NOTE: This review is as spoiler-free as I can make it. I’ve included no plot points beyond the most basic ones, like “this is a Star War” and “it has a third act.”
I saw Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in IMAX 3D. The show ended less than an hour ago, and I’m currently nursing¹ a headache while revisiting the logic behind my decision.
Mostly it was about timing. The 3:20pm show was the most convenient for me. But let’s face it… this film promised me lots of big landscapes, and starscapes, and sith-capes, so I figured that a screen which played those to their fullest effect would ensure that even if I didn’t like the story I’d be able to enjoy the visuals.
I enjoyed them both!
But to my surprise, my biggest complaint, the one thing keeping this final Skywalker-infused installment of the Star Wars saga from clearing my Threshold of Awesome, was the editing.
Well… not the technical bits of the editing so much as the way the editing was used to influence the pacing. The first half (at least) of the film raced from scene to scene, switching from thread to thread, without giving me time to process. Lots of scenes, not enough sequels.
TERMINOLOGY BREAK: “Scene/Sequel” format was described sixty years ago by Dwight Swain². In his terminology, “scene” is a unit of conflict, and “sequel” is linking material in which the reader (or viewer) has time to process the previous scene, and is made ready for the next one. “Scene” might be a car chase. “Sequel” would be sitting on the back bumper of the ambulance talking about what happened, perhaps while watching one of the cars burn in the background.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker kept changing scenes on me before I was done thinking about them. We’d jump from location to location so quickly I began to wonder if some poor editor wasn’t told to shave 20 minutes off the film by chopping 20 seconds from the end of sixty consecutive scenes.
It was exhausting.
Fortunately, the final act of the film seemed to be paced in a more viewer-friendly way. It completely changed the flavor of the film for me. At the halfway point I was worried that I was going to exit the theater asking myself “what even WAS that?”, but by the third act I was no longer worried. It was a Star War, and it was turning out to be a pretty good one³.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker does not clear my Threshold of Awesome, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. I look forward to seeing it again at home, where I can pause the show for twenty seconds about sixty times.
¹ 500mg acetaminophen, 120mg caffeine
² In Techniques of the Selling Writer, by (you guessed it!) Dwight V. Swain
³ Pretty good, but nowhere near my favorite. My favorite Star War is The Mandalorian, for which I shall soon be composing a review…