Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Written by: J.J. Abrams & Chris Terrio
Starring: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac
Closing out the saga that has enraptured popular culture since the release of the first installment in 1977 presents no easy feat. No matter what route may be chosen, controversy would ensue due to the popularity and fervent fanbase wanting their version of the story told. Instead of telling any semblance of a story, the filmmakers behind this movie decided that they want to appease everyone and as a result commit an act of cinematic cowardice.
Taking place years after the events of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Rey (Daisy Ridley) trains to become stronger with the force as Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) searches for the reawakening of Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). With the squad altogether, Rey, Finn (John Boyega), and Poe (Oscar Isaac) search for artifacts to help the rebellion against the First Order.
From the first scene to the very last, this film represents a travesty of the highest order in blockbuster storytelling. Not only did this new trilogy present compelling characters with The Force Awakens, but then also challenges the very foundation of the entire series in a brilliant way with The Last Jedi. This film had the opportunity to do something inventive and end this saga with something daring and leaving a mark the way the original trilogy did. Instead, they played it safe, leaned back on incredibly predictable plot points, and once again proves that nostalgia will be a plague to innovative storytelling. The Rise of Skywalker cares more to appease a fanbase unaware of what it wants out this series than telling a coherent story.
The first act revolves around Rey, Finn, and Poe going on some scavenger hunt to find this artifact that will somehow lead to Palpatine. The search encompasses going through different worlds and it results in finding an artifact that if flipped in the right direction and standing in an exact spot on a huge terrain can lead the way. A quest so convoluted that I cannot imagine how it did not get laughed out of the room when proposed. For a film with this length, having this messy opening does it no favors, especially because no character work happens either. It’s great to see all of these characters together but nothing of note happens between them that justifies this chaotic search for an artifact.
Thematically, this film commits its biggest storytelling blunder. Through the first two films of this franchise, the development of Rey and Kylo Ren demonstrates its biggest feat. Rey, as a character, pushed the Star Wars saga forward in a way it never tried to accomplish before. Supposedly, these stories cover many planets and galaxies but stubbornly focuses on about 10 people, who either have blood ties or romantic relations. Rey represents a departure from the idea that one can come from nothing and still be special. The Last Jedi established this very point and this film utterly destroyed it for a safe choice. It continues to show the lack of conviction in this storytelling. There’s no interest to do anything daring with a franchise that brings in at least $1 billion for most of its films. They just want to pay fan service so people can point out and understand references in the film.
Ridley and the rest of the cast truly try the best with this feeble screenplay. Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren emerged as the most complex character in the entire saga as he battles with the light and dark side of the force. Driver brings forth the pain of his character, as he has to decide what he wants to accomplish. John Boyega and Oscar Isaac are there and not given much to do in the story except for the former constantly yelling out “REYYYYYYY” and the latter getting a backstory to establish himself as not a homosexual for some reason. One casting decision where I will go easy lies with stitching together General Leia (Carrie Fisher) for some sort of send-off for the beloved character and actor. The efforts certainly came across sloppy as they used footage from a previous film but due to the untimely passing of Fisher, they did well under the circumstances
My biggest issue with the film’s narrative lies in trying to undo what the previous film did. From the exclusion of Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) and literally piecing back Kylo’s helmet back together. Remember when Kylo destroyed the helmet in the previous film because he wants to kill the past and be his own person? Yeah, forget it, in this installment, they show an entire sequence where Kylo and his knights of Ren stand around as a monkey (?) welds the mask back together. A move that makes no thematic sense and makes me think Disney wanted to sell more toys with the new helmet. Rise of Skywalker serves no purpose in pushing the story forward at all. It wants to create a warm blanket for all Star Wars fans to get together and relish ideologies from films made in a different century.
Despite having the usual great production design and a John Williams score, this film does not offer much of anything. It’s actually the perfect encapsulation for the feature films Disney as a whole released in 2019. It takes no risks, plays fully into nostalgic feelings, and only exists to make them more money at the box office and sell merchandise along with their theme park. An absurd story with a retread of a villain that offers no explanation for his return. The ultimate sign of cowardice upon this franchise, as it highlights that there are more bad films within this saga than those that offer any semblance of substance.