Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (PG-13)
This film is a spectacle on such a grand and overwhelming scale that the average viewer can be so overcome as to not notice that the storyline is totally confusing. Stripped to its basics, the story is one of the Final Order, commanded by General Pryde (Richard E. Grant) and opposed by all the Good Guys, aka The Resistance, led by the super-gifted Rey (Daisy Ridley) and her buddies and robots. Yes, C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 are back, along with the indefatigable Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo).
If you are already a Star Wars junkie, as so many of you are, you will probably find little trouble in sorting out who is who and when they change identity, but those hoping to catch up in this final episode will probably be at a bit of a loss. Never fear! The special effects guys and an old rocket ship that merely needs re-wiring will keep the plot going.
Ridley’s Rey is charming and always ready for a scrub-up to get rid of the bruises and the dirt, and she has those super powers that allow her to wield a lightsaber with the best of them—certainly as well as her main nemesis, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). The most startling thing about this extravaganza is the large part that the late Carrie Fisher plays as General Leia. Through the miracle of archive footage, she appears in several scenes, some involving interaction with the live cast. Veteran Star Wars watchers will also delight in cameos by Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Harrison Ford as Han Solo and Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian.
This film almost makes tolerable the imitations that followed in terms of special effects. The franchise was one of the first epics to be carried by special effects, and the tradition continues to the end. There is no end of spaceships and places in which to blow them up. Characters may die and yet come back to life and some disappear rather mysteriously. But it all hangs together somehow, and The Force is with all of them. Just enjoy the spectacle and John Williams’ music, which is so familiar and yet still so perfectly fitting.
When Jennifer Hudson as Grizabella reprises “Memory” and heads into the last chorus, I defy you to deny the chills and the desire to stand up and cheer. It is only the greatest moment of many great moments in this amazing production directed by Tom Hooper. If you don’t like movies that are almost all music and dance, stay at home, but if either or both are your cup of tea, you must see this film!
Seldom have I been as consecutively moved by a film as I was this time. From the first moment that humans moving as cats cross the square that is the setting of the film, I was entranced. And when I saw Francesca Hayward, principal dancer of the Royal Ballet and “Victoria” in “Cats,” I was in love. Her movement, manner and face draw you into her character, the newest waif in the mob, all trying to merit ascension to the “Heaviside Layer” and return to a new Jellicle Life. Several are nearly there: Judi Dench as Old Deuteronomy has been there long enough to merit promotion, but she, like the others, must avoid Macavity (Idris Elba) who is bound to destroy any and all pretenders to the honor.
There are certain characters who will charm you for sure: Ian McKellen as Gus, the theatre cat who yearns to live the good old days; Rebel Wilson, hysterical as Jennyanydots; and James Corden as the man about town Bustopher Jones. Taylor Swift has a solo turn and a show-stopping Steven McRae as Skimbleshanks leads the entire cast in an epic tap number (“The Night Train Cat”).
The plot of the show is not really important, even though the relationship between Victoria and Grizabella develops beautifully. The feline nature of the movement and dancing is wonderful, as is the costuming, even to whiskers. Dench is indomitable and moves well as do Wilson and Corden who are definitely not primarily dancers.
I loved this film from first frame to end and recommend it highly. You can always get the book of T.S. Eliot poems, “Old Possum’s Books of Practical Cats” and read if you don’t like music and dance, but I preferred this version. I hope we see more of Hayward. She is versatile, acts well and looks terrific, which pretty much fits the entire cast. And the whole, albeit confusing because of the lack of a clear plot, is perfectly fitting for a holiday outing by the whole family.