In the picture

January 5, 2020

The Rise of Skywalker relies heavily on nostalgia; Cats is an uncanny valley monstrosity.

Star Wars: Episode IX
– The Rise of Skywalker**1/2

Starring: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong'o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid, and Billy Dee Williams.

Directed by J. J. Abrams

Tagline: No one’s ever really gone.

The Skywalker Saga comes to an end, nearly 42 years after it began, with the ninth and final episode in the main Star Wars series. The Rise of Skywalker banks on franchise nostalgia for a finale designed to please fans while playing it safe and suffering, perhaps, as a consequence.

The film begins with the revelation that Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) somehow survived the events of Return of the Jedi (1983) – presumably by jumping through a convenient loophole – and has now assembled a fleet of Star Destroyers to decimate the Resistance and establish a Final Order.

Rey (Daisy Ridley) – who has been training under the watchful eye of General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) – joins defected storm trooper Finn (John Boyega) and Commander Poe (Oscar Isaac) as well as Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), BB-8, and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), to find and stop Palpatine while continuing her tussle with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

Clashes ensue, in one form or another, for much of the film.

But everything ends up feeling rushed, even though the movie has a nearly two and a half hour running time to handle all its storylines. There are parts that could have been written and presented more deftly, and unnecessary arcs – like C-3PO’s Sith text issues, for instance – that could have been exorcised altogether without losing anything from the story.

Also, for a film with this much action and destruction, The Rise of Skywalker is oddly vacant and short on excitement and poignancy. The climactic battle isn’t as edge-of-the-seat exciting as it should be, while the rest of the proceeds lack impact, possibly because they lack permanence; several times the film presents a touching or powerful moment, and then, a few minutes later, promptly undoes that development.

J. J. Abrams mostly chooses to bask in throwback nostalgia and brings back familiar faces without managing to do anything particularly interesting along the way. His competent but risk-averse approach keeps the film from going in an inventive direction.

There are moments that feel contrived, and the script’s sharpness is often lacking, as is character development for intriguing players like Finn who aren’t used to their full potential. Carrie Fisher’s parts – put together using unseen footage fragments – leave you wishing we could have seen the movie that would’ve been made if she had still been alive. The choice of primary antagonist also has a significant impact on the rest of the series, and not necessarily in a positive way.

That said, there is fun to be had in Episode IX, and there are many elements of this action-packed finale that fans will enjoy. But the sequel trilogy, on the whole, feels a bit mismanaged.

The Rise of Skywalker ultimately leaves you with the feeling that things might have been more consistent and powerful if the three films were better planned, helmed by one filmmaker, and managed to strike a finer balance between creativity and fan service.


Starring: James Corden, Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, and Francesca Hayward

Directed by Tom Hooper

Tagline: You will believe.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s long-running stage musical Cats makes its way to the big screen in the form of a bizarrely poor film, the pure awfulness of which simply boggles the mind.

The musical basically shows anthropomorphic cats – or what are supposed to be cats but rather look like creepy pointy-eared humanoid extra-terrestrials – auditioning to be picked for the chance to … die and be reincarnated, I guess?

The plot – or what passes for a plot here – finds the Jellicle cats tribe introducing themselves via song and dance in the annual Jellicle Ball, hoping that their leader Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) will choose them as the one who gets to go to Heaviside Layer and be granted a new life, while the villainous Macavity (Idris Elba) plans to kidnap the other contestants so that he can win by default.

What should be a delightfully quirky romp quickly turns into a nightmarish fever dream instead. The CGI descends to the depths of the uncanny valley.

The (almost non-existent) story is as incoherent as it is bonkers. The songs are unmemorable, the dance sequences badly shot. Cats may work on stage (although based on this cinematic atrocity, it’s hard to tell why the musical has been so popular), but onscreen, the whole project feels like a giant misuse of T. S. Eliot’s whimsical poetry.

The cast seems to comprise of actors who can’t sing and singers who can’t act. Stars are crammed into the film for no real reason (other than marketing?), including a glorified cameo by Taylor Swift (in a brief appearance as Bombalurina), who makes zero impact with a performance that would have gone unnoticed were it not for her fame. Rebel Wilson (who plays the lazy Jennyanydots) gets what is possibly the most poorly conceived sequence of the film. Judi Dench’s monologue at the end is bewildering. Meanwhile the overwrought Jennifer Hudson (who plays the ostracised Grizabella) seems to be in an entirely different movie altogether.

Tom Hopper (who previously did an uneven job with Les Miserables) has basically delivered a case study in how not to make a movie. The fact that this CGI-drenched live-action version was made altogether is baffling in itself, seeing how the material is clearly better suited for an Aristocats-style animated adaptation. And the fact that they managed to mess up literally every aspect of the project is almost intriguing.

Creepy, inconsistent, uninteresting, and (perhaps most fatally) downright boring, the Cats movie isn’t even “so bad that it’s good”; it’s just plain awful.

Rating system: *Not on your life * ½ If you really must waste your time ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only *** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection

In the picture: The Rise of Skywalker vs Cats