Sunday, May 24, 2020

The 4th post of pages from CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS

For Part 1, go here.
For Part 2, go here.
For Part 3, go here.

With today's pages, we've reached that point in the story where it becomes necessary to have plot and exposition that will justify why everything is happening. I felt a little guilty about that, so instead of four pages, it turned out six pages as a bonus for the holiday weekend.

Enjoy and start your speculations on who Dark Monitor is.







Saturday, May 23, 2020

CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS continues with an EVERWOOD/RIVERDALE crossover

For Part 1, go here.
For Part 2, go here.

Another day, another four pages of CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS. Today, Archie and Veronica take a trip to Everwood, Colorado.




I'm firming up my plans for the rest of this. I'm 90% sure of how this ends, so I might do one more post of pages sometime this weekend, but then go silent until I have the complete script. I feel like writing the ending is going to tell me things I should revise on the way there.

So enjoy these serialized bursts while they last and at some point in the near future, you WILL get to read a complete script.

Part 4 is here.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Part 2 of CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS

I wasn't sure I could get a whole script out of this... but after kicking around some things in my head yesterday, I was able to crank out the next four pages of CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS late last night.

For Part 1, go here.





And I have been overwhelmed by the reaction to this very silly project. Allow me the indulgence of sharing some with you.

First, from showrunner Marc Gugginheim, who among many other shows, oversaw the actual TV crossover CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS:



SUPERGIRL writer J. Hothham had this incredibly kind comparison to make.


Liam here suggested something I didn't think I could do because it would conflict with another fantasy idea... but after some thought I'd say it's at least on the table.


I like how Jeremias thinks, but instead of a comic book, what about a live read?


And so, after a long morning of thinking about things I've decided that if you guys are willing to put up with a few scenes of traditional crossover exposition and some metaphysical techonobabble, I might be able to land this puppy in the next few weeks for you.

I probably won't be able to do everything you wanted to see in this, but we'll have some fun. Too early to know the posting schedule, but I imagine I might use the long holiday weekend to plow ahead and assess where I am after that. Stay tuned!

For Part 3, go here.
For Part 4, go here.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Presenting the first four pages of CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS

Yesterday, while goofing around on Twitter and talking about my latest binge of ALL-AMERICAN, I accidently gave myself a new project.



This is not too dissimilar to how a joke tweet a few years ago resulted in me writing a script for alternate timeline episode of 13 REASONS WHY that mashed that show's premise up with AWAKE. So really, no one should have been surprised when late last night I dropped this tweet on my audience.


Here are the four pages of CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS.





I'm not sure if I'll continue. I have a few notions and some scenes in mind but the overall premise and story is still evolving. Maybe I'll turn out some pages, maybe this is where it ends, but I'm really getting a kick out of some of the reactions I've gotten so far.

















Is there more coming? We'll see...

UPDATE: Yes, there's more. Find Part 2 here.
Part 3 is here.
Part 4 is here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Thought's on Quibi's muted launch, from A Friend with a Quibi show

When my twitter feed hasn't been full of people tweeting about Trump and the pandemic, I've seen a lot of tweets about Quibi and it's less-than-spectacular launch. It was the first of three major new streaming platforms set to launch in the year (HBOMAX arrives next month, and Peacock later this summer), so it would seem to be the canary in the coal mine as far as how much content can be put into the market before the audience stops consuming it.

The numbers haven't been great, the platform never seemed to have a breakout hit and all the conversation about Quibi seems to be ABOUT Quibi rather than about the shows. CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg did an interview in the New York Times where he blamed COVID-19 for the muted response. He said: "I attribute everything that has gone wrong to coronavirus. Everything. But we own it... If we knew on March 1, which is when we had to make the call, what we know today, you would say that is not a good idea... it’s regrettable, but we are making enough gold out of hay here that I don’t regret it."

I'm not sure I share this perspective. For two months, most of the country has been stuck at home starved for new content. Netflix added over 15 million subscribers in the first quarter of the year - more than double what they had projected. Correlation doesn't always equal causation, but that's an interesting data point.

This late March article from the Verge claims, "While the television industry as a whole saw a 20 percent increase last week compared to the month prior, HBO Now saw the highest usage on its platform since summer. The percentage of people binge viewing series has increased 65 percent, while movie watching is up 70 percent on HBO Now."

The captive audience is there. I don't think coronavirus was a huge factor. I think the biggest issue is Quibi made it too much work to access their content. You can only watch on an iPhone or an Android. You can't watch on Apple TV and you can't Chromecast it to your TV. Plenty of people stream to their phone, so this didn't need to be a fatal error, but I think when you're building an audience the more barriers to entry there are, the fewer people will go to the trouble of going through them.

I reached out to a Friend with a Quibi Show and here's what they had to say when I suggested that having a captive audience at home should have been a boost rather than a detriment, here's what they had to say:

"The service was always designed to be on the go. It’s the only possible way it made sense. I’ve got 10 minutes to kill. So... all of at home with HOURS to kill, we’re choosing longer things. I watched all of the baseball doc, which was 18 hours long. Same with Last Dance.

"BUT... had they actually done what they said they were going to do... they could’ve weathered it. They kept talking about being SHORT FORM HBO AT THE START and instead they did YOUTUBE, BUT YOU PAY." 

This friend had their own thoughts on what went wrong:

"#1: Their ads ignored the content and focused on the concept. "Shows are REALLY short," they told us, which is akin to the doctor telling you "don't worry about the shot...it'll be over fast." No one wants a shot. And no one is inspired by how quickly something will be over. TV is concept. Cool concepts sell. And they may have a TON of cool concepts, but they didn't seem want to tell their potential audience about it. Just IT'S FAST!

"#2: After sitting in rooms with artists and saying they were going to do high-end, short-form TV... they led with glorified YouTube entertainment...which we were going to have to eventually pay for. And it wasn't even clever YouTube entertainment. It was a judge show and a prank show...which have been around since the 80s.

"#3: All they cared about was star fucking. What's the show about? What's the draw? Who cares, it's from X with Y and Z. Moreover, while saying they were doing high end TV, they did movies. They handed control to whomever was the most namey person on the call sheet regardless of smarts or vision.

"#4: And yes... the pandemic. You can't launch 'TV you can watch on the go' when there's nowhere to go.

"BUT... #1-#3 were the REAL issues. And #4 was the nail in the coffin." 

Definitely solid points there. Even if Quibi doesn't think any of these were magic bullet issues to be concerned about, I hope their internal post-mortems look deeper than just assuming COVID-19 was a once-in-a-lifetime fluke that derailed an airtight plan.

And the reality is that even if that WAS the case, COVID-19 is a reality for every other service looking to launch in the next year, so someone is going to have to figure out how to achieve success under those circumstances. It's natural selection, the future of streaming will have to adapt or die.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

My Top 10 Films of 2019

I admit... my intent to be more active on this blog last year took an even faster nosedive than I expected. I'm sorry to say of late that I've not felt terribly inspired with new ideas, but at least the end of one year gives me a very easy top to post about - my Top Ten Films of 2019!

1. Apollo 11 - It's remarkable to see footage of one of the most significant events of the last century looking not like faded newsreel, but vibrant color, as if it was shot in the present. Compiled from recently-recovered archival documentary footage, this film lets the events on screen tell the story. There's no omniscient narrator or talking head interviews to cast this like a tale you're hearing around the campfire. Knowing there were tens of thousands of hours of raw footage that had to be culled to make these 93 minutes makes the achievement even more remarkable. By showing the voyage of Apollo 11 as something unfolding before the cameras, the events become all the more immediate. Man landing on the moon has never felt more real or more awe inspiring. This is a film that should be shown in every elementary school.

2. Uncut Gems - Adam Sandler totally disappears in the role of diamond district jeweler/hustler Howard Ratner. You don't feel any trace of the actor's usual comedic persona even in the film's funny parts. This is a film that keeps piling the sandbags up against Ratner one after the other, with even brief victories quickly washed away. Every time you want Howard to just take his money off the table and stem his losses, he doubles down. It's like watching that guy walk the wire between the World Trade Center towers... he's got to fall sometime, right? Also, people who don't follow basketball at all (me) will probably be shocked at how the actual basketball player in the cast is such a natural actor. (Seriously, Kevin Garnett has more presence than almost any other athelte/actor I can think of.) I feel like this might be a little too intense for the Oscars to award Best Picture, but ten years from now when we look back at 2019 - this will be one of the first films that springs to mind.

3. Parasite - This one was released with a lot of "Go in knowing NOTHING" hype and I worry that might have scared off viewers afraid of a HEREDITARY kind of viewing experience. It's actually a dark comedy that turns into a thriller mid-way through with a surprising twist. It's gotten a lot of hype over its themes of class warfare, but more than that, I just appreciate it's a really well-made thriller about an underdog family who targets and cons a wealthy family who REALLY needs to do a better job of vetting their hired help.

4. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood - Tom Hanks never quite makes you fully forget you're watching "Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers" but he completely embodies the goodness that was Fred Rogers and makes you believe a man could be as generous and compassionate off-screen as he was on it. It was a year where we really needed films about GOOD people and the difference that kindness can make in a person's life. Matthew Rhys has been underpraised for his role as basically the cynical audience stand-in, a man used to seeing the dark side of life and unsure how to profile a man who seems to have no dark side or skeletons in his closet. There's a subplot about Rhys's character's father that could have been cynical in its heart-tugging but Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster's script makes you believe that a man like Rhys can find his heart, just as easily as it makes you believe in Mr. Rogers.

5. Avengers: Endgame - The one big franchise this year that completely stuck the landing. Yes, the time travel logic is counter-intuitive and there are plenty of nits to pick there, but everything here works on an emotional level. The final fates of several Avengers feels earned, much like a circle closing. I wrote in my review that it feels more like a series finale than a feature film, and while there's a lot of truth to that, it's a series that a LOT of people have been watching for a decade. Balancing spectacle and heart so ably, if this becomes the rabbit that every other blockbuster film tries to chase, we're in for some entertaining movies.

6. Booksmart - It's a disservice to write this off as a "female SUPERBAD." I see the similarities, but it also has a lot more to say about finding and redefining one's identity than the earlier film grapples with. SUPERBAD is about the end of the high school days and the one last chance to go after what you want. The second-best parts of BOOKSMART are about Amy breaking free of the box she's been in throughout high school. (The best parts of the film are Billie Lourd, obviously.) I also like that is specifically avoids making this a literal "coming out" story for her. She's out, but this is really a story about breaking free of the person you used to be.

7. Knives Out - I've watched this movie twice, and it might be my pick for favorite dialogue of the year and favorite ensemble. This is one of those movies where the joy that everyone felt making it on set clearly permeates on-screen. It's a whodunit that seems to tell us the "who" halfway through and briefly morphs into a suspense film as we worry the responsible party will be exposed. Everyone brings their A-game here. I want Rian Johnson to make a new Benoit Blanc film every other year, alternating with a new original film with this cast. I can't pick a favorite member of the cast, but this is a real coming out party for Ana de Armas. Not only was she usually cast as the sex bomb before this, but she was a sex bomb IN A MOVIE I SAW and I completely didn't recognize her until I went to look her up. Johnson's script should be required reading for anyone working on a script with a large ensemble, to study the economy of information that fleshes out everyone.

8. Dolemite is my Name - I'm a sucker for films about never-gonna-bes who don't let any talent deficiencies get in the way of their creative dreams (See: ED WOOD, also from the screenwriting team of Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski.) I knew nothing of the story of Rudy Ray Moore before I watched the film. At first, you pity the guy for his fruitless pursuit of fame and fortune, then you find yourself admiring his hustle and savvy in finding the right audience for his comedy. And when he seems ready to blow ALL that money on making a film before he's even learned how to direct, you want to scream "No, Icarus! Don't fly too high!" The whole time you're bracing for the brutal payoff this hustling underdog is courting... but the movie has much more up its sleeve. This is the kind of movie that will inspire a lot of passionate (and hopefully) talented people to bet on themselves in pursuit of their dreams. It's also EASILY Eddie Murphy's best performance since... his dual roles in BOWFINGER, maybe?

9. Little Women - The back-and-forth timelines were confusing. There, I said it. Particularly in the first half, I feel like the movie could have handled those transitions more effectively, but that's one of the few bad things I have to say about this film. Having never read the book or seen any other adaptations, I came to this with virgin eyes and felt that writer/director Greta Gerwig did a remarkable job balancing the stories of these four sisters in this perfectly-cast period drama.

10. Hustlers - She's being pushed for Supporting Actress, but this film BELONGS to Jennifer Lopez's Ramona. Constance Wu's Destiny is our eyes and ears, what what passes for the film's moral center, but without J.Lo's seduction into their increasingly ugly grift, this whole movie would collapse. She's the ringleader, the one who keeps pushing them further and further, taking on bigger risks. Soon what began as a clever scheme making victims of Wall Street douchebros who deserved it treads into uglier, more dangerous territory. Ramona and Destiny's friendship is a well-drawn depiction of the emotional manipulations that come into play as a friendship takes a slow slide into toxicity. You're torn between wanting to be loyal to a friend like Ramona even as it's inevitable she'll take you down with her.

and the rest of my Top 20:

11. Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood
12. The Art of Self-Defense
13. Queen & Slim
14. Toy Story 4
15. Jojo Rabbit
16. Bombshell
17. The Irishman
18. Frozen 2
19. Ford v. Ferrari
20. Ready or Not

Of the big Oscar films and would-be Oscar films, I still have to see 1917.

Friday, December 20, 2019

THE RISE OF SKYWALKER tries to give us everything we want, not everything we need

So just so everyone's clear here - this is NOT a spoiler free review. I'm going to be reacting to the biggest surprises of THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, so if you don't want to know the whole movie before going in, steer clear.
Ever since STAR WARS relaunched with THE FORCE AWAKENS in 2015, I've been pretty happy with the "Saga" films. TFA is one of the most rewatchable STAR WARS films in the canon and I really like THE LAST JEDI as well. SOLO was okay, and ROGUE ONE was a movie that didn't hold up as well for me on a rewatch, but thus far, I've been very invested in the core movies.

THE RISE OF SKYWALKER is less a feature film and more a series finale. If you watch it through that lens, the callbacks and occasional fan-service is less irritating than it might be otherwise. The plot construction feels looser here than in most of the other films. It's a video game quest, with our heroes going from location to location, getting the clue that sends them to the next location. It's STAR WARS at its most comic-book, particularly in the last third.

For the first half of the film, the overall thrust works remarkably well - particularly due to some great chemistry from the ensemble. This is the first time we see Ray, Finn, and Poe sharing an adventure and Chewie, Threepio and BB-8 are all along for the ride too, in a race against Kylo Ren to get a Sith artifact that will lead to a planet where Palpatine is hiding out.

Yep, Palpatine is back. Weirdly, this reemergence isn't revealed to the audience in the context of a dramatic scene, but in the opening crawl, which explains that Palpatine's voice has been transmitted across the galaxy as a message and everyone is reeling at the thought he's survived. It's the first weird choice in a series of them. Wouldn't it have more impact for us to see the Resistance hear that message in real time and realize "oh shit. We're screwed?" There's a reaction that's skipped right over here.

(Maybe this is because Leia's reaction would be the most significant and there was no way to manufacture that?)

How Palpatine survived is never explained, save for a throwaway line that theorizes something about clones. This guess is seemingly wrong, because when we see him in the flesh, his body appears broken in a way that suggests the original Emperor, not a rejuvenated duplicate. I would have loved a tiny hint of how he survived the Death Star explosion and made his way to that planet, and it would have helped a LOT if any kind of credible explanation was given for the fleet build-up he's been doing for 35 years.

His plan is missing a huge "Why now?" Why reveal himself now? What have all those officers on those ships been doing for these years? Why sit out so long even after the Republic was wiped out? Where did they get those planet destroying weapons?

And aren't the stakes already big enough without every ship being able to destroy a planet on its own? It's a capability that's only exploited once and after that it might as well not even matter. The final confrontation between fleets is dire enough for the Resistance without scaling up the threat to that level. It's stakes for stakes sake, leveling up on a threat that's already leveled up to a ridiculous degree.

They're just giant stakes that aren't earned.

The resolution to that sequence has a similar problem. We're told at the start that the Resistance has been trying to pull together new support, but they're still a bunch of ragtag fighters. As Palpatine's rise draws near for... some reason, Lando and Chewie whip around the galaxy trying to shore up support. Poe has one of the film's better lines when he says they need to show people that "We are not alone... good people will fight if we lead them."

The idea that there's this silent oppressed majority that is just waiting for a person to rally behind is a good one. Hell, done right it could dovetail right off of THE LAST JEDI and Luke's mythic reemergence. The execution is rushed. If Chewie and Lando could organize a massive fleet of allies in the space of an afternoon, why haven't they done this before? There's a case to be made that Lando's got a legendary reputation and it doesn't hurt to have him working all his connections, but then shouldn't we at least SEE him cutting that deal with one ally?

Like many plot points here, there are a lot of things happening between scenes that we're just meant to assume, even if they'd have made for better drama on-screen. We're shown Point A, Lando and Chewie leaving to drum up help from sources that have rebuffed the Resistance so far, and we get Point C, the massive fleet arriving as the cavalry, but Point B is skipped over.

There are a lot of missing Point Bs in this film. I'm fine filling in some of them for myself, but the ones that would have made for more compelling material than what we got on film tend to nag at me more.

"There are more of us" is a thought that's expressed multiple times in the film and it's exceedingly relevant in 2019, as we're governed by our own Emperor Palpatine who is destroying the American way of life, our national security and our national dignity by the day. He's made an entire political party complicit in this. Just watching impeachment hearings has made it clear - there is not a shred of intellectual honesty or patriotism left within the Republican Party. They welcome a fascist Trump dictatorship.

If you're about to roll your eyes at me getting political, remember that this Saga has ALWAYS been political. It grew out of George Lucas's feelings about Vietnam and there's no mistaking that REVENGE OF THE SITH is a very pointed criticism of everything awful about the Bush Administration making people think they had to trade liberty for safety. If you're just noticing NOW that STAR WARS is a political allegory for the times it was made in, you haven't been paying attention.

Indeed, this is a time that demands commentary. Donald Trump is a vile human being who's appealed to the worst human beings. They're loud about their support and at times, it can feel hopeless to fight because I could never conceive a compassionate human being supporting him just based off of what we knew about him BEFORE the election. To see people still proclaim him as their guy after running literal concentration camps that separate children as young as infants from their parents and force them to sleep on concrete floors, to see them cheer this guy has he puts people in power who are there to destroy the rights of others, and to see few consequences for it... is soul-shattering.

To see people you know who embraced their worst racism and misogyny to cast a vote for this scum is disheartening. To see them cling to that even after he's shown us worse sides might break you... if you thought the only path to victory was to turn back those who'd embraced the Dark Side.

And yet, all the polls show "There are more of us." He might have power, McConnell and his band of fascist might hold power and be using it to rig the game for elections to come, but when it comes to people who reject everything about Trump and what he represents "There are more of us."

To get through this moment in history, we need to remember that. We need to fight like hell against everything Trump and the Republican Party stand for, even when it seems like it's not having an effect. Why? Because THERE ARE MORE OF US.

This is how we win.

We have the numbers. Anyone who's still with Trump at this stage is not coming back from the Dark Side. They're further gone than Darth Vader ever was. We are not Luke Skywalker. We won't win by fighting for their redemption. We win by showing up, because no matter how many disciples the Dark Side has...

THERE. ARE. MORE. OF. US.

Imagine a STAR WARS movie that truly affirmed that power. Perhaps even a movie where the gambit isn't to turn Kylo Ren back from the Dark Side, because in the end we don't need the help of one who helped condemn us. I'd love a version of this where the galaxy rises up against fascism and Rey stands alone with the power of the Jedi against the Emperor, with Kylo Ren's heel turn ultimately immaterial to her arc.

Adding to the moments of "There are more of us," I would have loved for some scenes that showed the galaxy-wide scope of Palpatine's army going into battle. As a tacked on epilogue, we see Imperial ships destroyed above Cloud City and Endor, among others, but those feel like payoffs without set-ups. My reaction was "Oh, did we know that those worlds were being threatened?" Why didn't we see the peril brought to those worlds before they're apparently easily defeated by a movement that fit onto one ship just a single movie ago?

But now I'm going into the movie I wish I'd seen rather than the one I got, so maybe it's time to make some short takes on other points.

Rey as a Palpatine. I like the idea of her being "nobody," as THE LAST JEDI affirmed, but I can't deny the logic of bringing back Palpatine as a way of unifying all nine films in this chapter. Once Palpatine is on the table, it certainly helps earn that dramatically if he's tied to the most important character in this new trilogy so... if she has to be related to someone "known" I'm okay with it being Palpatine.

The reveal could have been handled better. Kylo Ren is the guy who told her in the last film that her parents were nobodies, so him spinning another tale here is a little like when the Joker tells two different versions of how he got those scars. When a character tells two incompatible truths, so you know it's not a case of one of them being a lie - it's an indication the character is a total liar.

The Rey/Palpatine confrontation was somewhat unsatisfying in execution. It's another case of the bad guy telling the good guy what the rules are without anything that affirms he's telling the truth. He seems to WANT Rey to strike him down, and claims it's so he can possess her, but this is a guy known for mind games within mind games. What if that's just a ploy to make her hesitate so he can dispose of her? Or use her against Kylo Ren somehow? Or convince her she needs to submit willingly?

It also leads to this weird confrontation where Rey's told, "Kill me and you become me!" But if she leaves him alive, her friends are still screwed. He's definitely built a Xanatos Gambit here, where all paths lead to his victory, but then how do we parse the loophole that lets her definitively kill him and win? It feels like the difference is that all of the Jedi have her back, and that their spirt is keeping her on the Light Side no matter what the Emperor says will happen, but it's muddled. Maybe the idea is if she killed him, he had to have corrupted her enough to get a foothold?

What I'm getting at is, the Third Act could have used another pass. I can see the broad strokes of what the movie's going for on all levels, and I like the general direction, but it needed more refinement. 

Leia. It's hard to believe it's been three years since Carrie Fisher left us, placing the series in a difficult spot because her character was the last of the core three still alive at the end of THE LAST JEDI. I'm glad that the filmmakers chose neither to rework TLJ to kill Leia off, or recast her here, as either would have been disastrous choices.

So how does it work repurposing deleted scenes to incorporate Leia into this film? It works. Mostly. There are a few moments where I couldn't help but think of The Simpsons episode where an editor demonstrates how one can complete Milhouse's performance using footage they've already shot:




But by and large, the device is effective. It helps that it's treated mostly casually and not a "Look at us! We resurrected Carrie Fisher!" Tying her death to the moment that eventually triggers Ben Solo's reemergence works on an emotional level. There's a hastiness to it that I can forgive based on the limited ways Leia could have interacted with that plot. I wish there had been a more meaningful mother/son story here, and all signs point to the earliest versions of this final chapter building to that.

But the bottom line is that both Carrie and Leia are treated with reverence, and using her here has real impact on the story, so I can go with it.

Also, we've finally canonized the idea that Leia DID complete her training, she DID become a Jedi and she actively chose not to walk that path. I wish Carrie was really here for that moment, especially to get to hold her own lightsaber, but I'll gladly take that fan service.

Kylo Ren's path out of the Dark Side. I want to be very clear with how I parse this. Though Kylo Ren eventually rejects the Dark Side and reassumes the identity of Ben Solo, I don't see any of this as a redemption. I've said for four years that in TFA, Ren committed "possibly the single most visceral act of evil depicted on screen in any of the STAR WARS films" and so he deserves no redemption.

When I've said this on Twitter, people try to argue Vader's redemption to me. "He killed billions in Star Wars alone!" No, he didn't. He's a glorified henchmen. Tarkin orders the destruction of Alderaan. And for the audience, that billion deaths is a statistic anyway. It's a pyrotechnic moment - it's not one the audience FEELS. That many deaths is a statistic.

"Yeah, but Anakin killed younglings!" Sure, we know that now. But in 1983, when RETURN OF THE JEDI was produced and we were asked to buy into Darth Vader's redemption, we neither knew that nor experienced it. Even when we DID experience that moment in REVENGE OF THE SITH, the murders are kept off-screen.

Look at Darth Vader's actions in the original trilogy, the moments of brutality we actually experience viscerally, and you'll find there's nothing there that's a true emotional dealbreaker in the way that Kylo Ren impaling his father is. A movie is less about what happens and more about what the audience experiences - and that is straight up, the most brutal moment in a Star Wars film, from an emotional point of view.

And even when he kills his master Snoke, Ren's response is not "I'm free!" It's "now I can claim MORE power!" Every opportunity he has to turn back, he doubles down. He blames Luke for a moment of drawing his lightsaber when by that moment, Ren had not only turned fully dark, but had turned several other students. Moments after that, they all slaughter the rest of Luke's Jedi students, his classmates.

He's true evil, and that has been reinforced in every appearance. His turn here feels rushed to me. It's a story decision only if you decide to experience it in the moment - the death of his mother, his mortal wound and Rey's compassion in healing him. I see all the story math of how those things could flip "Generic Supervillain," but it's hard to reconcile with this SPECIFIC supervillain's history.

I was glad to see Harrison Ford incorporated somehow, and I was relieved they didn't go with some kind of cheat that he had a Force Ghost that could show up and actually talk to him. Ben reliving the memories of Han's last moments, where he's reaching out to his son, isn't a bad concept dramatically. I think that scene could have tilted more to the direction of what Ben NEEDS is forgiveness, but he understands he can't get that. He can only relive that moment and seize the opportunity to make a different choice.

For me, this scene got about 80% of the way I wanted. Digging just a little bit deeper could have sold me more on Ben's conflicted nature and how complicated it really would be for him to erase the legacy of Kylo Ren. Just throwing away the saber and switching allegiances isn't quite enough. This moment could have been the beginning of a compelling redemption arc, but the movie just doesn't have the room for anything more. Adam Driver doesn't get anything compelling to play after this. He's just there to race to the rescue and eventually die.

I don't think the movie earned either Rey's assertion that "I wanted to take Ben's hand" or the kiss between them before she dies. All their interactions in the first film are hostile, with their first face to face being when he tries to mentally rape her. I can believe she'd try to turn him back in THE LAST JEDI, but with everything he's done - and everything he's done TO HER - making the romantic subtext into text threatens to turn them in to STAR WARS's "Luke and Laura" (kids, ask your mothers)

Luke and the Force Ghosts. I wanted more from Luke's return. It was inevitable he'd be the Obi-Wan whispering in Rey's ear, but Hamill plays that scene strangely. Him using the Force to lift the X-Wing out of the waters by the island was a payoff I was waiting for since THE LAST JEDI, though, and it was nicely done.

I know this would have been fan service, but I would have loved to have seen Force Ghost Luke again during the finale, perhaps returning with the Force Ghosts of ALL the Jedi characters, including  Leia and Anakin. Give us an "Avengers Assemble!" of all the Jedi, staring down Palpatine as Rey settles his hash once and for all.

And I'm not sure how you get there, but with as important as Darth Vader's was to Kylo Ren, I'm a little cheated we didn't get an Anakin/Kylo Ren force ghost conversation. I guess that's what fanfic is for.

Finn. So what was Finn going to tell Rey when he thought they were gonna die? That's dropped and never addressed again.

See-Threepio. I like that the droid got his most useful role in the series thus far here. I sorta wish the bold move with him halfway through the film wasn't undone, though. The film sets up major consequences and then undoes them for the sake of a feel-good ending.

THE RISE OF SKYWALKER has the unenviable task of winding down nine films and drawing threads to a close in a way that unifies everything. I don't think it's successful in every regard, though. Some of the strains can be glossed over or forgiven by nostalgia-driven dopamine rushes, but when it fades we're left with a movie that tries very hard to give everyone everything that they want, and
as such, it can be a satisfying experience on the most superficial levels.

It was probably impossible given the time crunch this movie had to be produced under, but maybe would have been better served by more investment into what the audience needed.