42 years. 9 films. 2 spin-offs. 6 television series. A goddamn holiday special. And as much merchandise as is humanly possible. The Star Wars franchise is a cultural staple that, since its first film in 1977 has grown to be one of, if not the most, well-known media franchise to date.
It’s the story of one family, the Skywalkers, and their legacy amidst an age-old war of good against evil. A story that finally comes to it’s ultimate end with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019), a film that ambitiously tries pay homage to every entry in the Skywalker Saga and them some.
When framed as such, you could imagine how difficult it would be to create an objectively perfect coda to a franchise that’s become so deeply entwined in global popular culture; a franchise that has both narratively and literally influenced multiple generations. One could say it’s nigh impossible.
Directed by JJ Abrams, The Rise of Skywalker sees the return of the sequel trilogy’s main cast – Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac – and well as a few familiar faces from the original trilogy – Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Billy Dee Willaims, Anthony Daniels, and Ian McDiarmind. Actress Carrie Fisher makes a posthumous appearance as Leia Organa. (Bless her.)
The once-thought-dead Emperor Palpatine returns, granting the power of the Last Order to Kylo Ren with the instruction of bringing him Rey. Meanwhile, she has been training under the tutelage of Leia Organa and the Jedi text – amassing the knowledge of the fallen order and preparing herself for what’s to come – the final battle.
Watching The Rise of Skywalker, I expected so much – you can’t blame me for that. I’ve been a fan of this franchise my whole life and having the opportunity to see it to the end was supposedly something I would keep with me my whole life. I expected it to be something I would be proud of and feel for a long time. And while I walked out of the theater overwhelmed with the fan service fiesta that was The Rise of Skywalker, that excitement didn’t even last the next couple of hours.
There’s so much wrong with this movie that it’s not even funny.
To start, there’s no denying the fact that they basically ignore everything established The Last Jedi (2017). While that film might not have been the best in the franchise, while it might have angered so many fans to the point that they petitioned it be declared non-canon, the fact is that it is.
The Last Jedi, for all its faults, presented interesting concepts and themes when it came to the Jedi and the characters of Rey and Kylo Ren. It presented a perspective into the Star Wars universe that didn’t define itself as a clear line between light and dark, but instead it muddled in the grey. It was different and, personally, it was a welcomed albeit unsettling way to frame a franchise that can be, at many times, formulaic.
But it was the fear of pressing on that uncertainty that lead The Rise of Skywalker to ignore it all together. And while it wasn’t the outright rehash that was The Force Awakens (2015), episode nine tried to be too much without taking the necessary risks to make it work. It was far too safe.
A major problem of the film is it’s ungodly pacing – a pacing that left absolutely no room for the audience to breath. The Rise of Skywalker was so obviously an entire trilogy crammed into a 2-hour run time. And because of that it forewent all manner of sense.
None of the characters had any real conversations. Every single line uttered felt like nothing more than foreshadowing dialogue, avoidable exposition, corny one-liners, and trailer fluff. Add to that the MacGuffin-driven plot that was nothing more than a glorified fetch quest that didn’t even matter when it was all said and done. The film basically begs the audience that take what’s happening at face value without any care of why, just that it is.
Every narrative decision made seemed like it wasn’t made creatively. Instead, it seemed they just went with whatever would please us the most and would piss us off the least. They sacrificed so much, including substance, and focused solely on checking off boxes that they believed the franchise finale needed. Character motivations felt unsubstantiated. The film’s entire emotional weight was unearned.
Am I saying I didn’t enjoy it? No, I’m not saying that. I reveled in every second of it. The Rise of Skywalker was fan service gold. It celebrated the entire saga – bringing back as many odd characters as they could just to make you go “OH SHIT!” It even had some decent twists that, despite not making a ton of sense, was insanely cool while you learning about it for the first time.
While the saber fights aren’t the best in the series, they were still fairly intense – especially with all the new force powers they brought back into the fold from Star Wars Legends like Force Healing and the Force Push being strategically integrated into saber combat.
The actors, themselves, deserve at least a pat on the back for their performances considering the weak script the had to work with. Both Poe and Finn are better utilized in The Rise of Skywalker than the last two films. And in spite of Finn’s corny ass lines, the trio have a palpable chemistry that shines in this film.
Leia’s death was poignant to say the least, especially with Carrie Fisher’s real life death. The sadness was undoubtedly felt throughout the cinema I was watching in. It was handled well I would say, knowing the limitations they had to work with. One of the more powerful scenes in the film, her death signaled the redemption of Kylo Ren – a redemption that, while forced, was tragic enough to be passable.
However, it cannot be denied that they real hero in The Rise of Skywalker was John Williams’ stellar score – both familiar and new. The music added a sense of epicness to the already well-produced set pieces and the beautiful production design. It allowed fans to connect to certain scenes through both raw emotion and nostalgia. Sad to know that this will be Williams’ last time composing for Star Wars. It’s fitting but sad.
Like I said, I left the cinema foaming from the mouth – completely mesmerized by the ‘pew-pew-pew’ and the ‘nnnnnn-vrau-vrau’. But then, nothing. I spent the next few days contemplating that feeling or the lack thereof; in complete denial that the film just wasn’t that good. Was it the worst film in the franchise? Nope. Definitely not. But as far as finales go…
In the end, The Rise of Skywalker did what it set out to do – wrap up an entire saga’s worth of films. But like many that came before it, this film crumbled under it own weight. While it may spark a light in the hearts of many fans, its narrative doesn’t work otherwise. It was a mess. A cool, nostalgia-driven mess. But a mess nonetheless.