Film Review: “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”

STAR WARS:  THE RISE OF SKYWALKER
Starring:  Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Rated:  PG 13
Running time:  2 hr 21 mins
Walt Disney

In 1977, theatre owners everywhere were excited about an upcoming film from 20th Century Fox that they were sure was going to fill their theatres for weeks.

That film was “The Other Side of Midnight.”  Based on a very popular best-selling book, the demand for the film was so great that the studio was able to do a little quid-pro-quo with the owners.  If you promise to play this little space movie we have coming out in May we will make sure you get “The Other Side of Midnight.”  That “little space movie” was, of course, “Star Wars.”  The punchline to this story is that “Star Wars” proved to be so popular that, when “The Other Side of Midnight” opened two weeks later, many theatres NEVER played it as they were still filling the house.  I’m pretty sure I can guarantee that the final installment in the original series will do the same.

Let me begin by saying this will be a spoiler-free review.  Not only because the studio asked critics not to give anything away but also because if, like me, you’ve got 40-plus years of your life invested in the saga you don’t want some pencil neck with a computer spoiling your fun.  The story begins with our heroes Rey (Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron  (Oscar Isaac) still trying to defeat the First Order, led by Kylo Ren (Driver).  While Rey continues her Jedi training, Kylo Ren is raging his way through the galaxy, hoping to confront the all-powerful Emperor, the leader of the evil Sith.  Things are getting bleak for the resistance and General Leia Organa (Fisher) is out of ideas.  Will the final pieces of the rebellion be destroyed?  Sorry, the studio won’t let me tell you!

Here’s what I can tell you.  Director J.J. Abrams, who co-wrote the screenplay with Oscar-winning screenwriter Chris Terrio (“Argo) has crafted a story that should satisfy every “Star Wars” fan in the galaxy.  Old friends return while new friends extend the story.  You would have to have a heart colder than a Wampa not to enjoy this movie.

The cast is top-notch, with the three principal actors having grown into their roles.  It is obvious they are much more comfortable here than they were in Episode VII (“The Force Awakens”).  Rey is certainly my grandchildren’s version of “Alien” crewmember Ellen Ripley, a strong, young woman that others can look up to and admire.  Fisher’s Princess Leia in the original trilogy was the same kind of character and Ms. Ridley gives her both an outer and inner toughness, though the goodness she possesses is also visible.  Both Boyega and Isaac have larger roles here.  Finn is much more decisive in his actions while it’s nice to see Poe NOT in a spaceship for the majority of the film.  The filmmakers were able to include Carrie Fisher in the story by reshaping scenes she filmed for “The Force Awakens” and it is a joy to see her on the big screen one last time.

Driver has also grown into the role.  To me he came off as a little wimpy when he was introduced in “The Force Awakens” but here he is downright terrifying.  The man has some serious anger (and family) issues and you don’t want to be near him when he snaps.  To counter the intensity of some scenes Abrams has also included some good, old fashioned humor and the jokes play well.

Visually, of course, the film is a masterpiece.  Battles between literally hundreds of ships take your breath away and the musical score, by the great John Williams, is a perfect accompaniment to the action on screen.

The original 1977 STAR WARS campaign book.

In the spring of 1977 some friends of mine and I wrote away to 20th Century Fox for some information on “Star Wars.”  We each received a beautiful full-color campaign book, which I still have.  I was 16 when “Star Wars” came out.  Like many people my friends and I went to the theatre not knowing what to expect and walked out hooked.  I enjoyed the films so much that half of my basement is crowded with “Star Wars” memorabilia.  I was even asked to moderate the 40th Anniversary Q&A event that was held in Kansas City.  “Star Wars” is, and has been, a very important and memorable part of my life and I must say that “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is the perfect ending to my childhood!

“Star Trek: 50 Artists. 50 Years” Lands at New York’s Paley Center

September 16- “Star Trek: 50 Artists. 50 Years”,  which made its debut at this year’s San Diego Comic Con opens up to New York fans today at the Paley Center for Media in midtown. The exhibition, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of the original Star Trek television series, features fifty pieces from ten nations as well as tie-in fan screenings and whimsical photo ops sure to please the Trekkies of Manhattan. Noteworthy amongst the art on display is a piece of the famous Vulcan salute by none other than the late Leonard Nimoy himself.

Work by Leonard Nimoy

To my eyes, Spock looks to be favored character by the show’s artists, including a digital illustration from Stanley Chow whom I spoke with at the exhibition preview:

Where are you from?
Stanley Chow: I’m from Manchester England.

What Inspired you to choose Spock?

SC: I think like when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s and then watching reruns of Star Trek, the first person I kind of looked up to was Spock. He seemed like the more intelligent one and slightly different. I guess with me it was–when I was growing up, I was the only Chinese boy in the village, you always kind of–I felt you needed someone different to look up to and aspire to, you know? And Spock was always the one, with his cool, calm, collected demeanor. And his pointy ears.

Artist Stanley Chow with his work

Do you have a favorite Spock moment?
SC: There’s not been a favorite moment, but I’ve always liked the kind of relationship he had with Uhura. You know? It was never kind of like a fully fledged relationship. It was always kind of like an underlying thing…Which was sort of my life with lots of girls when I was growing up.

Do you enjoy Zachary Quinto’s take on the character?
SC: Oh, I think he’s amazing! When he was picked, obviously he was off of “Heroes”…And then once he puts the ears on and he does his thing [in the] movies, he’s the only actor–it’s sounds kind of cliché to say he’s the only actor who could do Spock but he’s done it so well but that’s why it’s become a cliché isn’t it?

Head of CBS consumer products, Liz Kalodner was also on hand to celebrate the opening.

Do you have a Star Trek favorite character?
Liz Kalodner: Well Captain Kirk is the classic, c’mon! Although I have to say, Captain Janeway [From Star Trek: Voyager], also pretty good.

Do you enjoy the new film franchise?
LK: Oh, absolutely. i think JJ Abrams has done a wonderful job. It’s brought in a new, younger audience, and really has given the franchise great energy.
As you’re from consumer products, I noticed you’ve got a fictional cereal here in the exhibit, is that a favorite item?

LK: Yeah! So that’s by an artist named Juan Ortiz who loved Star Trek from when he was a kid and actually had that idea when he was a child. And he always wanted to do it. And I don’t know if you saw the back but there are cutouts, trading cards, because cereal boxes always had you know, the free in-pack or on-pack, so he created that.

Since Star Trek is coming back to TV are you getting ready with your department for that?
LK: We are getting ready! We’re working with showrunner but it’s all in the development stage. But it’s a wonderful time to be in the Star Trek business.

“Star Trek: 50 Artists. 50 Years'” brief stop in NYC concludes on September 25th. Details on the Paley Center’s screenings to coincide with the exhibit can be found here.

The Paley Center for Media is located at 25 West 52nd Street.