‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ is a Sporadically Fun but Ultimately Disappointing Conclusion
I love Star Wars. I am 24 years old, and I grew up watching the original trilogy on VHS, and the Prequel Trilogy in theaters. I have been a fan of these films for literally the entire time I have been alive and could retain information. Part of this is due to having a Mom who loved these films when she was a teenager and passed the love along to my sisters and I. That love has carried to this sequel trilogy. Each of these new films has been an event for my family. We gather together and we camp outside of the theater for the day and spend the time theorizing and geeking out about what we think and want to happen. While the wait can be truly monotonous, I look at the experience of seeing a Star Wars film with my family to be a joyous and meaningful time. What I am getting at, is these films hold a place of importance in my love for film in general. In a lot of ways, it was the series that sparked that love. So, when I say that I found Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker to be a disappointing conclusion, it truly comes from a place of love.
I know that The Rise of Skywalker was a satisfying experience for many people, and this review in no way intends to refute or discount anyone’s subjective experience of this film. I genuinely do think there is a lot to like, and even love about this film. However, I can’t help but feel a deep disappointment in many regards to its plot, particularly in its approach to character. I have seen the film twice, and both times wanted nothing more than to leave the theater with an unwavering satisfaction with how the Skywalker Saga was concluded.
Let’s start by talking about JJ Abrams. I consider myself a fan of his work. I am not the type of fan who would accuse him of “ruining Star Wars” or labeling him with a childish nickname in an attempt to bully, shame, and attack him. Watching this film, I can clearly see that he loves this universe and wanted to make a film that pleased the fans. All that said, Abrams himself has stated that he feels he is not good at ending stories. He has proven to be good at beginning stories, even in this franchise. I, however, would have to agree with him: I do not feel his strength is endings. I feel that JJ Abrams is a supremely talented director, and a pretty good to bad screenwriter.
The arc of this sequel trilogy was deeply interesting for the first two films. The Force Awakens cradled the fans with nostalgia. It reminded everyone of what was great about Star Wars, and why we loved it. It was the cinematic equivalent of a warm blanket. It took no risks, but that was okay because its purpose was to remind fans of how Star Wars felt, while simultaneously introducing an entirely new generation of fans to the franchise. In other words, it played to every single strength that JJ Abrams has as a filmmaker in a ridiculously satisfying and successful way. Then came The Last Jedi, which took the franchise into bold, and unexplored places. The film in many ways was a meta-conversation about Star Wars and what it means to the world. It felt fresh and seemed to signify Lucasfilm was going to begin taking this franchise into directions that haven’t been revisited repeatedly throughout the franchise. It argued that, for this franchise to endure, it would have to grow beyond itself and move into new and challenging directions.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker throws all of that out the window. It doesn’t so much weaponize your nostalgia as it attempts to be an all-out assault on it by beating you over the head with it for virtually every minute of the film. Every single storytelling decision in The Rise of Skywalker seems to be the most pandering, fan-servicey, and devoid-of-risk choice possible. It’s the first time in this sequel trilogy where I didn’t feel as though I was watching a Star Wars film, but instead a business bending over backwards in an attempt to please as many fans as possible without any attempt to offer anything challenging or thought-provoking. This goes as far as to attempt to appease even the most hateful and ugly sides of the Star Wars fandom who bullied a cast member off of social media by demoting the character of Rose Tico to nothing more than a glorified extra.
The plot begins by revealing Emperor Palpatine… has returned? Or was he alive all along? I would clarify if it was explained. He has been lurking in the Unknown Regions on the planet Exogol. Kylo Ren has been furiously searching for him to destroy any threat to his power as Supreme Leader of the First Order. He finds and finally confronts the ancient Sith lord with the help of a McGuffin device called the “wayfinder”. In an astonishingly lazy reveal to Kylo Ren, Palpatine states that he created the First Order and has been pulling the strings behind virtually everything for the entire sequel trilogy. He has been crafting a fleet of planet-destroying (sigh) Star Destroyers that he has (originally) dubbed the “Final Order”. The fleet will be awarded to Kylo to unleash upon the galaxy if he kills Rey. Palpatine also alludes that Rey is not who Kylo believes she is. Meanwhile, the Resistance is also aware of Palpatine’s return after an anonymous spy within the First Order relays the information to them which sends Rey, Finn, and Poe on multiple searches for multiple McGuffin devices (including another wayfinder) that make up the first half of the film.
To call the pacing of The Rise of Skywalker frenetic, would be an understatement. There are no quiet moments because no moment is given its due time. Every time a scene comes along that teases time to allow the viewer to feel, it is quickly sidelined for the next big, loud set piece. It is disappointing as Abrams excelled in the quiet moments of The Force Awakens such as Rey’s introduction on Jakku where we see her daily life almost dialogue-free and feel such empathy and emotion for her character.
I also felt no risk in this film because no character ever feels to be in danger. Early in the film, we see Rey accidentally destroy a transport spacecraft that Chewbacca is believed to be on. The sequence is harrowing and offers challenging territory for the character (and viewer) to reckon with the powers she possesses and how to wield them as they pose a threat upon those she loves. But not 20 minutes later we learn (conveniently) there was another transport that Chewie was on. Later in the film, C3PO makes an incredibly moving sacrifice to wipe his memory in order to translate Sith inscribed writing on a dagger to help the Resistance defeat the villainous Final Order, but not long after we find out R2D2 backs up his memory, so his sacrifice is rendered meaningless because there was no risk to begin with.
The most egregious flaw of this film is found in its biggest reveal: the identity of Rey being the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine. Prior to this film, the emotional journey of this character has been one of the most interesting in all of Star Wars. Both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi complement each other in beautifully satisfying ways in regards to Rey’s unwavering desire to find her place in this universe. The reveal in The Last Jedi that Rey was no one of note was a deeply inspiring and empowering message because it forced Rey to confront her deepest fear: that she is alone. Likewise, it allowed this universe to feel bigger. It introduced the notion that the force isn’t something that is just handed to you because of who your parents are, it’s about who you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re the son or daughter of Anakin Skywalker, or a scavenger who longs for a family and a place in the universe, or a slave child who sweeps the stables of Fathiers on Canto Bight. The force binds everyone together, but can also belong to the weakest, loneliest, and most downtrodden in the galaxy. The revelation that Rey is a Palpatine feels so misguided and uninteresting that it derails the entire film and makes the character devastatingly more boring and stale. Like the rest of this film, it feels like ground that has been walked by this series for the past 42 years. It serves as an unnecessary course correction to a saga whose biggest flaw is familiarity and repetition to the point of becoming dull.
Despite all these flaws, I do feel the second half of The Rise of Skywalker is better than the first half, and there is fun to be had. The performances by Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver are still fantastic. I also feel the arc of Kylo Ren/Ben Solo is fairly satisfying, but that could also be because he is one of the only characters in the film who has an arc. This film also features two pretty great lightsaber fights. One between Rey and Kylo Ren on Death Star II, and the other when Ben Solo faces off against the Knights of Ren. I can honestly say I felt that Rey passing the lightsaber through the force to Ben was one of the most satisfying moments in this entire trilogy. As an extension of my praise of that moment, I also loved how The Rise of Skywalker continued to evolve the force. It is one of the few things about this film that felt fresh and new.
Ultimately, I do not hate The Rise of Skywalker. In fact, I feel that when viewed on its own, it is a fun movie with deep flaws. I feel it will satisfy its target audience of children on deep levels, and for that, it will be a success. The love of this universe feels apparent throughout the film as displayed by the cast and crew, but also acts as arguably the film’s biggest crutch because it feels deeply unconfident in trying anything new or taking any risks whatsoever. It is a film that will work for fans who enjoy the same story beats and prefer not to be challenged by their entertainment. However, for fans such as myself who hoped the saga would continue and conclude in fresh and uncharted direction, it will likely disappoint, even though I sporadically had fun with it. I just can’t help but feel that when viewed as a piece in the now-concluded saga, it feels like a missed opportunity. But still, I will always love Star Wars, and am grateful that there is a new one that I can go see.
Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts on Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker? Comment down below!
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