The Force is NOT strong with this one. It is very, very weak.
When you attempt to end a saga that has been around for almost forty years, the expectations, as you might assume, are stupidly high. As fans and critics saw with “Avengers: Endgame,” which ended the Marvel Universe Infinity Saga after eleven years of films, it is impossible to please everyone. There are so many layers to work with: the narrative, the characters, the surprises, the look and feel, and of course, the service to the fans. And I’m sorry to say, “Star-Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is a jumbled mess of layers that leads to a lazy, bland, forgetful conclusion.
The sequel trilogy of “Star-Wars” films haven’t had it easy. “The Force Awakens” had the distinct honor of carrying on a set of films that defined a decade, and with that honor came a laundry list of impossible expectations. The movie did well, earning well over $1 billion at the box office and pleasing (the majority) of die-hard fans. However, this particular film set into motion a new narrative that from the beginning seemed too coincidental, too nostalgia-based, and too fragile to do much with. It brought about a story of redemption, but it was cookie-cutter, moderately predictable, and too focused on what had already been done to lend itself enough time to discover what was still left to be done.
I’m mainly talking about Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo-Ren’s (Adam Driver) relationship. The yin and yang of the sequel trilogy. “The Force Awakens” ignited this duo and showed audiences that while one is from the dark and one if from the light side of the Force, there are still interwoven connections between all “Star-Wars” characters. The mystery of their connection, however, is what made things interesting, and in “The Last Jedi,” Director Rian Johnson attempted to expand this. He made a “Star-Wars” film that relied strictly on surprising the audience, turning the narrative on its head. It was a bold and risky move that some thought paid off, and others thought it was a litter box of a film.
(Sorry, I’m a cat dad now. I have to mention something cat related in every review from now on. It’s a law.)
So now we arrive at “The Rise of Skywalker,” which promised fans a satisfying conclusion to the eight films that came before it. The problem with this guarantee is that there are too many moving parts to end in one film, especially a film that is just under the two-and-a-half-hour mark. What we get is a tangled web of crisscrossing plot threads, uneven character motivations, lackluster surprises, and a finale that feels like it was thought up and put together the day they arrived on set. Seriously – THAT’S what forty years has been leading to? And to top that, these numerous objectives and goals aren't ironed out or clearly separated, making the entire experience chaotic, but on a filmmaking standpoint, lazy.
I think what most people will walk away with is that no matter how you look at “The Rise of Skywalker,” whether positive, negative, or somewhere in between, you’ll find that the movie itself can’t really be analyzed. There is no logic here, just a bunch of magical coincidence that has no standing. And for all those wondering how Emperor Palpatine somehow managed to survive falling into the core of the Death Star back in “Return of the Jedi,” sorry folks, you’ll be wondering that for the rest of your natural lives.
All of the big “oh my!” moments don’t add up, and that’s what is so frustrating. Just remember “Jurassic Park’s” Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) when he said, “they’re so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” This is the same principle for creating “Star-Wars.” Just because you can bring back the Emperor, or change the rules of the Force, or give every character a love interest, doesn’t mean you should. Disney has a literal galaxy’s worth of characters and lore to play with, and yet they rely on nostalgia, predictability, and last-minute plot threads to keep audiences engaged. The result undermines the entire saga. It makes the lead up feel completely pointless, like what we’ve been watching all this time was just a tease at a different finale, a better finale, but one that exists in a galaxy far, far away.
Now, even with this bashing, “The Rise of Skywalker” isn't necessarily a bad film. Disappointing at points, yes, and very unsatisfactory, but it is still enjoyable. The action is as vibrant and laser-heavy as always; John Williams’ score sets the perfect tone for every major turn in the narrative; and the acting is solid. Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver are clear standouts and have the most emotional wiggle room of the cast, but Oscar Isaac does a great job with his character Poe, as he has in the films before it. The concern for the fate of the galaxy really gives these actors a lot to play with, so although there were no groundbreaking performances, I can’t complain.
And before you ask, yes, Carrie Fisher brings Leia to the big screen for a final time, but because the footage used was rare and clearly copy and pasted from previous installments, her inclusion was clunky. Fisher’s performance, unfortunately, will also not wow viewers, but for the late actress, it is nice to see her character be a part of the conclusion.
So, what does “The Rise of Skywalker” accomplish? Well, a few things. Yes, it does conclude the saga, even if that conclusion feels forced and fairly broken. But on a positive note, it also reiterates that the Skywalker saga isn’t the only story out there. There are other characters who have just as interesting of stories, if not more interesting, and in time we will start to uncover them. If anything, “The Rise of Skywalker” is a tease of what’s to come, even if that tease, for the time being, frustrates the hell out of me.
- Final Thoughts -
"Star-Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" will please some, but frustrate many. To conclude a saga by way of coincidence makes the forty year lead up feel less impactful, and dare I say it, not worth the wait. However, while its standing with the rest of the franchise is disappointing, the film is still enjoyable, with loads of action, Disney-level jokes, and more nostalgia than a cart full of Pop Rocks.
("Rise of Skywalker" image courtesy of Polygon)