Directed by JJ Abrams
Starring: Daisey Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Ian McDiarmind
There’s a myriad of ways “Rise of Skywalker” has been described, dissected, and derided over the last week now.
From it being a “Star Wars Zoo” of sorts where viewers are basically taken through various “exhibits” of the Star Wars universe just to remind us “Hey, remember Episode ______? Well, here they are again!” to a “checklist” of highly focused grouped Star Wars things to please fans who complained and moaned for months/years following the highly divisive “Last Jedi.”
In the words of “The Force Awakens” Han Solo, it’s true, all of it, and not in the bittersweet nostalgic way the movie may intend but in the mostly unimaginative way some viewers often lament about the highly corporatized world of big budget blockbusters.
(It’s STILL cinema though, Mr. Scorsese. Fight me, you super talented film auteur!)
I’m not saying that blockbusters are inherently soulless endeavors, there are plenty of big budget films over this decade that have shown otherwise and even within this film there are more than a few moments of genuine sincerity, but “Rise of Skywalker” certainly feels like a nostalgia bomb that destroys everything truly original in its path.
I’m not going to excessively hate on JJ Abrams in this review though, at least not personally; he was given an impossible task after how fans reacted to “The Last Jedi” for a film he had no interest in doing in the first place. It’s amazing that even some level of coherency is accomplished here but in the end it’s a film that largely crashes and burns like Ratts Tyerell’s podracer in “The Phantom Menace.”
(I had to look up the name for this joke.)
In “Rise of Skywalker” the Emperor has returned and with him the power of The Empire as the First Order gathers its power to unleash its evil across the Galaxy in the form of Palpatine’s “Final Order.” Rey, Finn, and Poe find themselves in search of an ancient Sith wayfinder in order to discover the sith homeworld of Exegol and defeat the Emperor and the First Order once and for all. Meanwhile Kylo Ren continues to try to sway Rey to his side in order to create his vision of a galactic Empire.
Fan service isn’t always a bad thing in big blockbusters like this. Subtle winks here and there and/or moments of earned colossal splendor like “Endgame’s” climatic final battle are often great and welcome to the fans without insulting their intelligence. They’re little to big love letters to the fans basically saying “hey, we see you and thanks for loving this universe we created.”
(I don’t care who you are, this scene was fucking amazing and more than earned. Fight me, Scorsese! Fight me, you master of film-making!”)
Bad fan service however can feel like insult porn. Like the director is just throwing out these various nostalgic beats within the script mocking you going “Yeah, you like that? You like that you little bitch? That’s what you want right, fuckhead? This is all for you, you piece of shit!”
(Or so I’ve heard…)
“Rise of Skywalker” has its moments for sure and not saying JJ Abrams at least intentionally made it this way but its primary “new” ideas, fan servicey beats, and soulless pandering feel like insults on the intelligence at times. As mentioned, the film feels like it takes us through a various greatest hits of Star Wars list be it characters, places or things within this universe and very little of it feels organic to the plot.
This is a movie that decided the best way to reintroduce Palpatine back into the Star Wars cannon was through the opening title crawl. No “Oh my (Whatever constitutes God in the Star Wars universe)! The Emperor has returned!” from the series’ main characters, just “Yeah that’s a thing and we gotta go defeat him now.”
This is a movie that gave Billy Dee Williams more significant screen time than Kelly Marie Tran because I’m definitely sure there was no internal politics there to appease the neckbeardey factions of the fandom Sarcasm.
This is a movie that introduces two new female characters and the series first “gay kiss” and gives all three things surface level development at best and a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment that is meant to playing loving tribute supposedly to the series LGBTQ+ fans but is instead frankly insulting. To slightly paraphrase another reviewer, if I have to hear the word “baby steps” in 2020 in regards to something that should feel completely innocuous already at this point they are not allowed to have an opinion on anything for the foreseeable future. The fact that detractors of this series call these films “woke” is beyond parody at this point.
(Female character exists “OH MER GERD! THEY’RE SHOVING THE SJW AGENDA DOWN OUR THROATS! REEEEEEEEE!”)
“The Last Jedi” gets a lot of shit for taking more than a few liberties with the Force and the suspension of disbelief among the film’s many haters (some of it deserved, some of it not so much) but “Rise of Skywalker” introduces just as many crazy to ridiculous elements to the story that its arguably worse at all these things. It’s many ways all the things those fans claim to hate about “The Last Jedi” but shockingly many of them feel this film “fixes” those problems.
And that’s what this film really is at the end of the day, a big fat corporately approved referendum on “The Last Jedi” as many of the film’s narrative beats feel like direct responses to that film.
Don’t like that Rey’s parents were nobodies? Well, she’s a Palpatine now.
Don’t like Rose? Well she’s been ex-communicadoed to background character for this film. Fucking Dominic Monaghan has more lines in this movie than she does.
Wanted an explanation for Snoke? Well here’s a minute of exposition to explain that he’s clone. How much you enjoyed or hated that film will likely play into how much joy you gain from this one.
(Meanwhile Rian continues to live rent free in the heads of many of these jokers regardless.)
This isn’t to say “Rise of Skywalker” can’t be enjoyable at times. It’s certainly well-produced and visually designed, and its cast is still well-acted and play off each other well. It’s a testament to the casting that despite the new trilogy’s missteps the beating heart of it all still has a fairly strong pulse. Rey and Kylo/Ben Solo are still the best two things about these three films as their dynamic still feels, even in this film, organic and powerful. Poe and Finn still have great chemistry (that many fans feel should’ve been closer, of course) and play off each other perfectly. And hey the big space battle at the end is still pretty exciting even if the plan is a bit preposterous.
But overall, the movie is a clunky mess that jumps from story beat to story beat as clumsily as the film’s opening “lightspeed skipping sequence” (though admittedly fun to watch). It’s a movie made by someone who didn’t want to be here for fans who were already aggravated by everything this new series has been and it unfortunately shows.
(Again, I don’t blame or envy JJ for how this whole process went but yikes…)
This all said, I can see where kids could find a fair bit of joy from their experience of this film and I think this needs to be truly said here.
A week ago, I made my way to Disneyland’s “Galaxy’s Edge” to envelope myself in Mouse approved Star Wars for a few hours. The cynical troll in me decided to show up in a Starfleet themed shirt (a part of another franchise with impossible to please fans) and made various sarcastic Mickey Mouse jokes about “the power of the Dark Side” wherever I went throughout Black Spire outpost’s markets.
But a couple things I saw warmed even my cold dead icey heart. I saw a little girl dressed in full Rey gear running around the buildings with the biggest smile on her face clearly enjoying being in the place that made her feel like a hero in her own Star Wars story and another kid who’s face lit up when he saw the storm troopers and a cast member dressed as Rey who greeted him.
I know this story is purely anecdotal and this might sound derisive but these movies are at the end of the day primarily for kids. That’s not to say they are exempt from criticism because of that but that we should consider the context as well when we digest them. Yes, I just spent majority of this review tearing this film a part for being lazy and unimaginative but I recognize that it still brings joy to plenty of people, namely the “younglings,” it primarily is made for. And even if you don’t feel these movies are for kids it doesn’t change the fact that getting overly irritated by movies like this is largely a waste of time.
(I say as I type my near 2000 word review on this movie…)
Would I prefer something smarter and more creative, regardless of what demographic it’s pandering too? Of course, but there is nothing inherently wrong with this film in that regard either. The amount of stupid things I devoured as a child that helped form my imagination and taste in science fiction and fantasy today is part of who I am and I’m still better for it. Hell, I LOVED “Phantom Menace” as a kid and though I think it’s a farcical mess as an adult it contributed to a number of things I cherish about myself now from my love of film scores to my eventual love of martial arts.
(This scene basically encompasses all of that. Warts and all.)
Yes, be critical of these movies as I just did and ask for better ones in the future but more than anything don’t be an asshole about it. You can take issue with Rian Johnson’s divisive choices in “The Last Jedi” without sending him death threats. You can say Rose Tico may not be that great of a heroine without harassing the actress behind the character endlessly with racist and sexist insults to the point she abandons social media. And certainly, if I ever meet JJ Abrams I’m not going to ever tell him this movie “ruined my childhood” because my childhood is already over and done with and this film doesn’t change that; Star Wars will go on for better and worse.
(At least everyone seems to agree “Long Wolf and Cub”…I mean “The Mandalorian” rocks though at least…)
“Rise of Skywalker” is a collection of unimaginative ideas but am I angry that I saw it? Do I think people who enjoyed it are automatically bad people for it? No, of course not, because I’m an adult and I intend to behave like one.
At the end of the day, “Star Wars” has still added more than its subtracted to its pop culture footprint and whether you consider the many Extended Universe books and comics as canon over the Disney Star Wars films and properties or vice versa they are all still there and the presence of one over the other doesn’t change the joy of either.
So, when you see “Rise of Skywalker” remember to be a fan not a fanatic and a viewer not a gatekeeper because at the end of the day it costs nothing to not be an asshole.
Merry Christmas, everyone and may the Force be with you all.
2.5 out of 5