My busy-ness, sickness, and laziness over break kept me from posting my thoughts about The Rise of Skywalker and Eddie Murphy hosting Saturday Night Live. Allow me to rectify…


I saw The Rise of Skywalker the Sunday before Christmas with two of my brothers-in-law. I also saw The Force Awakens with them, and the local b-i-l of that duo saw The Last Jedi with me. So it was good company.

I entered the theater with fairly low expectations. I had read zero reviews, but I had seen several headlines that were, at best, lukewarm. A couple were rather scathing. I remember one, from a prominent national newspaper, called it the worst Star Wars movie ever. Yikes. Fortunately I had seen enough positive Twitter buzz from sources I trust that I took my seat hoping for the best.

Also, I watched both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi the previous week to get my mind right for where the story was and where most thought it was headed going into episode nine.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that I’m far from a Star Wars expert. I was excited about the new trilogy but I haven’t dug into them the way I did with episodes four through six when I was a kid.


I thought most of the action scenes were terrific. They were exciting, quickened the pulse, and had lots of explosions, which is an underrated aspect of the Star Wars saga.

The story? Well, I had a lot of issues with the story.

My biggest issue is how much of this movie, and in fact the entire final trilogy, was just a rehashing of the same broad storylines that the original trilogy used. Seriously, one more final battle where a ragtag collection of rebel forces are facing off against an evil empire that has planet-killing weapons? Haven’t we done this four times already, if not more?

I did not like how Rey was identified as a Palpatine. Say what you will about Rian Johnson’s episode eight, but offering the idea that bloodlines didn’t matter and anyone could be an important cog in the Force was one of the most exciting ideas ever introduced into the saga. But she ends up being just another part of a royal family. Some were excited about this, especially after all the teasing about who her parents were. I found it disappointing.

This showed a trend in the final trilogy: there were a lot of moments when it felt like Johnson and JJ Abrams were fighting with each other. The series certainly would have benefitted from having someone above the directors laying down a consistent viewpoint for them to follow, rather than allowing them to jerk the storyline back-and-forth.

Most of that doesn’t bother me too much. What I did have a problem with, though, was the line in The Rise of Skywalker when Abrams had characters diss perhaps the most stunning scene in the entire saga: when Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo turns her ship toward the First Order’s command ship and jumps to hyperspace, destroying both ships in the process in The Last Jedi. The moment of silence in the movie’s soundtrack that allowed you to hear the gasps in the audience was a truly amazing cinematic moment. Seriously, that scene was up there in my favorite experiences in a movie theater. And Abrams decided to shit all over it because it was Johnson’s. Lame.

There were not great moments of surprise, either. Perhaps I was just too cynical coming in, but each time there was a twist, I knew it would twist back quickly. I knew there was no way Abrams was going to kill Chewbacca midway through the film, so those seconds of emotion when Rey thought she had caused his death didn’t register with me: I knew the Wookie would be back. And he was. Almost embarrassingly soon.

While I was watching, I was surprised at how much screen time Leia got. I was also impressed with the CGI work as she looked pretty lifelike. Only after did I learn that those were scenes that Carry Fisher had shot before her death that they used. I guess I’m cool with that. Interesting how they shoehorned that dialog in.

Kylo Ren was the most fascinating character in the new trilogy. I don’t know that I was pleased with his story arc. Again, it was pretty predictable where he would end up. I did enjoy the path to get him there. Any scene with Kylo and Rey was about as good as the trilogy got.[1] I’m glad they had several scenes together. I don’t know that they needed to kiss. Bringing Harrison Ford in for the scene when Kylo/Ren is debating what to do seemed like an apology from Abrams for killing him off in The Force Awakens. It also felt a little cheap.

But, man, Kylo’s ending. I just don’t know if I can get on board with it. It seemed a little flat for the character that will be most remembered from this set of movies. Worse, it again aped Return of the Jedi. When Darth Vader turned and helped Luke defeat the Emperor, his reward was death. Same for Kylo. So I guess the point is redemption does not equal salvation? That’s going to really help the next time an evil emperor pops up!

You’d think Disney would have pushed Kylo surviving so they could continue his story somewhere else. Although, if Adam Driver isn’t interested in carrying the role further, I’m not interested.

Star Wars analysis has always been over-thought. In reality the movies are pretty simple stories about good vs evil. That presents both problems and freedoms to filmmakers. For all the flack Johnson took for The Last Jedi, at least he took risks and challenged his viewers. If you strip Finn and Rose’s weird “find the codebreaker” arc away, episode eight was pretty good.

The Rise of Skywalker, on the other hand, felt cautious and unambitious. No way would Disney have allowed for anything that wasn’t a satisfying, bow-tying end to the Skywalker saga. But it was absolutely possible to challenge the audience in the process of reaching that final point. Instead we got constant callbacks to the five movies that came before.

That’s not to say it was a bad movie. I will call it an entertaining if deeply flawed film. Instead of leaving the theater either exhilarated or satisfied at the end of the Skywalker storyline, I left with a bland feeling of, “Well, that’s over.” There was no deep emotion, only slight disappointment. Then again, the expectations that were first set in 1977 were likely impossible to reach. Especially now that I’m middle aged and cynical, rather than barely into grade school, wide-eyed, and impressionable.

The first time I saw Star Wars I refused to talk afterward, shaking my head when my mom asked about it. The following day I sat on my front porch in a daze, my world rocked by what I had seen the night before. Two weeks ago I left the theater, talked it over for a few minutes with my brothers-in-law, then went home, got into bed, and fell asleep. I wish something about this movie had moved me enough that I had tossed and turned for a few hours, reliving my favorite scenes.

I listened to part of a pretty nerdy podcast in which a panel discussed the movie. Most of them, while they had problems with the movie, liked it a lot more than I did. Worth noting that most of them have seen the movie multiple times.

I have a couple friends who are really into Star Wars and they liked it more than I did as well.

Based on that feedback, I think it’s safe to say that if you are a true believer, there are enough strong elements that reveal themselves upon repeated viewings that can help you get by the troublesome parts.

If you are a casual viewer, like me, however, I think it’s much harder to get beyond those many issues.


Eddie Murphy’s turn as host of Saturday Night Live, on the other hand, was a thoroughly enjoyable 90 minutes. With one notable exception, the show was pretty perfect.

Leading in, I kept reading discussions of what classic characters Eddie needed to bring back. At first I was bothered by that. Eddie is returning to stand up and making comedies, why shouldn’t he have the freedom to bring new characters to the show? But then I realized that all those classic characters were the result of him spending hours at 30 Rock creating them with his fellow writers and performers. It was too much to ask for him to carry a 90-minute program with a bevy of new bits.

I guess I was worried that modern takes on Mr. Robinson, Gumby, etc would come off as poor facsimiles of his 1980s performances. That’s happened with some other hosts who came back after years away. I figured it would be impossible to match peak Velvet Jones, and bringing them back would just disappoint a 48-year-old who was very excited to see arguably the biggest star of his childhood return to his old stomping grounds.

Thankfully those were needless fears. Yes, Mr. Robinson, Velvet Jones, and Buckwheat were all probably B+ renditions. But that was still pretty damn good. Gumby, on the other hand, was out-freaking-standing. That was the one moment in the show when Eddie brought back the “anything can happen” vibe from his 1980s work.

There was more to Eddie’s performance than his old characters. His monologue was solid. I get what he was doing by bringing Dave Chapelle, Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan, and Keenan Thompson on stage. And there were some good lines in that part. But I was hungering for some straight Eddie standup. He did give us the one line about Bill Cosby which was both devastating and hilarious. I wanted five minutes of that!

The Holiday Baking Championship skit was solid, especially since we watch that show. Eddie as the Elf in the 11:55 skit was ok. While neither skit was especially memorable, they still had that classic Eddie energy, if slightly toned down to reflect his age. I don’t know that anyone in the show’s history, not Will Ferrell or John Belushi, had that energy that Eddie brought back in the day. You could see the glimmer in his eye that that energy was still there, and he was thrilled to be letting it out again.

I had two problems with the show. The first had to do with the modern structure of SNL. What was once a tight cast of repertory and featured players is now a bloated cast that takes several minutes to introduce in the show’s open. Skits seemed overly big in order to squeeze in as many faces as possible. In Eddie’s prime the show was really about him first and foremost. I guarantee pretty much everyone who watched this episode tuned in to see Eddie. This was a week when they should have dialed everyone else back a little more.

Secondly, and this is not a unique opinion, but I have no idea why Lorne Michaels and the writers feel obligated to do a Democratic debate sketch every episode. They epitomize the bloated nature of the show and lose their effectiveness when they run them out week after week. Eddie Fucking Murphy is hosting for the first time in over 30 years and you’re going to open the show with five minutes that don’t include him? A total waste.

Oh, I have another problem: HOW DOES BUCKWHEAT JUST SHOW UP AND PERFORM WHEN HE’S BEEN DEAD FOR 36 YEARS?!?!!? Have you seen the footage? Let’s take a look…[2]

Those quibbles aside, a very pleasing return to SNL by Eddie. 1983 me would have approved.

  1. When he snatched her necklace when they were “ForceTiming” I thought of Aqib Talib snatching Michael Crabtree’s necklace during a game.  ↩
  2. For some reason NBC does not have the original sketch up. They do have the following week’s skit when Buckwheat’s assassin, John David Stutts, was arrested and then murdered.  ↩