Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker - Review
The final chapter in the Skywalker saga is here, and just like that, Disney accomplished what they set out to do when they bought the storied franchise in 2012. Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker had the monumental task of wrapping up over 40 years of storytelling. So did it pull it off?
The short, yet unsatisfying answer is: "Kind of". What director J.J. Abrams values about what Star Wars has to offer is what he focused on. But there is much more than that, and those are the areas where Rise fell short. There will only be minor spoilers throughout this review.
The divisive chapter that preceded this one, The Last Jedi is the most subversive Star Wars movie in existence. It questions and challenges everything you know about Star Wars. It asks tough questions, and offers tough answers. It is about how heroes aren't infallible. It is about failure in its purest form. It is about never giving up in the face of certain defeat.
Rise lazily tries to follow up on these things, but it only does so out of a sense of forced necessity, instead of a desire to continue those threads. Rise of Skywalker ignores and contradicts a lot of things The Last Jedi presented, and instead tried to please as many people as humanly possible, which isn't always the smartest decision when it comes to telling the best story.
Abrams biggest strength as a filmmaker is creating memorable moments. It's like he creates a painting of a movie only he saw, and the audience sees the paintings. Those paintings can be very memorable. Those paintings can even evoke emotion. But the paintings are loosely strung together with a story that has a lot of issues. That is what The Rise Of Skywalker is.
Don't get me wrong, there is a lot to like. Those Abrams "moments" work. Nostalgia is a powerful drug. So every reference or callback can be delightful. But like every drug, overdoses are possible, and The Rise of Skywalker is one big overdose of fan service. It feels like Abrams is afraid to offer anything new. Every single thing in the movie has to be a call back, a reference, or a relation to something else. Abrams even retcons something new he introduced in The Force Awakens just to throw one more "iconic image" back up on the screen.
Due to Abrams fear of anything new, The Rise Of Skywalker makes the Star Wars universe even smaller than it already is. It does so with quick, choppy edits that jump around all over the place, and by short little video-game level side quests of finding numerous macguffins throughout the whole thing.
There is nothing inherently wrong with a macguffin. Most great stories have one that is the focus of the characters. But Rise had too many of them. 2 Sith Wayfinders, a dagger that had Swiss Army attachments, a ship, a creature, a token, and a person all served as macguffins. Oprah gives out cars for Christmas. Abrams likes to give macguffins instead.
The idea put across is a good one. Family doesn't define you. You can't pick where you came from, but you can determine your future. It is what you, and you alone, make of it. That is a beautiful, powerful, and poetic theme to explore. It was the execution of trying to portray that idea that just didn't work.
Abrams answered questions that didn't need answered, and then ignored questions that did need answers. For instance, there are mysteries surrounding Palpatine, Finn, and Jannah that never get resolved.
The main 4 cast members did well, the humor is strong, the imagery is stronger, and the "moments" that land, really land. But all of that is mixed with weird and ineffective decisions. Together, it makes The Rise Of Skywalker a mixed bag of pleasing nostalgia, and frustrating story.
Rose Tico is one of the most interesting, complex, and quintessential Star Wars characters in existence. Her journey in The Last Jedi is powerful and mirrors Luke in A New Hope in a lot of ways. She, and the actor Kelly Marie Tran, were the victim of a lot of toxic bile from people who didn't understand the complexity of her character, and didn't like a variety of other things about her. So instead of Abrams defending her, he reduced her role to nothing. If you removed her from The Rise Of Skywalker, the movie doesn't change at all. She makes no impact. In fact, Dominic Monaghan's brand new character, who has no significance, gets more screen time than her. He wasn't needed, most of his lines could have been hers. That still wouldn't be as good as having Rose on the main mission with the others, and further developing her relationship with Finn. But it would have been a bigger screen presence at least.
Abrams takes time to apologize for The Last Jedi by undoing nearly everything Rian Johnson did, except for the stuff he couldn't. Instead of trying to be its own thing, it had to be the anti-Last Jedi. So instead of cohesiveness, you get these two jarring things that act more like oil and water than complimenting flavors.
For those who criticized the lack of space battles in The Force Awakens, nothing changes with Abrams' second chance. The guy just doesn't seem to want to film anything space related. All the Falcon sequences involved hyperspace jumps, or being in tunnels, or ice, or things like that. Even the climactic dogfight that has a ton of ships involved are in this covered exo-planet type thing, instead of space. It is a weird flex to hate space for a guy who helmed two Star Wars movies and two Star Trek movies.
The film throws a lot at its audiences, and different people respond to different parts. But it's manic energy hurts it overall.
I liked parts of the movie. I even loved some parts of it. But as a whole, there is something to be left desired. The biggest detriment to The Rise Of Skywalker is...The Rise Of Skywalker. It is its own worst enemy sometimes, but still has a lot of heart. I am 3 days removed from seeing this movie, and what I remember most are certain images; not how they got there, not what those moments contributed, just the images themselves are what stand out. Abrams went full Abrams, and some people will eat it up. But the movie certainly won't please everybody; and trying to do so was maybe the biggest mistake.
Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker is now playing only in theaters.