Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Directed by JJ Abrams
So here we are once again, though I guess things are a little bit different since we last got a Star Wars movie with a number at the end of it. Whatever problems you may personally have with The Last Jedi (I have my own as well!), it certainly didn’t justify whatever the Fandom Menace was and only ended up souring people on Star Wars rather than provide constructive criticism of it. Seriously, if you’ve made MULTIPLE hour long videos letting people know just how much you dislike a movie, there’s probably something else going on than just critical analysis. With all that negativity surrounding the trilogy’s middle entry (from I must stress a VERY small if VERY vocal minority of people), there was a lot of interesting energy going into this final film as Lucasfilm and Disney were either going to ignore the toxicity and continue with what Johnson started, or they were gonna thread the needled of appeasing those people while also not losing the overwhelming majority of the audience that understood and appreciated what Johnson was going for. Do they succeed in stitching this fandom back together (or better yet unambiguously denouncing and excising the toxic parts of) with one great movie to finish of the Saga of Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo? Let’s find out!!
After narrowly escaping destruction in The Last Jedi, the Resistance has started to grow its ranks once again on a well-hidden planet where Rey (Daisy Ridley) continues her Jedi training with Master Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) who is now Emperor of the First Order has been searching for Emperor Palaptine (Ian McDiarmid) ever since a mysterious broadcast from the dead guy went out across the galaxy, and he eventually succeeds in finding some sort of tracking beacon that leads him right to his mysterious and hard to reach planet. It seems that Palpatine is still somehow alive (I’ll say The Force did it) and has an unstoppable military force waiting to be unleashed on the galaxy that Kylo can control IF he brings him Rey. The Resistance learns of this overwhelming power that Palpatine has at the ready from a mission that Poe and Finn (Oscar Isaac and John Boyega) just barely manage to complete and survive so now there’s a clear ticking clock that the Resistance is working against in order to stop The First Order once and for all; get to Palpatine’s planet and destroy its fleet before it can leave port on Doom Planet. Rey, Poe, Finn, and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo)take it upon themselves to search for one of those tracking beacons that Kylo Ren used to find Palpatine’s planet and start looking into The Resistance’s past as well as the Empire’s past in order to find it and maybe a few more answers along the way. Will our quartet of space heroes find a way to stop Palpatine once and for all; a task that as it turns out Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader weren’t up to? What will Kylo Ren do to stop them from finding the beacon, and what agendas does he have of his own? Will this movie FINALLY make those angry Star Wars fans finally happy? Well of course not, but will it make the other ninety-nine percent of Star Wars fans happy!?
Where The Last Jedi was a movie of big ideas, this is a movie of big moments. On its own that isn’t a bad thing and is perhaps closer to what certain fans have wanted to see out of the Disney films, but it definitely feels rushed and messy in a way that the other films haven’t; lacking the narrative and editing polish that made the last two films so much more than popcorn flicks. There’s a part of me that is incredibly disappointed that the bold new direction this franchise was heading in got severely undercut withwhat amounts to a safe and fan-friendly course correction to get us right back to where we were before, but the film is still filled with great action sequences, good ideas here and there, and some truly jaw dropping cinematography that helps mitigate its more onerous issues. There are some of what will surely be the most iconic moments in the franchise’s history buried within this cobbled together film so I can’t just write it off the same way we do the prequels, but this is easily the worst Star Wars movie since Disney got ahold of the license and I’m not sure just how happy anyone is going to be with it. Say what you will about The Last Jedi; being bold and challenging left a LOT more people happy even if this one probably won’t leave as many people angry.
Now I want it to be clear right off the bat that I didn’t go into this wanting to dislike it. Sure, the backlash from what is undoubtedly THE GREATEST STAR WARS MOVIE OF ALL TIME was a bit deflating to see as was the fact that they got JJ Abrams back to more or less “course correct” with this film, but I am all for an epic journey here as much as I was for the deconstructionism of The Last Jedi. To that end, JJ Abrams has made a REALLY amazing Star Wars movie for at least half of its running time. The wiz-bang fun adventure stuff with Rey, Finn, Poe, and Chewie is pretty much EXACTLY what I wanted out of a more adventurous Star Wars flick, and the dark atmospheric nature of Kylo Ren’s story along with what we see of the Emperor is so brilliantly realized and even feels like it’s calling back to the more subtle and underappreciated influences to Lucas’s aesthetic. To a certain extent I’d even go so far as to say that the overwhelming and in your face fan service works more often than you’d think even if your rather cynical of the overall safe tone that this movie has. Where The Last Jedi amazed me with the way it made me think along with the way it made me feel, this one manages to pump those feels up to eleven at the expense of deeper meaning, which is a valid approach and one that I did appreciate in this movie, but what works about it feels a bit more fleeting and segmented where The Last Jedi felt like a cohesive and bold vision for the future of this franchise.
Now as nice as all of that sounds, the movie’s not getting through this review without a few finger wags and tut-tut-tuts of disapproval. The editing is almost ridiculously fast here as they just have to speed by every new revelation, every set piece they need to satisfy fans, and every twisted justification for whatever fan service they crowbarred into the story. The first half hour was a very jarring experience as it kept winning me and losing me at a breakneck speed; starting with the opening crawl that just want to gloss over some out of left field story points. It’s almost like the movie EXPECTS you to have seen the trailer already and I can’t imagine how jarring it would be to come into this having not seen them; given what happens in the first five minutes and how it’s presented to the audience. It’s almost like its own PREVIOUSLY ON STAR WARS segment which was never really the purpose of the crawls, but it becomes and more clear how necessary it is to get past all that as swiftly as possible considering just how much ground they want to cover. It goes back to the whole course correcting aspect of the movie where we not just have to come up with new ideas; we have to paper over everything that came before. Sadly I can’t go into just what it is they try to “fix” or “change” for the sake of appeasing fans who probably won’t even appreciate the effort, but it’s a lot of stuff that ends up carving out too much of the running time and messing with the pacing. I’ll give one example though which is very early on of what I’m trying to get across here. At the start of the movie, we find out what the big threat is this time; namely Palpatine has created an unstoppable army of Star Destroyers (if they’re a different kind of ship, then whatever; it has no bearing on my actual point) that he will be unleashing upon the known galaxy. The fact that a spooky dude on an unknown planet was somehow able to build hundreds if not THOUSANDS of these enormous ships with the crew to run them as well is not only really silly to imagine (FEEL the engineering power of the DARK SIDE!), it also runs contrary to the primary themes of The Last Jedi; namely that over the top stories of heroics, evil doers, and war itself can to a certain extent inspire hope in those who need it but is often a cover for more practical and mundane evils like Capitalism and war profiteering. You know, the whole reason we went to Canto Bight in the first place! But because some fans didn’t like that, I guess we have to go back to the bad guys just being called forth from the depths of naughty planets; robbing them of any sort of humanity or relatability. HOWEVER! As much as I complain about all this, the scene of those ships rising out of the planet, eclipsing the landscape with the fantastic and terrifying forms, is a beautifully realized bit of special effects wizardry and one of those iconic scenes that I mentioned earlier that will remain a highlight of the entire franchise. That’s the dichotomy that this film exists in where mediocre or outright terrible story decisions are compensated by brilliant bits of cinematography, emotional resonance, or just something cool happening on screen.
So that’s the overall issue with the movie; great moments undercut by bad story decisions I really can’t even talk about and a rushed pace as it tries to fit way too much into one film. The rest of the movie is just fine, but let’s go over a few of the specifics; mostly regarding the performances. I couldn’t tell you how much of Carrie Fisher’s role in this was her versus a CGI counterpart or body double, but given the circumstances surrounding that I think they do as great a job as they could with her character. The new actors are still great with Poe and Finn having some really great moments throughout and I would LOVE to see their further adventures just doing whatever they want, and they even have a few scenes that flesh out their characters more which are greatly appreciated. Rey and Kylo Ren are unfortunately saddled with the majority of the bad decisions this movie makes so they have A LOT of heavy lifting to do, but Ridley and Driver are so good in these roles that they manage to overcome that burden and make the sting of the bad choices a bit easier to handle; though the writers were REALLY pushing it right at the end of the movie. The one character who gets the short end of the stick ends up being Rose and it’s kind of gross given everything that happened with her after The Last Jedi that the movie is giving off the appearance of appeasing those toxic fans by sidelining her so heavily in the narrative.
At its best, this movie would have been a pretty good if somewhat shallow follow up to The Force Awakens. Unfortunately for JJ Abrams and company but fortunately for us, we got a REALLY amazing Star Wars film in between these two that broke new ground in disruptive and vital ways and not only made returning to the tone and structure of the previous films feel like a step backwards but a step that took considerable effort to make. I’ll probably watch this film again at some point because there really are some great sequences throughout, and I’d definitely recommend the rest of you check it out if you haven’t already, but there’s no question that this new trilogy that started with so much promise ends on a rather deflating note. In that way I guess it’s that much more accurate to the original trilogy since Return of the Jedi was similarly mixed, but repeating the mistakes of the past is not honoring the source material; it’s failing to grow past it. I really hoped they had learned that lesson after the second film, but I guess we’ll have to wait another thirty years for them to take another crack at it. Oh who am I kidding? The next trilogy will be greenlit before you can say Max Reebo Biopic.