Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker review – going down a path I can’t follow

Disney arrogantly has proclaimed Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker as the final film in the Skywalker saga. That’s a big statement for a sequel trilogy that’s felt more like a cash grab than some well thought out continuation of George Lucas’ six film series. Rise of Skywalker is a fitting end for the recent trilogy that felt like a needlessly tacked on addition to a wonderfully told story that already had its perfect ending. Minus the special edition swapping of Hayden Christensen for Sebastian Shaw.

In Revenge of the Sith, Padme tells Anakin “you’re going down a path I can’t follow.” That’s basically my thoughts on Disney’s handling of this Sequel Trilogy. I’ll be writing a complete spoiler-heavy review next week where I’ll go in full detail on my issues with the film. For now, here’s my not so brief summary.

Hated The Last Jedi? No worries. Abrams and co-screenwriter Chris Terrio clearly seemed to as well. For all of the politically correct public responses Abrams had following the divisive second installment of this trilogy, his screen words and actions say another story entirely. There were some decisions Last Jedi director/writer Rian Johnson made that Abrams and Terrio can’t easily undo or ignore, but everything else is fair game. Basically you can completely ignore everything in Last Jedi and not feel lost with Rise of Skywalker.

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For the complaints of Last Jedi, of which there many, it set the franchise up for a new direction that wasn’t so beholden to Luke, Leia, Han, Vader, etc. Honestly that was the smarter direction that should have kickstarted this Sequel Trilogy. Abrams dramatically reverts to a Star Wars film that for better or worst desperately tries to connect to the Original Trilogy. Johnson tried to uncouple from Lucas’ vision of Star Wars while Abrams is back hat in hand with flowers and a box of chocolate asking for forgiveness to indulge a conclusion for a story that’s never felt earned on its own context.

Abrams is an odd filmmaker in the sense that his love for popular franchises comes through yet he constantly makes choices that call into question if he ever truly understood what makes them special. Sure, he knows how to pull on the nostalgia heartstrings whether with characters or familiar landmarks, but he starts playing fast and loose with established continuity seemingly changing it on a whim because it fits into his narrative.

There’s a lot of problems with this installment, but the biggest is the addition of a game-changing superpower that casually disrupts the entire mythos like it’s no big deal. It directly flies in the face of significant moments in The Phantom Menace, Revenge of the Sith and Return of the Jedi and basically turns the franchise upside down if this power was applied by other more experienced characters in the saga. It’s so ludicrous that it’s best to consider it the shark jumping moment of this trilogy.

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Like Force Awakens the first half of Rise of Skywalker is better than the second. Abrams is on adventure quest mode, which sends the main core of characters on a series of daring missions. It’s the first time Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) have had extended amount of screen time together. That’s a shame as this new trilogy’s Big 3 are a lot of fun when operating in the same scenes. I hate how this Big 3 never really got to shine as so much of the Sequel Trilogy was devoted to tearing down the work of the original Big 3 of Luke, Leia and Han.

Against all odds, The Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) has resurfaced and is plotting to destroy anyone opposing his rule. For the sake of staying spoiler-free, I’ll skip past the convoluted reason for his return although it suggests several characters have been asleep on the job in staying attuned to the Force.

Seriously Hermit Luke couldn’t sense the rise of the Sith again? It’s not like he was doing much else besides eating Porgs and getting blue milk straight from the tap. Palpatine recruits Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, Marriage Story) to bring Rey to him. Rey, meanwhile is on a quest of her own under orders from General Leia.

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Leia’s screen time feels somewhat weird as Abrams and Terrio try and honor the late Carrie Fisher by including her in the film, but there’s only so much they can do with B-roll footage and digital tricks. It’s not enough for a full length role, which hurts and slights Leia from having a satisfactory arc worse than not having her appear at all.

Kylo Ren is on the hunt and he’s got his bad-a$$ Knights of Ren doing their best Empire Strikes Back bounty hunter impression trying to track Rey and friends down. Abrams’ style of storytelling is to watch the same movie you did, but tell it in his own way expecting that somehow you’ve magically forgotten you already saw it. Mind tricks don’t work on us J.J. only consistent storytelling.

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Rey is basically a leveled up Thanos with all the Infinity Stones character plopped in the Star Wars universe. It’s laughable that a major plot point is Rey and other characters suggesting she’s not a Jedi yet despite being portrayed as the most powerful Force-wielder in the series. She is a suspense-free character as she’s never been truly tested in this trilogy and is essentially a superhero Jedi wondering if her parents were nobodies or actually important.

Johnson’s stance that they weren’t important was an interesting direction for the franchise that suggested anyone could become a world-saving Jedi in 10 simple steps. Abrams is all about legacy and finds a ham-fisted way of connecting to the saga’s family tree. This raises a slew of questions Abrams hopes you’ll be too shocked to ask.

In the wrap up of the big final battle there is a moment that elicited a large amount of groans at the screening I attended. I laughed as it felt perfectly in keeping with the “try to please ’em all” mentality of this trilogy.

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There’s a brief moment where two women kiss, which feels less like a landmark moment for Star Wars — a series that’s literally only had one romance in each trilogy — and more a pandering effort to show that the franchise is “progressive.” That would have been better accomplished by giving the women actual roles in the film instead of being nameless supporting characters. Outside of Anakin and Padme and Han and Leia (and Leia and Luke – ewww), kissing and relationships have never been a big part of this franchise so it felt awkward to feature romance with two random characters just to be like look we’re not the Hallmark Channel.

Is Rose waiting on Finn to stop swooning over Rey to capture his gaze like she had back in Last Jedi? Does Rey lustfully dream of a bare-chested, high pants wearing Kylo Ren? Is there any chance Naomi Ackie’s Jannah to be more than a second runner-up for Finn’s affection? Does this matter at all to the overall story?

It felt super weird for the First Order to also suddenly start becoming progressive where instead of stuffy white guys trying to blow up and conquer planets they’ve suddenly started promoting minorities and women into the officer ranks. The First Order was pitifully developed but it felt like a subtle bit of backstory was how they seized children from minority races to serve as their grunt force Stormtroopers and keep them as part of the rank and file. I’m clearly giving this more thought than anyone else.

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On a basic level, Abrams gets what plays with Star Wars fans — reminders of the Original Trilogy. It’s both funny and sad that the film’s best moments directly refer to or feature characters from the OT. Case in point Lando Calrissian’s (Billy Dee Williams) appearance was easily one of the highlights. At least in a key emotional scene this time Abrams got it right in focusing on Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). Williams offers a very thoughtful moment near the end as if contemplating his friends that are long gone, but it ends in this odd moment as if to hint at another adventure.

The action sequences are appropriately epic. Abrams can do that in his sleep and there’s a real sense of scope that the galaxy is on the line…or at least until some Disney exec decides Rey and company were screw-ups who totally missed The Second Order’s rise to power 20 years from now.

I went along with The Last Jedi’s controversial decisions with the thought that the third chapter would double down on its choices to solidify it as the new status quo of the series. Instead, Rise of Skywalker goes down its own equally silly and ridiculous path.

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For fans who grew up with the Star Wars series this is going to feel like a massive slap in the face. It’s probably best to consider The Mandalorian and the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi series on Disney+ as the only worthwhile extensions of the saga outside of Rogue One or Solo.

Rating: 4 out of 10

Photo Credit: Disney

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