Sometime around the beginning of the decade I had been watching several classic Hollywood movies, foreign art films, and obscure, challenging works of cinema, which led me to revisit George Lucas’ Star Wars prequel trilogy, through home viewings—and I fell in love with it. It was exactly what I’d hoped: a dazzling, fun, adventure that I don’t have to think about while watching. If Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991, James Cameron) was the last big budget vfx action movie I thoroughly enjoyed as a kid, the prequel trilogy restored my interest in the genre as an adult.
What followed were The Matrix trilogy, Prometheus (2012, Ridley Scott), World War Z (2013, Marc Forster), Valerian and the City of Thousand Planets (2017, Luc Besson), Thor: Ragnarok (2017, Taika Waititi), the first two Transformers (I’m shamelessly devoted to Michael Bay’s movies, particularly the period from Bad Boys II to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) and Alita: Battle Angel (2019, Robert Rodriguez). For me most of the fun in thinking about the movies I’ve watched is narrowing my taste down; or, finding the prize that comes after all the work of looking for what you like most.
Also I began watching and enjoying Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy, which I owe to the Harmy despecialized editions, which I’ve only recently discovered. I’ve learned to appreciate the original trilogy as the first Hollywood movies to go all out with special effects, but also sincerely coming to acknowledge the inspired genius of Lucas for pulling it off. At the risk of broadly generalizing, what Lucas did in the 70s, and Cameron in the 80s, along with Peter Jackson in the 00s, has transformed pictures into what they are now: big budget vfx movies. And I’ve learned to stop worrying and love the big budget vfx movie.
Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019, J.J. Abrams) is an adventure set in outer space that’s about REY leading the Resistance and fighting to save them from the First Order. I really don’t want to be one of those trolls who bitches about it sucking, because I’m sure those kinds of reviews aren’t hard to find.
So what is there good to say? I cared about the characters. Also it’s fun. And I laughed often. The big draw for me with this movie is its promise of taking us to other planets. And space craft. And aliens. And droids. Rey's costume is cool too.
Yeah who am I kidding? I can’t write a Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker review. What was I thinking? It’s too safe. What do my favorite big budget vfx movies: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Prometheus, and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets all have in common? Most people said they sucked when they came out. And they kinda do. And that’s kinda why I love them. They have their own character… style… art.
Maybe that’s what I’ve learned writing this: that my adolescent awakening to basing my lifelong aesthetic sensibilities on a punk anti-mainstream foundation prevents me from really loving J.J. Abrams sequel trilogy. Episode IX is fun, and it’s well made. It looks spectacular. And the best I can say is I liked it. It was okay. It wasn’t challenging, or revelatory. But was it supposed to have been?