Writers: Chris Terrio & J.J. Abrams (screenplay by/story by), Derek Connolly & Colin Trevorrow (story by), George Lucas (based on characters created by)
Stars: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Ian McDiarmid
MPAA Rating: PG-13
“And this is the lesson. That Force does not belong to the Jedi. To say that if the Jedi die, the light dies, is vanity. Can you feel that?”
– Luke Skywalker, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Rian Johnson’s 2017 Star Wars film The Last Jedi made the audacious choice to redefine the Star Wars mythos. It stated, unambiguously, that the so-called “Skywalker Saga” wasn’t about Skywalkers or Jedi or midi-chlorian counts. The Force ultimately belongs to everyone; including the child labor working in the stables of Canto Bight, the mechanic whose sister sacrificed herself to save the Resistance and the scavenger from Jakku whose parents were “filthy junk traders who sold [her] off for drinking money.”
However, despite making $1.3 billion at the box office and boasting a 85-percent approval rating on Metacritic, the film was divisive. Bolstered by Russian bots and trolls, a vocal minority of angry fans declared The Last Jedi to be a betrayal of their beloved franchise. Things got ugly. Kelly Marie Tran was bullied off social media. There was a campaign to have the film reshot.
Enter J.J. Abrams and Rise of Skywalker. The ninth and (hopefully) final film in the Skywalker Saga is once again helmed by the man behind The Force Awakens who is famous for his “mystery box” approach to storytelling. Abrams was the one who left Johnson with a giant bundle of half-baked ideas and plot threads to sort through in Episode VIII. His track record is spotty when it comes to delivering a satisfying finale. Which makes him an odd choice for such a delicate final installment in an already-fraught franchise.
[Editor’s Note – While there is nothing discussed in this review that hasn’t already been revealed in the film’s trailers and other promotional material, those wishing to avoid any discussion of the plot may want to avoid the rest of this article.]
There are many ways he could have gone with Rise of Skywalker. Like Johnson, he could have taken a big swing and delivered something original and thought provoking. But, perhaps understandably given the current state of things, he wasn’t feeling that bold.
Instead, Abrams attempts to deliver two hours and 21 minutes of fan service. It’s an underwhelming, poorly-written mess that is, frankly, the Star Wars finale we all deserve. We could have “let the past die” to make room for something new and interesting, but instead Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is back with a new plan to blow up planets with a super weapon and only Rey (Daisy Ridley) and an army of fan service cameos can stop him.
The film opens with the revelation that Palpatine is back from the dead and has been secretly pulling the strings all along. A bunch of quick cuts blowing through the narrative steps of how Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is able to track down Palpatine and a nonsensical, hand waving “explanation” of how the Sith Lord has conquered death and seized power once again make it clear that this final chapter in the story is not interested in providing satisfying answers or coherent storytelling. (As the film progresses and more revelations occur, they are similarly glossed over with the most bare-bones explanations; creating new plot holes and more questions than answers.)
This “Let’s just cash a paycheck” approach to the finale is cemented when we are reintroduced to Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega), who are “hyperspace jumping” with the Millennium Falcon to evade the First Order squad chasing after them. The dazzling action sequence will hopefully distract you from pesky questions like “Isn’t the Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive infamously unreliable?” and “Didn’t Han Solo (Harrison Ford) warn Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in Star Wars: A New Hope: ‘Traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, farm boy. Without precise calculations we could fly right through a star or bounce too close to a supernova, and that’d end your trip real quick, wouldn’t it?'” It’s the Millennium Falcon … and it’s flying real fast through space … don’t ruin it by thinking about it too hard.
In fact, shutting off your brain is really the only way to truly enjoy Rise of Skywalker. The plot is razor thin. The world building is practically nonexistent. There are no real character arcs or emotional stakes. The film is coasting by on the the goodwill created by previous Star Wars films. It’s too afraid to make any definitive choices that may alienate or upset any subgroups of fans. But it still hopes to appease those subgroups with vague breadcrumbs. (So, for example, if you are someone who ships Finn and Poe, the film teases the idea that they may love each other, but in such a noncommittal way that it could easily be read as them just being friends.)
While most of the film is either cartoonishly bad or uninspired and boring, there are a few things that work. C3P0 (Anthony Daniels) has an utterly delightful plotline that allows him to shine in every scene he’s in. BB-8 and new droid D-O are also a lot of fun, as is the new alien character Babu Frik.
Unfortunately, most of the returning character don’t fare as well as the droids. Despite hilariously imbuing all of his dialogue with an overt sensuality, Billy Dee Williams mostly seems to be going through the motions in his return as Lando. Rey and Kylo’s stories are a mess, Finn is given nothing interesting to do (despite delivering one of the laziest, most on-the-nose lines in this whole uninspired slog of a film: “I’ve got to go do something”) and even the cameos by familiar faces from previous films lack any real pizazz.
Oscar Isaac and Ian McDiarmid are the only two people who seem to be having any fun. McDiarmid could play Palpatine in his sleep at this point, but he still gives his all to the character even though the writers give him nothing of substance to work with. And Isaac manages to be charismatic and light with the scraps of story thrown Poe’s way.
Fans of The Last Jedi will undoubtedly be disappointed by the film. It’s not just that it lacks Johnson’s vision and ambition. Rise of Skywalker is openly antagonistic toward the previous installment. Just about everything and everyone Johnson introduced is thrown out or ignored, including Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), who barely has any screen time. (Abrams seems more interested in giving scenes to his friends Domhnall Gleeson and Greg Grunberg, who both play utterly unremarkable Resistance fighters.)
The film is designed to be as benign and noncontroversial as possible. But it’s so lazy, underwritten and noncommittal that it is likely to polarize fans just as much as The Last Jedi did. Rise of Skywalker is billed as being the final chapter in the Skywalker Saga. It’s sad to see this iconic franchise end not with a bang, but with a whimper.
Written by Joel Murphy. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact Joel firstname.lastname@example.org