Your eyes can deceive you. Don't trust them.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is directed, co-written, and co-produced by J.J Abrams. Multiple actors return to reprise their roles from the previous films: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran, Billy Dee Williams, and Ian McDiarmid. Newcomers to the cast include Naomi Ackie, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong'o, Keri Russell, and Joonas Suotamo.
It is rather depressing to see the level of disarray that the Star Wars franchise has fallen into in the years since Disney bought Lucasfilm from George Lucas back in 2012. At least for the first couple years, it didn't seem like there was anything dysfunctional about Star Wars now being Disney's property; The Force Awakens and Rogue One were box office gold, and both critics and audiences seemed to be on board with the direction Disney was taking the franchise. Then came The Last Jedi and Solo: A Star Wars Story. The Last Jedi, while garnering strong reviews and favorable box office results, sent the Star Wars fanbase into an almost total state of chaos, in which fans decried Disney for ruining their childhood heroes and tampering with all the supposed "rules" about The Force and how the Star Wars galaxy operates. Solo, meanwhile, was the first legitimate box office bomb for the franchise: a way for fans to give Disney the middle finger for The Last Jedi. So as you can imagine, excitement was at an all-time low when The Rise of Skywalker was announced, and given the less-than-stellar reviews from critics and audiences, I think it is perfectly reasonable to now question the future of the Star Wars franchise (if people hadn't started doing so already after The Last Jedi and Solo).
One word that perfectly summarizes The Rise of Skywalker is underwhelming. Disappointing might be the better word, because 2019 has seemed to be the year of disappointment for almost anything and everything pop culture not directly tied to Marvel. The absolute last thing a Star Wars film should be though is underwhelming, because these are supposed to be the ultimate fun time at the movies: watching heroes go on an epic space adventure, exploring wonderful new worlds and vanquishing the dark forces of the universe. No one can deny the entertainment value of the original trilogy, and while the prequels are heavily problematic, they at least show flashes of energy and imagination here and there. The prequels also offer the amusement of watching pure ineptitude when it comes to acting and dialogue. As for The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, there is certainly entertainment to be had in both films, but let's not sit here and pretend that both films are not doing a whole lot of nudge-nudge, wink-wink fan service. Fan service, meanwhile, is rampant in The Rise of Skywalker, so much so that J.J Abrams doesn't care one iota for imagination, originality, or even simple spectacle. Almost nothing about the film is proactive: the plot, the characters, the direction. Everything feels reactive, as if Disney was so startled by the backlash generated by The Last Jedi and Solo, that their mindset was to treat Episode IX as an apology letter to fans and not the proper finale to this sequel trilogy.
The opening title crawl starts out with the words, "The dead speak!" It turns out that Emperor Palpatine (McDiarmid), almost out of pure screenwriting desperation, is still alive. He sends out a galaxy-wide broadcast announcing his return, drawing the presence of Kylo Ren (Driver). Palpatine reveals his plan to unleash a giant armada of Star Destroyers, each equipped with a planet-destroying weapon. Palpatine also tasks Ren with finding and killing Rey (Ridley), who is still training to be a Jedi. You know the rest: Rey and friends must find Palpatine and stop his dastardly plans once and for all.
This plot is as frustrating as it is tiresome. The bit I left out concerns Rey and her friends going on a treasure hunt, but you don't need me to fill in the blanks: Rey and co. must meet X, Y, and Z people and acquire Shiny Objects 1 and 2 in order to find where the bad guy is located. By the way, J.J. Abrams must think the Death Star is the coolest fictional weapon ever devised if he not once, but twice made it the focal point of the villain's scheme. Snoke and Kylo Ren worked to create what I always called the Death Star+ in The Force Awakens, and here, Abrams just takes the same powers of the Death Star and multiplies it across an armada of ships. Bringing back the Emperor, meanwhile, is an ill-conceived attempt at nostalgia and my biggest beef with the movie. To start with, Abrams completely neglects to explain how Palpatine can survive being thrown down a miles-deep reactor shaft, so good luck re-watching Return of the Jedi and not feel as if Disney violated one of the most grandiose moments of the original trilogy. I'm expunging material from my low points, so more on The Emperor's return in a bit.
- So what can I say about The Rise of Skywalker that qualifies as nice? Well, the best I have is that all the actors are giving it their best efforts, despite what little the screenplay has to offer in terms of characterization and memorable dialogue. Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, and anyone else that has some kind of relevant role in the film are all giving it 100% and trying to act like they care for the sequel trilogy to end on a high note. I have to specifically point out poor John Boyega, who truly does everything in his power to keep his character Finn afloat, despite the fact that the character's arc was basically complete by the end of The Force Awakens, and thus, had little to no purpose for being in The Last Jedi and The Rise of Sykwalker. It's almost sad that the only interest the screenplay even remotely has in Finn is having him find the right time to tell Rey some sort of secret he's been keeping from her. The previous films would suggest this "secret" is just that Finn loves Rey and wants to be with her, but romance is something these newer Star Wars films do not care much for. So yeah, this one and only high point boils down to just, everyone is trying. Super deep, I know.
- I'll jump back into my gripes about the plot/screenplay shortly, but one low point that kind of surprised me was the film's action: perhaps the most vanilla of any Star Wars film ever. Any shootout scene, space dogfight, speeder bike chase, or even any lightsaber duel, all of it is just run-of-the-mill action that was done earlier and more inspired in previous Star Wars films, so watching the action is a lot of, "Been there, done that." There are no brand new space creatures, no new high-tech weapons, and no new battle layouts that you'd want to play for yourself in a new Star Wars video game. Remember how engrossing it was, watching the Rebels try to take down the Death Star at the end of A New Hope? You know what followed that awesome sequence in The Empire Strikes Back? Arguably the coolest battle sequence in all of Star Wars: the battle between the Rebels and the stop-motion animated Imperial Walkers on the snowy planet Hoth. Where is the creativity? Where is the inspiration to try something new and offer us a dose of action like we've never experienced before in a Star Wars film? The action in The Rise of Skywalker is so bland, that it never becomes something you look forward to. We can only watch the Millenium Falcon run away so many times from Imperial spaceships before we start yawning and demand for something else to show up on screen. In a galaxy full of endless possibilities, it's amazing how un-creative and lackluster that someone (Disney) can make it out to be.
- If I already said it once, then I'll say it again: this plot is so underwhelming and chock full of fan service, that it doesn't feel like something J.J.Abrams and Disney had in mind when Disney originally conceived this sequel trilogy. More so, The Rise of Skywalker is Disney's reaction to the backlash of The Last Jedi, and in hopes of getting back into the fans' good graces, they pump the film full of nostalgia and fan service, almost none of which works. The most egregious of The Rise of Skywalker's fan service crimes is the return of Palpatine, mostly because his return completely undermines the story of the earlier films, specifically that of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. If Rey was to one day confront Palpatine, then how are we supposed to feel about Anakin Skywalker's storyline and his transformation into Darth Vader? How are we able to not feel differently about the way Vader's story ends, knowing that Episode IX brings the Emperor back? As for other fan service, Billy Dee Williams comes back to play an elderly Lando Calrissian, you know, because he was in the original trilogy? Luke and Leia are also in the movie, although their endings are more about helping to bring closure to the some of the newer characters, which feels like a bit of a disservice to them and what they went through originally. It's so much for the film to try and wrap up over the course of 142 minutes, and the plot being so low-stakes doesn't help matters at all. Characters just go over here, then go over there, meet this person, then meet that person, and occasionally there will be some blaster shots and maybe even a lightsaber or two. The grand finale of a nine episode saga should not be this uninspired and discombobulated.
With the previous two trilogies, you can watch their respective finales, getting a sense of the stories they were trying to tell over a three episode span. Episodes I-III told the story of the Clone Wars and how Anakin Skywalker turned to the Dark Side. Episodes IV-VI depicted the war between The Galactic Empire and the Rebels, and how Luke Skywalker learned to use the Force and learn the ways of the Jedi. This is where I am especially troubled about Episodes VII-IX. What was the story they were trying to tell over this three episode span? A war breaks out between The First Order and Resistance, while scavenger Rey discovers she has the ability to use the Force and learn the ways of the Jedi? That sounds a lot like the summary of Episodes IV-VI, if you ask me. If this whole sequel trilogy was just one long nostalgia ride for Disney, then that's one of the most pathetic, albeit unsurprising, things I've seen from the film/entertainment industry in years. Star Wars is one of, if not, the most popular media franchise in the world, and instead of expanding upon the endless goldmine of opportunities that George Lucas had created prior to selling the franchise rights, Disney gave in to their laziest desires and created a new trilogy that went through nearly all the same beats of the original films. I had quite a few nice things to say about The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, but now, after seeing The Rise of Skywalker and thinking over everything that happened in these last three episodes, I am not so sure how fond of those films I am here at the end of 2019.
The Rise of Skywalker is extremely underwhelming and sends out this Star Wars sequel trilogy with a whimper. The complete lack of originality, a screenplay that screams of desperation, toothless action, and an abundance of fan service make this not only the worst film of this sequel trilogy, but one of the worst episodes of the entire Star Wars saga. All the actors are giving it their best efforts, but none of them can save this film from all its shortcomings. The Rise of Skywalker is not quite Attack of the Clones bad, but boy does it flirt with going down into that circle of hell at times. I don't care how successful The Mandalorian is turning out on Disney+ at the moment. The future of the Star Wars franchise has never looked more bleak, and now I feel a tad foolish for ripping the current Star Wars fan-base as toxic and an atrocity to the franchise. Maybe it still is, but if The Rise of Skywalker is the best Disney can come up with nowadays, then there may be more than just a fanbase that is toxic about Star Wars.
Recommend? I suppose if you've seen the previous eight episodes, you'll feel obligated to see this one. If not, avoid until it comes out on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: