Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Movie Review

We talk about the Star Wars franchise the same way we speak of politics or sports. With passion and fervent opinions and disagreements. Perhaps we are giving it too much credit, but it’s become an American cinematic pastime. No group of films has inspired as much thought and re-thought. So we arrive at the ninth episode, The Rise of Skywalker, with all that baggage and more. After all, this one is tasked with closing out the saga that began at a time far, far away in 1977. Returning to direct with that weight on his shoulders is J.J. Abrams, who kickstarted the series for new owner Disney four years ago with The Force Awakens.

He does so two years following The Last Jedi from Rian Johnson, which sharply divided fans and critics by going in unexpected directions. Even Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, didn’t jive with the choices Johnson made with his character shuddered on an island and not wishing to utilize his Jedi skills. That was one compliant from some diehard fans, among others. You could say they had their knives out for it, so to speak.

I found The Last Jedi to be flawed and disjointed, but also filled with great moments. There aren’t many of them here in Skywalker. As I ponder it, episodes VII-IX do follow a similar arc as the iconic I-III. The Force Awakens was tasked with introducing new and exciting characters from these galaxies. It also had to mix in Luke and Leia and Han Solo and Chewie. I felt, for the most part, that it did so successfully. That especially applies to Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). In fact, their little therapy sessions from The Last Jedi were highlights of the whole trilogy. The common critique of Awakens is that it was a rehash of the first Star Wars. While this is with some merit, it didn’t take away my immense enjoyment of it.

As mentioned, The Last Jedi was more of a mixed bag. Yet with Johnson’s sometimes confounding but often daring choices, it was also the boldest. This is where a comparison with 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back seems fair. Don’t get me wrong. It’s nowhere in its league, but it did take what happened in the predecessor and take it in unexpected directions.

And now The Last Skywalker. Like 1983’s Return of the Jedi, this trilogy finale has to wrap it all up. Allow me to throw in this disclaimer – I don’t hold Return of the Jedi anywhere near the regards of what came before it. While I feel there are terrific moments, there’s a lot that didn’t work me and not just the Ewoks. It often felt a little tired and unsure of what to do with itself for a chunk of the running time. That applies to Skywalker and there’s aren’t as many terrific moments.

The similarities don’t end on just a quality level. Ultimately, the main plot here finds Rey facing a choice of whether to stay a Jedi or follow her lineage to the dark side… just as Luke did in Jedi. By the way, those lineage inquiries are addressed. Another complaint in Rian Johnson’s script was how he handled that aspect. Rey’s supporting cast is around with Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) marshaling support to take on Kylo. And as the trailer suggested, Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is back in the mix, too. So is Billy Dee Williams as cocky fighter pilot Lando. His return isn’t exactly as pined for as what we got with Luke, Leia, and Han. As for Leia, Carrie Fisher does return utilizing unused footage from Awakens and Last Jedi. It’s handled delicately.

There are new players with Richard E. Grant joining Domhnall Gleeson as one of Kylo’s top lieutenants. Abrams throws some small parts to Keri Russell and Dominic Monaghan (who both starred in his TV shows). The short shrift is given to Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), who had more of a presence in Last Jedi, but is basically ignored. That’s not exactly a problem as this is the Rey and Kylo show. Once again, both Ridley and Driver’s performances are first rate. Truth be told, though, Johnson wrote their dynamic better the last time around.

For the major detractors of The Last Jedi, perhaps this episode will feel like a return to Star Wars normalcy. I’m happy to listen to an argument that Johnson’s effort pairs well with the return of Abrams, but it would take lots of convincing. Skywalker often reeks of a course correction. This is becoming more common with franchises. We just saw Terminator: Dark Fate ignore the three pictures ahead of it. The X-Men series had to get creative with their timeline and do away with it under specific circumstances.

Those franchises aren’t Star Wars. The meeting between Han Solo and his son Kylo in The Force Awakens was a memorable, emotional, and surprising one. Whatever Mark Hamill and others might think about his treatment in The Last Jedi, a brief reunion with his sister in it was marvelous. In Skywalker, Abrams goes for a lot of those moments. And it felt, well, forced. The visual splendor and incredible production design (and the rousing John Williams score) is intact. A few scenes with Rey and Kylo work. Ultimately, I suspect my feelings about The Rise of Skywalker will be somewhat similar to Return of the Jedi – as an inferior product to its two predecessors.

**1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch – Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

One day before its galactic release, the review embargo for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has expired and the news is not so great. The ninth chapter of the ginormous franchise sits at 59% on Rotten Tomatoes. For all the talk about the mixed reaction to predecessor The Last Jedi in 2017, its RT score was 91%. Even last year’s mostly disregarded spin-off Solo: A Star Wars Story managed 70%.

So… what does that mean for Oscar attention? Well, any remote possibility of Skywalker playing in top line categories like Picture is gone. Yet possibilities for tech nods remain intact. When counting the eight official episodes and spin-offs Rogue One and Solo, the series as a whole has gathered 34 total nominations and won seven. Six of them went to the 1977 original with another for 1980’s sequel The Empire Strikes Back. That’s right… it’s been almost 40 years since a Star Wars pic has nabbed a competitive gold statue. And I don’t expect that streak to end here.

In this currently trilogy, 2015’s The Force Awakens received five nominations: Score for the legendary John Williams, Visual Effects, Editing, and both Sound categories. The Last Jedi got the same nods minus Editing. I anticipate Skywalker will probably be recognized for the same four as Jedi and win none. Interestingly, there’s a solid chance it loses three of them (Score and the Sounds) to 1917. As for Visual Effects, that could go to The Irishman or another epic Disney franchise finale Avengers: Endgame. 

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

2019: The Year of Scarlett Johansson

Scarlett Johansson starred in the biggest hit of the year that had the heftiest opening weekend of all time and is second on the overall stateside moneymakers list behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And that’s not even her most significant storyline from the past 12 months. That, ladies and gentlemen, earns her a spot on performers who had a spectacular 2019.

The film I’m referring to is, of course, Avengers: Endgame. That Marvel Cinematic Universe epic left numerous records in its dust. Mostly due to her involvement in that franchise, she’s already the biggest grossing actress in history. The involvement in it will continue in May 2020 with Black Widow, her own spin-off.

Yet the real reason for ScarJo’s inclusion here is that she could be poised to not only receive her first Oscar nomination, but her second. Despite acclaimed work in Lost in Translation and Match Point to name a couple, Academy voters have yet to honor her. Expect this to change at least once. A Best Actress nod for Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story seems virtually assured. Supporting Actress is also feasible for Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit. The Screen Actors Guild branch already nominated her twice for these pics.

In 2017, Johansson had a tough go with disappointments from different genres – Ghost in the Shell and Rough Night. Her 2019 has been anything but rough. My Year Of posts covering the bright spots of the year will continue…

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (12/19): Hours before its opening, I am revising my estimate down from $206.4M to $191.4M

The ninth episode in the galaxy is not far, far away as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker arrives in a theater near you next weekend. Capping the third trilogy of the landmark franchise, the film finds J.J. Abrams returning to the director’s chair after Rian Johnson (currently having his own box office hit with Knives Out) handled duties on previous entry The Last Jedi in 2017. The familiar faces introduced four years ago in The Force Awakens return with Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac headlining. Stars from the original trilogy are back including Carrie Fisher (via unreleased footage from previous efforts), Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, and two cast members making their respective first appearances since 1983’s Return of the Jedi and 2005’s Revenge of the Sith – Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian and Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine. Other notable performers returning include Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong’o, and Kelly Marie Tran. Newcomers to the series are Naomi Ackie, Keri Russell, and Richard E. Grant.

Disney took over the reigns of George Lucas’s creation a few years back and the results have been billions more into the Mouse Factory’s considerable coffers. That said, the last two years have shown some chinks in the once impenetrable armor. The aforementioned Last Jedi divided audiences and critics and came in $300 million under Awakens. A few months later in May of 2018, prequel and spinoff Solo: A Star Wars Story was the first picture in the series that was a genuine disappointment and actually lost money.

In Star Wars world, “disappointing” numbers are relative. The Last Jedi took in $220 million for its start on this same weekend two years ago, ending its run at $620 million domestically (that’s still good for #9 all-time). Yet, as mentioned, that’s considerably below the $936 million that Awakens achieved. It continues to stand at #1 overall in terms of stateside dollars.

Estimates for Skywalker show a pretty wide range. Some are as low as $175 million. Only in this franchise and the Marvel Cinematic Universe would that number be called low. Despite the mixed Jedi reaction and Solo grosses, I have a hard time buying that this last entry of the trilogy could come in with $45 million less than its predecessor.

The more reasonable anticipation is that this manages to top $200 million. There is certainly more serious family competition than Last Jedi had with Jumanji: The Next Level being in its second frame (it was the inverse in 2017 with predecessor Welcome to the Jungle arriving the week after Jedi).

My projection here gives Skywalker the seventh biggest debut ever, in between MCU titles The Avengers and Black Panther. 

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opening weekend prediction: $191.4 million

For my Cats prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/12/11/cats-box-office-prediction/

For my Bombshell prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/12/11/bombshell-box-office-prediction/

May 10-12 Box Office Predictions

Blogger’s Update (05/08): I am downgrading my Pikachu estimate from $74.8 million to $64.8 million and now giving Endgame a third weekend atop the charts

I’m predicting a photo finish as Avengers: Endgame gets legitimate competition in the form of Pokemon Detective Pikachu featuring the vocal stylings of Ryan Reynolds this weekend. We also have a pair of comedies marketed to the female crowd: Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson in the Dirty Rotten Scoundrels remake The Hustle and Diane Keaton cheerleading flick Poms. In more limited release, there’s the biopic Tolkien with Nicholas Hoult. You can peruse my detailed prediction posts on each of the newcomers here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/04/30/pokemon-detective-pikachu-box-office-prediction/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/04/30/the-hustle-box-office-prediction/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/05/02/poms-box-office-prediction/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/05/04/tolkien-box-office-prediction/

About that photo finish… estimates for Pokemon are all over the map and they have been dropping a bit in recent days. I’ve landed with it having a debut in the mid 70s range. That puts it where I expect Endgame to be. If the record breaking superhero epic manages to top $68 million this weekend, it will achieve the second best third weekend of all time behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens. That would match what it did this past weekend (more on that below).

I’m giving Pikachu an ever so slight edge to nab the #1 spot. We shall see if that changes as the week goes on.

As for the fresh comedies, The Hustle and Poms should get the three and four spots, respectively. I’ve downgraded both of my forecasts today, especially after seeing the disappointing gross of Long Shot.

Tolkien is only hitting a smallish 1300 screens and my $3.1 million projection leaves it outside the top five. Speaking of the five position, that could be interesting as The Intruder, Long Shot, and UglyDolls could all get it depending on their sophomore dips. I’ll give Long Shot a minor edge.

And with that, my take on the weekend ahead:

1. Avengers: Endgame

Predicted Gross: $71.2 million

2. Pokemon Detective Pikachu

Predicted Gross: $64.8 million

3. The Hustle

Predicted Gross: $13.4 million

4. Poms

Predicted Gross: $8.7 million

5. Long Shot

Predicted Gross: $5.5 million

Box Office Results (May 35)

Avengers: Endgame finally found a record it couldn’t smash this weekend, though I’m sure Disney isn’t too upset about that. In its second weekend, it grossed $147.3 million and that fell under my $153.6 million estimate. That’s also just under the $149 million earned by The Force Awakens in its second weekend, so it had to settle for runner-up record status. With $621 million in the bank, Endgame is already the #9 domestic earner in history. Even more impressively, the film is already #2 worldwide as it surpassed Titanic and is behind only Avatar.

All new titles came in under expectations. As predicted, thriller The Intruder performed the best in second with $10.8 million. While quite a bit under my $15.2 million estimate, it’s a solid performance considering it cost a scant $8 million to produce.

Long Shot with Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron couldn’t connect with audiences despite solid reviews. Its third place showing was only $9.7 million compared to my $13.1 million projection.

The news was even worse for the animated UglyDolls. It bombed in fourth with $8.6 million. I went higher at $13.8 million.

Captain Marvel rounded out the top five with $4.2 million (I said $5.9 million). Total stands at $420 million.

And that does it for now, folks! Until next time…

2018: The Year of Ryan Coogler

To kick off my series on the people that made significant contributions in cinema for 2018, the first post is the easiest to choose from. In a year filled with many successful tales, Black Panther is undoubtedly THE story. The Marvel Cinematic Universe saga took a superhero not nearly as known as others and the result was a surprising and smashing record breaker.

The man behind it is Ryan Coogler. A 32-year-old Oakland native, Coogler made his directorial debut with 2013’s acclaimed Fruitvale Station. Two years later, he invigorated another franchise with Creed. And in February of this year, Panther was unleashed worldwide. With Chadwick Boseman in the title role, Michael B. Jordan as one of the MCU’s most memorable villains, and Lupita Nyong’o and Letitia Wright providing dynamic support, the film immediately struck a chord with moviegoers and critics. With a 97% Rotten Tomatoes score, Panther took in $700 million domestically at the box office.

Let us count the records, shall we? That’s the top hit of the year. It’s the third biggest domestic grosser of all time behind only Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Avatar. Obviously, that designation means it’s Marvel’s #1 earner. One year ago, if anyone had told you this would make more than Avengers: Infinity War (which followed a few weeks later), you wouldn’t have believed it.

For Coogler, he’s made the biggest comic book adaptation ever in a century filled with them. The sky is the limit for him as he’s likely being offered every tent pole project in sight. He’s already struck a deal to direct the Panther sequel. Additionally, this stands an excellent chance to be the first pic of its genre to receive a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars.

In 2018, Coogler made history by making the #1 picture ever directed by an African-American and introduced a hero already beloved by all. He’s an unquestionable entry in the people that mattered onscreen this year.

AFI Picks Favourites

The American Film Institute (AFI) unveiled their list of the top 10 pictures of the year and it’s often seen as a harbinger of potential things to come at the Oscars. Here are the films they selected as their finest:

BlacKkKlansman

Black Panther

Eight Grade

The Favourite

First Reformed

Green Book

If Beale Street Could Talk

Mary Poppins Returns

A Quiet Place

A Star Is Born 

First off, we should keep in mind that this is the American Film Institute. Therefore Roma is nowhere to be found and not eligible. It has high probability to make the Academy’s Best Picture selections.

Taking a look at the last three years of AFI picks, 7 of their honorees in 2015 and 2016 scored a Best Picture nod at the big race. Last year, it was six. I would automatically say five films here seem safe for Oscar inclusion: BlacKkKlansman, The Favourite, Green Book, If Beale Street Could Talk, and A Star Is Born.

AFI has a habit of occasionally honoring blockbusters that don’t make it to the golden dance. Over the past three cycles, that includes Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Straight Outta Compton, Inside Out, and Wonder Woman. That same rule could apply to Black Panther, Mary Poppins Returns, or A Quiet Place. That said, Panther and Poppins stand solid chances for Best Picture recognition. That gets us to seven.

First Reformed and Eighth Grade are far more questionable, though both have made strong showings in precursors (especially the former).

The glaring omissions are Vice and First Man – two films I have consistently projected for Academy nominations. I don’t see that changing yet. Three more that could have been boosted by AFI, but were not: Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Crazy Rich Asians, and Widows. 

All in all, my aforementioned analysis indicates seven could end up being the number of nominees here that move onto Oscar glory.