Remember in 2015 when we were all excited about where a new Star Wars film by Disney could go? Oh, that was fun…
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is the third film of the sequel trilogy and the ninth and final installment of the main Star Wars saga. J.J. Abrams, who directed and co-wrote “The Force Awakens,” returns to both jobs here, while Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac reprise their roles from the first two installments of the trilogy. Among other returning players are Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong’o, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid and Billy Dee Williams, while Richard E. Grant and Keri Russell join the cast. In the film, the remainder of the Resistance must prepare for the final face-off against the First Order and the return of Emperor Palpatine.
Overall I have enjoyed Disney’s Star Wars films, with “Rogue One” being one of the best films in the franchise to-date and “The Force Awakens” and “Solo” both being fun—if not familiar—romps. I was mixed on “The Last Jedi” and have watched it a few times since its release in an attempt to see the universal praise that it received from people, but I still can’t fully get over all of its plot holes and cringe moments (however it is hard to fault its ambition and themes, and it still features some of the better scenes of the entire saga). “The Rise of Skywalker” is a worse version of “The Last Jedi,” in that it has a few good moments but also trips over itself too often for its own good.
One of the reliable things throughout this entire series (and there hasn’t been much consistency) has been the acting, and again the cast does a solid job. Adam Driver (likely on his way to his second career Oscar nomination for his great work in “Marriage Story”) is a solid, emotionally conflicted villain as Kylo Ren, even if at this point it is hard to take him seriously as a super powerful bad guy after he lost to Daisy Ridley’s untrained Rey on multiple occasions. Speaking of Ridley, she again conveys a lost girl desperate for answers, although she remains so overpowered that her development isn’t so much of an arc as it is a continuously increasing line. John Boyega and Oscar Isaac share some amusing bromance moments, and it’s also nice to see Billy Dee Williams return to his iconic Lando Calrissian role.
Much like this year’s “Avengers: Endgame,” this film is the culmination of years of story-telling and world-building. However while that film worked its fan service into the plot (mostly) seamlessly, “Skywalker” is more on-the-nose. Some of the appearances and Easter egg references are fun, others range from eye-rolling to cringe.
One of the complaints people had about “The Last Jedi” was that Kathleen Kennedy (the president of Lucasfilm and producer on the trilogy) gave Rian Johnson complete creative control of the sequel and he chose to throw out or ignore much of what J.J. Abrams set up with “The Force Awakens.” With Abrams returning, he not only had to close out both a trilogy and 42-year-old saga, but win back the fans who felt betrayed by “The Last Jedi.” Abrams attempts to retcon much of the previous film but it only ends up making the whole thing feel disjointed. Palpatine is back despite appearing to die in “Return of the Jedi” and the way they introduce him into this trilogy is so forced it’s hilarious, all just because Johnson killed off Snoke unceremoniously. The introduction of Richard E. Grant’s bad guy general is because Domhnall Gleason’s character was made into a whiny cartoon and could no longer be taken seriously. And this isn’t bringing up the numerous bits of dialogue where the characters all but turn and wink to the camera about how they didn’t like the last film.
The first act of the film is full of exposition and forced catch-up (including that Palpatine justification) but the second act actually moves along at a quick pace and is quite enjoyable. The script by Chris Terrio and Abrams has some entertaining bits of dialogue (especially from the droid characters) and even though the plot is just hopping from place to place, it is a little fun. But the third act then hits a wall, mainly because it turns into a nonsensical CGI destruction festival that would have made George Lucas’ prequel films blush. It just keeps going and gets more and more stupid before ending on a line that actually made the woman next to me laugh and shake her head.
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” may give enough fan service for diehards, but it will upset people who loved “The Last Jedi” because it doesn’t take many risks, and turn off casual Star Wars fans because it’s an objectively sloppy film that doesn’t answer half the questions first set up in 2015. I remember walking out of “The Force Awakens” thinking that it had flaws but had laid the groundwork for what could become the best Star Wars trilogy to-date; little did I know that we had already peaked. Overall, I would lean more negatively than positive here because the final 40 minutes are a mess, but there are enough entertaining character interactions and “that was cool” visuals to make your obligatory viewing of this anticlimactic final chapter worth at least some of your dollars.
Critics Rating: 4/10