How does one even begin to conceive of a proper ending to a nine-film saga spanning 40+ years? Not only that but can you come to a conclusion that can satisfy all of the disparate fan-groups of the said saga? It’s a nearly impossible task –, especially in today’s culture. This is the question that JJ Abrams and company ultimately had to answer.
It’s both incredibly simple and enormously complex at the same time. In this scenario, I think we can all agree that you should never aim to please everybody, and yet, that’s the route that Abrams seems to have taken with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – a movie that’s so full of plot and eager to please fan-service that it forgets to service anything beyond that. Yes, I regret to be the Sith in this scenario, but Episode IX, while fast-paced and well-acted, is one of the worst Star Wars films to date.
I’ll get this outright at the top – I’m a Star Wars fan. Like many of you, I grew up on the original trilogy, withstood the prequels, and have relatively enjoyed the Disney era – yes, I even liked The Last Jedi (well, most of it). All of that makes writing this even harder. I like JJ Abrams – I stand by The Force Awakens as one of the best films in the Skywalker Saga – and I desperately wanted to like The Rise of Skywalker. Sadly, my enthusiasm was treated to death by a thousand lightsaber cuts.
To keep things as spoiler-free as possible, I’ll simply say that Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker follows Rey and her merry band of rebels as they make their last desperate stand against Kylo Ren, The First Order, and what seems to be an old, familiar Sith Lord. Will they make it out alive? Will Rey’s parentage be fully revealed? Will Rey turn to the dark side? Do Kylo’s pants go even higher this time? I can safely say all of that will be addressed, in some form or another.
What’s immediately apparent when watching The Rise of Skywalker, is that things are going to happen fast. What you learn as the movie goes on is that they aren’t going to let up. In some ways, this can be refreshing, but no bit of dialogue is allowed the breath for even a second – leaving you with the constant feeling of being rushed. Even worse, that dialogue is crammed to the gills with bland exposition to make things even slightly understandable for general audiences.
All of this might be fine if the characters outside of Rey and Kylo felt remotely serviced – that is not the case here, as the film spends most of its time outside of those characters pushing the plot forward or undoing/rerouting the events of The Last Jedi. So much so, that some characters are barely given anything to do or are cut off from any growth or momentum by the third-act. Finn and Poe ultimately end up feeling the most shortchanged and swept aside.
Don’t get me wrong – I truly enjoy Rey and Kylo and I think they’re the best part of The Rise of Skywalker (and the new trilogy as a whole) thanks to the immensely talented Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley, but even they can’t save the film from some truly clunky and lazy writing that cuts corners at every opportunity, leaving many moments feeling underwhelming or unearned.
I’ll also say that if you thought The Last Jedi inspired heated debate amongst Star Wars fans, just you wait. Liberties taken with the force, its limits, and who can harness it are going to drive fans to a new level of vitriolic debate. Then there’s the Leia of it all – you thought space Leia was a thing? Again, just you wait…
That’s not to say The Rise of Skywalker is a total bust – JJ Abrams still has a knack for action and clearly loves Star Wars. Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, and John Boyega are all far more talented than we deserve and continue to do well with what they’re given. Also, even with all of the fan-service that flies at you left and right, some moments are truly remarkable and touching.
In the end, The Rise of Skywalker ends up feeling, at best, like a mixed bag, and at worst, like lazy fan fiction that cuts too many corners and creates plot holes the size of Death Stars. Where you land on that spectrum is completely up to how much you can tolerate exposition, loads of MacGuffins, and forced plot devices and/or connections between characters. I love Star Wars so much that I forgave a lot, but I still couldn’t forgive enough. Perhaps the force was too strong with this one…