with me. Always.