*Spoiler alerts for the film!*
I grew up with Star Wars – most of my childhood years were spent with Star Wars action figures, posters, and movies themselves, so it should not come as a surprise that the franchise is still very close to my heart. That being said, I could not help but feel a little bit of lethargy when it came to watching The Rise of Skywalker. I usually try to see the earliest possible screenings of Star Wars films, yet I waited a few days before watching this one. Why? Because even though The Force Awakens piqued my interest, bringing original new characters to a familiar story, The Last Jedi destroyed it.
At this point, we are no strangers to flawed Star Wars movies (there have been more bad Star Wars movies than good ones). Though the original trilogy was almost perfect and iconic, the prequels were less so – marred by corny dialogue, wooden acting and a poorly executed vision by George Lucas. But at least George Lucas had a vision. And by itself, the first six movies, from Episode I to Episode VI, tells a complete, epic story about the rise and fall of one Jedi and it shaped the entire galaxy.
The takeover of Lucasfilm by Disney had excited some but terrified others (cue the ‘Leia is officially a Disney princess’ jokes!) And rightly so. Despite the fact that Disney is responsible for some of Star Wars’ best work – Rogue One, The Mandalorian and Rebels in particular – they have shown that they had absolutely no idea of what to do with our beloved Skywalker saga.
The question that the Sequel Trilogy had posed was “what happened to the galaxy and the main characters following the destruction of the Empire?” The new films partly answer this by flash-forwarding to three decades later, where our three protagonists from the Original Trilogy (Han, Leia and Luke) have gone their separate ways and The First Order has filled the power vacuum left in the wake of the Empire’s dissolution.
Sadly, two films later, we had not gotten much further from where we began. This is in no small part a result of the war that took place behind the scenes. There is a scene in this film in which Rey attempts to stop a First Order spaceship from leaving a planet using the Force. Kylo Ren shows up to counter Rey’s powers, leading Rey to inadvertently blow up the ship. Though it was my favourite moment in the film by a long shot, however, I cannot help but feel that this is a perfect representation of the Sequel Trilogy being pushed around by JJ Abrams – who directed The Force Awakens and this film – and Rian Johnson – who was responsible for The Last Jedi. One wants Star Wars to stick to its roots and another wants to transform the status quo. Unfortunately, this ugly tug-of-war between the two visionary directors has culminated in the implosion of the new Star Wars, which now makes even less sense than it did to begin with.
And so, The Rise of Skywalker understandably begins from a position of disadvantage, especially considering how The Last Jedi retconned many plot points from The Force Awakens. With only a third of the trilogy remaining, The Rise of Skywalker was faced with the impossible task of simultaneously moving the story forward and concluding the saga. For that reason, the movie feels like three movies stuffed inside one!
A lot happens here which I will briefly summarise. The title crawl begins with the words, “The dead speak!”, which brings Palpatine back from the dead. How this happens is unclear, but the reason for his return is to replace Snoke as the villain, who was puzzlingly killed off in the previous film. Ian McDiarmid reprises his role as the cunning, maniacal monster and he is as chilling as ever. That’s not to say that I did not find his character unnecessary and out of place, however. Palpatine wants Ben Solo to bring Rey to him alive because of a surprising parental revelation. Meanwhile, the Resistance, led by Leia (recreated from unused footage from previous films), Poe, Finn and Rey, is making one final attempt to bring down the First Order and bring peace to the galaxy…again.
So what went wrong here? First of all, as I’ve mentioned before, the story is constantly moving at light-speed. Events unfold in this film but are given very little space by themselves. The movie moves from the plot point to point with little emphasis on how characters are reacting and developing with regards to what is happening. Scenes that should elicit some feelings from the audience are dealt with within seconds to make room for its many action sequences and moments of fan-service. Though Star Wars is a fantasy action-adventure franchise, it is first and foremost a character-driven story and to strip it of all its emotions is to do a disservice to the saga.
Secondly, just like in its predecessors, characters are introduced and discarded without a second thought. Remember Maz Kanata? Snoke? Rose Tico? Captain Phasma? General Hux? Admiral Holdo? These, along with some others, are characters who had a major role in one movie and were killed/forgotten/ignored in the others. Likewise, this movie spends time on new characters and droids that should really have been spent on characters we were already familiar with. Finn and Poe’s friendship was a highlight of The Force Awakens and it is a shame that we do not spend enough time here with these two. Finn, in particular, begins with endless potential for character growth as a defected Stormtrooper and has been reduced to chasing after Rey every time she goes running off on her own (much like Anna and Elsa in Frozen II!)
Plus, the film spends too much time overwriting the mistakes of The Last Jedi. Though that movie was flawed, the best course of action for JJ Abrams would have been to go along with what he has been given and focus primarily on move the story forward rather than repeatedly moving backwards. The result of this retcon is that the trilogy now feels detached and tonally jarring when you watch it all together (which, I can assure you, I will not).
By the end of the film, Palpatine is dead. The galaxy is saved. Good has triumphed over evil and the Jedi are back. Hooray. Except, we have reached an endpoint that we thought we had reached thirty-seven years ago in The Return of the Jedi, when Anakin Skywalker saved his son, killed the Emperor Palpatine and brought balance back to the Force. This begs me to ask, what was the entire point of Anakin Skywalker’s arc if all it took was the antagonist’s own granddaughter to end evil once and for all?
And so, I meet the trilogy’s conclusion with apathy. That’s not to say that I did not enjoy the ride at times. Despite the rushed pace, incoherent story-line and uneven character development, The Rise of Skywalker features a lot of the series’ trademark humour, some well-needed cameos (Lando Calrissian!!) and arguably the best visual effects in the franchise to date. But the praise of this film ends here.
Nevertheless, I honestly hope that this film marks the end of the Skywalker saga and Star Wars will stop treading familiar ground and finally move on to telling more interesting stories in the galaxy far, far away.