Runtime: 141 Minutes
Director: J.J. Abrams
Writer: J.J. Abrams, Chris Terrio
Stars: Daisy Ridley, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (aka the greatest film of all time, don’t @ me) was a film about failure, hope and a genuine sense of rebellion. It ended with a young force-using child symbolizing hope for the future, and the passing of the torch that is the “Star Wars” franchise to a new generation.
“Episode IX” might as well have begun with that child being unceremoniously shot dead by a blaster bolt. “The Rise of Skywalker” is not only a film thoroughly disinterested in continuing the themes and arcs of the previous film, but actively works to undermine them.
This is a film that values fan service over themes, it values the characters’ connections to older films over their arcs.
Kylo is once again taking orders from a spooky pale emperor, Rey has gone from a fiercely independent character who was not defined by her lineage to the granddaughter of a legacy character who perceives herself exclusively as a link in the great “Star Wars” chain, The Force is back to being a dumb superpower as opposed to a philosophically intriguing concept and The First Order are stripped of all political allegory. Every decision that “The Last Jedi” made with an eye towards creating a thematically rich narrative, “The Rise of Skywalker” scrubs and replaces with fan service.
This is a film that values fan service over themes, it values the characters’ connections to older films over their arcs. This is most obvious in how the film uses the sacred Jedi texts, which were a clear metaphor for the original trilogy. In “The Last Jedi” Luke needs to learn to stop clinging to them so tightly and allow the younger generation to create new meaning, to allow “Star Wars” to change. In TROS Rey studies them extensively and the plot is kicked into motion because she remembered a factoid from the books. This film essentially encourages the same relationship between audience and text as “Ready Player One”.
I could gripe about every step backwards this film takes in terms of themes (and believe me, this review has gone through several drafts as I’ve attempted to stop myself from ranting) but at that point, I’d be writing a novel. So I’ll assume – for the sake of argument – that “The Last Jedi” really was a terrible awful film that needed to be petitioned out of the canon. This approach of undoing it still hurts “The Rise of Skywalker” as it is essentially trying to pull double-duty as being both the second and third film in the franchise. This is the final film in the trilogy, but instead of taking the characters and arcs set up in the previous two films and trying to create a satisfying conclusion, it feels like its attempting to set up and end a whole new series. This conflict leaves the film feeling about as cohesive as 2017’s “Justice League”.
This film’s rush to fill out checklists of fan demands especially harms the lead characters. As someone who has little interest in the original and prequel trilogies, and was brought into “Star Wars” by the Disney-produced films, it’s genuinely heartbreaking for me to see this film be so beholden to “Star Wars” past that it cannot even provide satisfying conclusions for its protagonists. Rey and Kylo are awkwardly pushed into fan-demanded directions that feel remarkably unfitting and forced. Rey is now a boring, stoic superhero and Kylo is an ‘edgy’ YA anti-hero. Finn and Poe have no character arcs to speak of and are so underwritten as to be functionally identical, while characters such as Rose, Leia, and Hux are either pushed into the background or quickly discarded.
This is the final film in the trilogy, but instead of taking the characters and arcs set up in the previous two films and trying to create a satisfying conclusion, it feels like its attempting to set up and end a whole new series.
Going into this film, I feared all of these problems and was disappointed to see them present and accounted for. However, I had expected the film to at least get enough things right as to be an enjoyable ride. After all, JJ Abrams did direct “The Force Awakens”, and that was still a fun, adventurous romp. So a regression to that style would still result in a good film. Unfortunately, this film regresses far further than that. The cinematography is back to the more utilitarian, functional style of the first film in this trilogy, but lacks the more realistic bent that grounded the film. The action is largely unengaging, even in the film’s overstuffed climax. The two earliest setpieces are especially bad, serving purely as filler between plot scenes.
The dialogue suffers worst of all, particularly when it comes to the interactions between the lead trio of Rey, Finn, and Poe. They speak in awkwardly short sentences that are either wholly expository or sub-MCU level banter. The plethora of new and reintroduced characters are often just copies of or replacements for existing ones (Palpatine for Snoke, General Pryde for General Hux, D/O for BB-8, etc.). And the new female characters of Zorii and Jannah are bizarre, gender-swapped versions of Poe and Finn that seem to serve the same purpose as Batwoman and Batgirl when they were first created (see, they’re not gay, look at these women standing next to them).
“The Rise of Skywalker” acting as an apology and retraction of one of the company’s last great cinematic risks serves as the perfect capstone to American blockbuster film in 2019.
The film is also incredibly poor at creating stakes, largely because it seems to have a disdain for consequences. Part of this is due to the aforementioned un-writing of “The Last Jedi”, which undoes a lot of major narrative changes, but even the major shifts in this film are often backtracked. There are multiple instances in “The Rise of Skywalker” where a character seemingly dies or goes through some other drastic, permanent change, only for it to be immediately undone. It results in a film where it feels like shockingly little actually happens despite being, well, a “Star Wars” film. It honestly leads me to believe that Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly‘s original screenplay for this film had a significant influence on this film, as this is the exact kind of hack script they’d turn in.
With all of that said (and there is so much more I could say) I could handle this just being a bad film, even a terrible one. “The Last Jedi” is still sitting right there on my shelf for me to watch any time I please. However, I think this film is a grim confirmation of something I had begun to fear after seeing Disney’s slate of live-action (or “live-action” in the case of “The Lion King”) films in 2019. That Disney has found the right balance of visual polish and recognizable franchise properties that they no longer need to make their films good anymore for them to make a billion dollars each. In that sense, “The Rise of Skywalker” acting as an apology and retraction of one of the company’s last great cinematic risks serves as the perfect capstone to American blockbuster film in 2019.
Also, there was only one shot of Porgs in the entire movie so what was even the point?