Oh, Star Wars. Is it the curse of nearly every Star Wars film made after 1983 to be extremely divisive? While I wasn’t one of the people who abhorred The Last Jedi, I also wasn’t one of the people who adored it. There were some solid ideas (that, admittedly, weren’t executed very well) mixed in with some less-than-stellar ideas, and the movie didn’t really do a great job at setting up the final film in the trilogy – which, really, is the entire purpose of a trilogy’s middle film. So, in the wake of all of that, was it ever really possible for The Rise of Skywalker to actually be very good or remotely satisfying? I’d argue it wasn’t, which is exactly the mindset I went into this movie with. Somehow, I was still disappointed, though. In fact, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a deeply frustrating film. In trying to please everybody, it pleases nobody. It tries to cram too much plot, and too much poorly-thought-out fan service into too little a runtime to make something remotely interesting. (Very mild spoilers may follow; you’ve been warned.)
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (written by J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio; directed by J.J. Abrams)
Lucasfilm and director J.J. Abrams join forces once again to take viewers on an epic journey to a galaxy far, far away with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the riveting conclusion of the seminal Skywalker saga, where new legends will be born and the final battle for freedom is yet to come.
The biggest problem with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is its script. You can honestly tell that it’s co-written by the same guy who co-wrote Batman v Superman (a movie I liked but, admittedly, had lots of narrative problems) and Justice League because Rise of Skywalker has many of the same problems as those films. There is so much story crammed into this film that there’s never enough time to actually explore any of it. Things just keep happening in very quick succession, from the moment the film starts all the way until it ends. The pace is so break-neck that it’s hard to actually get invested in anything that’s happening because it’s all happening so quickly that by the time you actually understand what you’re seeing, you’re onto the next thing. Additionally, so little of the actual plot points in this movie are actually explained with any satisfactory answer. If things are explained at all, they’re done with such a cursory hand-wavey answer that you basically just have to roll your eyes and go with it. Hoping for a satisfying answer as to how Palpatine still lives? Sorry. I honestly had such a hard time following this movie that I cannot begin to tell you what actually happens. It’s like three movies were crammed into this movie and it was just such an assault of countless exposition delivered at an unstoppable pace that I think my brain just shut off.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, there’s no trace of a coherent character arc in this film. Sure, we know what plot-related things the characters want – Rey is looking for a McGuffin that will help her find where Palpatine is hiding – but we don’t actually know what they want. What does Rey actually want? To prove herself, maybe? The problem with that is there’s no discernible reason for her to need to prove herself. There are no emotional journeys to track with these characters, besides Kylo Ren – but even he only gets the most perfunctory kind of arc, and when he has a big moment in the third act of the film, it comes so far out of nowhere that it absolutely feels like Abrams and Terrio were just trying to check off boxes of “things that should happen in a Star Wars film” instead of actually writing a story where those things could organically happen. There’s also not a trace of any real dynamic between these characters – aside from Finn and Poe, whose chemistry is still banking off their relationship from The Force Awakens and not anything that’s been developed since then. If the characters talk to each other at all, it’s mostly to talk about what’s literally happening in the film, to make some kind of exclamation (“shoot that ship!”, etc), or to dish out some more exposition. This total lack of characterization for anybody in the film hinders the movie’s ability to connect with its audience even more. It’s hard to connect with characters who don’t seem to actually be going through any kind of organic emotional journey.
As for the expected twists and turns and narrative conclusions in this film? They’re equally disappointing. I feel bad for Abrams and Terrio as The Last Jedi didn’t really do anything to set up the events of this movie and they needed to find a way to set up a massive saga-ending conclusion, and then actually execute that conclusion. But, God, what they actually did just doesn’t work. Every twist is either easily guessable (and, therefore, fairly unsatisfying because it just feels like fan pandering instead of any kind of interesting idea), so far out of left-field that it just lands with a thud, or glossed over with such speed that you don’t even register what happens. Plus, there’s so much nostalgia that it makes me never want to see another iconic Star Wars thing again. So much of this movie just feels like extreme pandering and “course correction” to get those fans who were so angry at The Last Jedi back onboard. And, I dunno, maybe it worked. But for me, so much of this was the worst kind of fanservice – the kind where the creators don’t actually understand why a fan might want to see a certain thing. It makes the whole thing just feel really empty and hollow and calculated.
The film’s directing and editing isn’t much better than its writing, either. Sure, Abrams is a competent director and the film frequently looks good. But the editing is atrocious – and that’s partially Abram’s fault. It honestly feels like huge chunks of this movie were cut out because the whole thing feels extremely choppy. As I’ve said, things just keep happening without any reprieve. There is never a moment where you’re able to stop and really reflect on what’s going on. It’s just exposition, action sequence, exposition, new location, etc over and over again. It’s an onslaught and with so much happening all the time, I can honestly say I got bored. And that’s an editing problem. A better-edited version of this film might’ve given some of the more important scenes the room to breathe so they might have landed better. But, alas, that’s not what happened here. As for the other visuals? Most of the action sequences are decent, though edited in such a way that it can sometimes be hard to follow. But it’s hard to be mad at lightsaber fights and space battles. Much of the cinematography is good, the practical effects remain nice, but a lot of the CGI isn’t very good at all. There are certain creatures that look not-so-great and there’s a moment where there’s a flashback with some CGI characters that look truly awful. Think Rogue One, but worse. So, the visuals are a mixed bag and the directing is a mixed bag and the editing is atrocious.
The best part of the movie is probably the performances. I think most of the actors did the best with what they were given. Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver continue to give very good performances as Rey and Kylo Ren, but they’re also given the meatiest parts. Oscar Isaac and John Boyega remain a lot of fun together, so it’s nice that most of their screentime is shared. As for the rest of the cast? They largely fail to make any kind of impression on the audience. Ian McDiarmid is committed to the Emporer, but nothing is particularly impressive about the character here. As for the new cast, they have such small roles that they barely make any kind of impression. The same is true for nearly all of the returning cast as well. Billy Dee Williams returns as Lando and is as good as you want him to be, but the character just doesn’t do anything and you forget he’s there most of the time. Then there’s Carrie Fisher. Honestly, I don’t feel like they spliced in the Leia footage well at all; it never felt like she was actually in any of the (extremely few) scenes she was in, nor did it feel like she was actually talking about what was going on or that anyone was actually talking to her. I’m sure her performance was solid when those scenes were in their original context; but removed from it? It just doesn’t work. She has so little to do in this movie, and she’s completely absent for most of it. In all honesty, she hardly makes any kind of an impact I honestly wish they’d just left her out of the film completely. It’s a real shame that she never got her chance to shine in this trilogy. But, overall, the cast is pretty solid.
At the end of the day, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is my least favorite of this new trilogy. It’s way too safe, trying to course-correct so much that it feels so inauthentic and further breaks any hope of this trilogy telling any kind of a coherent narrative. It fails to provide a satisfying conclusion to this trilogy, or to the greater Skywalker Saga. The pacing is so fast that you can’t follow what’s going on half the time and in the moments where you can, the writing is so bad that you wish you weren’t understanding it. But mostly, you just desperately wish the film would slow down long enough for you to enjoy something about it. Nothing about the narrative storytelling works and it’s all just half-baked ideas or truly awful fanservice and it squanders nearly all of the character arcs. I know I’ve said I didn’t love The Last Jedi because I think it fails at being a middle chapter of a trilogy, but at least it tried to do something semi-original. The Rise of Skywalker is so steeped in the past that it feels redundant and it does an even worse job than The Last Jedi at concluding this story. I understand it had a lot to try and establish very quickly, but it just never ends up working and nothing about it feels inspired. This is possibly the least fun I’ve had watching one of the main nine Star Wars films. And, look, I don’t go to a Star Wars film to get some kind of deep themes or anything particularly complex, but I do go to have a good time. And this movie didn’t give me that. While the actors keep it from being a total disaster, the pacing issues and complete lack of narrative cohesion bored me and kept me from enjoying the film at all. I have exactly no interest in seeing this movie again. At this point, you’ve already decided whether or not you’re gonna see it. I hope some people like this movie. But it seriously didn’t work for me and I guarantee I’ll remember little from this movie; I’ve already forgotten good chunks of it.
2 out of 5 wands.