Star Wars under Disney has had a bumpy journey ever since the studio bought Lucasfilm back in 2012; there have been complaints by fans ever since J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens was released in 2015 that only grew and grew, resulting in the fanbase becoming divisive and toxic as a result of Rian Johnson’s divisive The Last Jedi in 2017. In the case of this film, Jurassic World’s Colin Tevorrow was initially brought on board to helm the film but was let go due to “creative differences”, so Abrams was drafted back into the fold to fix the damage, wrap up the whole Skywalker Saga and calm the torn fanbase. Unfortunately, The Rise of Skywalker will probably go down in history as, not just the most disappointing film of 2019, but the most disappointing Star Wars film since 1999’s The Phantom Menace. While not completely flawless, the previous two instalments both did something special for the Star Wars franchise; The Force Awakens was a familiar yet charming reintroduction to the beloved universe that had a sense of mystery about it, while The Last Jedi took the franchise into uncharted waters and provided a bold yet risky deconstruction of the familiar Star Wars tropes. The Rise of Skywalker, however, is a Frankensteinian construction that feels very disconnected from the previous two (especially from The Last Jedi) and gives us an incredibly lazy, clunky, convoluted and underwhelming finale to the whole saga.
The film’s structure and pacing is totally erratic, zipping about all over the place faster than the Millenium Falcon’s hyperdrive, jumping from planet to planet with no moment to properly catch a breath, and the first half is littered with heavy exposition and different MacGuffins, which are the definite signs of poor storytelling. Immediately from both the opening crawl and the first seven minutes, we are told and shown to us that Emperor Palpatine is back (more on that soon!), was the puppetmaster behind Snoke, Kylo Ren and the First Order all this time and has somehow built a new Star Destroyer army known as the Final Order. It’s as if one or two movies had happened in between this film and the last one, and somehow we have to accept that this has happened and just go with it. At least with Return of the Jedi, as flawed as that film was, didn’t feel like a drastic departure from The Empire Strikes Back when it comes to narrative progression and cohesion.
Along the way, plenty of new characters are introduced and all of them are complete non-factors in this film’s story, not to mention they are also pretty forgettable and feel paper-thin in terms of character-building. It’s criminal that they waste Richard E. Grant’s talents in a throwaway role. Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico has a drastically reduced role and becomes a mere background player, which is shocking considering how much of a bigger role she played in The Last Jedi, and despite much talk about Billy Dee Williams returning as Lando Calrissian, his role is basically the equivalent of a glorified cameo.
That’s not to say there aren’t any positives to be found because there is. Once again, the central conflict/dynamic between Rey and Kylo Ren is fascinating to watch and Kylo’s character arc in this film is brilliantly handled. After Carrie Fisher unfortunate passing, this film tries really hard to give Leia a proper send-off, and it is definitely nice to see her through unused footage from The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, and how her story ultimately ends is pulled off adequately well and props to the filmmakers for finding a way around it, even if it does feel a tad anti-climatic. The film is gorgeous to look at, which is to be expected with a J.J. Abrams film, boasting beautiful cinematography from Dan Mindel, plus the score by John Williams is great as always. There’s not a bad performance from the whole cast and they all do the best with what they are given (particularly Adam Driver), the action sequences are fun, especially the Rey vs. Kylo Ren teased in the trailers. However, this just means that the film is relying too much on surface and spectacle when there needs to be more depth or believable emotional stakes driving all of that.
It’s clear looking back on all three films in this trilogy that Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams, Rian Johnson and the other higher-ends at Disney didn’t have a clear, fully formed roadmap in mind when first constructing this trilogy, choosing to make it all up as they went along. Like, no one will ever convince me that Palpatine’s return was planned from the very beginning! It’s obvious that both Abrams and Johnson had very different viewpoints when it came to the direction, meaning, and purpose of this trilogy of films, resulting in this final instalment suffering from all of that since it chooses to undercut or ignore the themes and ideas that were presented in The Last Jedi, which some fans might find relieving while others find annoying. As deeply flawed as George Lucas’ prequel trilogy was (the first two being especially awful), at least Lucas had a clear plan of where he wanted to take his trilogy from beginning to middle to end.
Crafting an ending is always a challenge, and even Abrams himself admitted in one previous interview that he was bad at constructing endings (Abrams: “I’ve never been great at endings. I don’t actually think I’m good at anything, but I know how to begin a story. Ending a story is tough”). That is clearly true in the case of this particular finale, though one can hardly blame Abrams for what happened here given everything that has happened previously that has led us to this point. There will be fans that will love and hate this film regardless, it has impressive action sequences and some great character moments, but as a finale, not just to a trilogy, but also to the entire saga that began in 1977, it was a disappointing way to close things out. It’s better than both The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, but that’s really not saying an awful lot. At it stands, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is perhaps the most glorified Star Wars fan-film that’s ever been put to screen.
Dir: J.J. Abrams
Scr: J.J. Abrams, Chris Terrio, Colin Trevorrow, Derek Connolly
Cast: 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, Billy Dee Williams
Prd: Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams, Michelle Rejman
DOP: Dan Mindel
Music: John Williams
Run time: 142 mins
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is out now in cinemas.