Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, 2019
Directed by J.J. Abrams.
Starring Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid, Dominic Monaghan, Greg Grunberg, Jimmy Vee, and Billy Dee Williams.
The surviving Resistance faces the First Order once more in the final chapter of the Skywalker Saga.
As Game of Thrones proved earlier this year, bringing any pop-culture behemoth to a close without rankling large swathes of the fanbase is incredibly difficult. And while Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is hardly the end of the space opera franchise – Episodes X-XII will surely be with us soon enough – there is at least a discernible desire here to tie a neat bow on the series’ legacy characters.
After Rian Johnson’s prior effort The Last Jedi sharply divided fans – some re-energised by its brave, surprising choices, while others felt it strayed too far from established characterisation – there was certainly great interest in seeing how The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams would return to finish things up.
And quite predictably, Abrams’ film is a thoroughly transparent, excessively reactionary rebuke to what came before, by not only clinging with a sure desperation to the series’ slushy penchant for unimaginative “everything is connected” storytelling, but actively walking back some of The Last Jedi’s more intriguing shocks.
If the previous film ended with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) seemingly taking up the mantle of Supreme Leader after liberating Snoke’s (Andy Serkis) upper-body from his lower-body, The Rise of Skywalker takes its first of many sharp detours from this in the opening title crawl. Before we’ve even seen a frame of the movie proper, the titles explain that the long-dead Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is back, and with scarcely more than a “don’t question the details” explanation, he forges an alliance with Kylo Ren to kill Rey (Daisy Ridley) and rule the galaxy.
If that sounds like the logline to a Star Wars fanfic, that’s because the vast majority of this film plays out precisely as such. Mounted as a conciliatory “apology” for The Last Jedi, Abrams – who co-penned the film with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice co-scribe Chris Terrio – scratches every last nostalgic itch the fanbase could possibly have. And yet, the result is a film that feels less a joyous celebration of one of pop-culture’s great universes than it does a hollow, soulless attempt at reinforcing the established brand.
Rather than simply smooth over The Last Jedi‘s edges and forge ahead, The Rise of Skywalker doubles down on Star Wars‘ most insufferable instincts; the MacGuffin fetch quests are fetchier than ever before, the cool new supporting characters show up for minutes a-piece simply to sell some toys, and almost no fan-serving avenue is left unexplored in a half-baked attempt to mash viewers’ dopamine receptors.
And while the film’s unambitious deference to both formula and iconography is unsurprising, its overall roughness absolutely is. Though there are many beautiful individual shots throughout – courtesy of Abrams’ regular lenser Dan Mindel – there’s a frustratingly frantic choppiness to the movie’s overall tenor.
The opening act in particular is breathless to the point of irritation, rushing from one planet and character to the next with a mechanical expediency. Uncharacteristically for Abrams, there are even action beats rendered scarcely coherent by the overly busy editing, which along with the film’s reportedly extensive reshoots might suggest The Rise of Skywalker was repeatedly pivoted into different positions during post-production.
This would also explain why the script feels so bizarrely scattershot; numerous plot threads are set up and then never paid off despite the obvious potential for them to do so, and basic character logic is jettisoned routinely in favour of a flighty, breezy space opera feel. And that’s precisely the problem with Abrams, who while a talented stylist, isn’t much of a writer, and was clearly bolstered significantly by Star Wars veteran Lawrence Kasdan on The Force Awakens.
His heart-over-brain storytelling can only take him so far, and in a movie that’s supposed to in some way pay off 42 years of established lore, it is exactly the uncreative and at times purely illogical approach that many feared.
If I’m being vague on the particulars, it’s because almost every scene in this movie is spoilerific, and regardless of my own apathy towards the end result, it is a cinematic monolith which should be experienced, love it or hate it, with as few extraneous details as possible. But I can say that, outside of the frequently questionable creative, the cast certainly does their level-best to keep the film afloat, and they’re sometimes successful enough.
Especially entertaining are Anthony Daniels as the quip-happy droid C-3PO, whose witticisms have never quite felt this deliciously catty, while for all of the brain-breaking questions that Palpatine’s presence in the film raises, Ian McDiarmid’s velvet-voiced villainy hasn’t lost a single step. The leads all do fine enough what with they have, especially Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, who is by far the most interesting of the new generation of characters, even if his arc here is also likely to be the most divisive.
And given the enormous problem created by Carrie Fisher’s untimely death three years ago, her General Leia is integrated into the film with a surprising seamlessness. By repurposing deleted scenes from the last two movies and making clever use of stand-inds and strategic lighting, it largely feels like Fisher shot her role like any other. And yes, her character is given a worthy enough send-off considering the obvious constraints the production was under.
It’s fascinating to consider how the Star Wars fanbase en masse will consider The Rise of Skywalker in the future; will the haters concede that, no, it isn’t worse than the first two prequels, or will those swept up in a nostalgia-soaked honeymoon period eventually concede that, in fact, it’s just not very good?
Time will tell, but on the week of release, its divisiveness is firmly noted. Whether the film works for you or not will likely depend on your own ability to roll with its sloppiness for the sake of the bigger picture, though for many, that bigger picture may simply amount to 142 minutes of condescension.
Cynical and pandering in all the worst ways, the “finale” to the Skywalker Saga shamelessly walks back The Last Jedi’s bolder and less-sentimental storytelling choices in favour of lazy, unearned fan service.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.