Disney’s time with Star Wars has been full of blunders, both artistically and financially. With “The Rise of Skywalker,” the supposed end of the Skywalker saga, the franchise hits a new low. I haven’t been happy with the previous two “sequel trilogy” films, to the point where I thought they could only improve. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
Having killed and humiliated the old guard and failed to build up any of the new heroes, “Rise of Skywalker” resorts to resurrecting Emperor Palpatine. That’s not a spoiler, as it’s revealed in the confusing title crawl.
One might think there’d be a sense of building mystery and disbelief at the Emperor’s return from the grave. Instead, the characters, without showing a shred of disbelief, quickly accept his resurrection within the first 10 minutes. Even the film itself is not interested in how or why the Emperor inexplicably returned, as the most it offers is some throwaway exposition.
Arbitrarily resurrecting the main antagonist of George Lucas’ Star Wars films is not only a creatively bankrupt decision but invalidates the old heroes’ achievements. It’s a desperate appeal for nostalgia, a decision clearly made with box office numbers in mind. Even Disney’s paltry additions to the Star Wars canon are treated with equal disrespect.
“Rise of Skywalker” only manages to merge the past and present of Star Wars by mishandling both.
Force wielder Rey (Daisy Ridley) has an identity crisis over her heritage, a plotline that would be compelling if not for her lack of personality and incoherent motivations. This trilogy would have benefited from a protagonist that drives the story forward, instead of aimlessly reacting to the world around her.
After a thorough disciplining in “The Last Jedi,” Resistance leader and ace pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac) largely fails in both roles and gets a pointless romance plotline to boot. Ex-storm trooper Finn (John Boyega) continues to be sidelined from the central narrative, despite his potential.
Quasi-villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is still the closest to a substantial character and the only one to gain a meaningful arc. The character’s success rests on Driver’s performance, as he humanizes a pathetic villain with an unsympathetic backstory. While his character still has some conceptual issues, Kylo Ren’s story at least has a real beginning, middle and end, which is more than you can say for this trilogy.
“Rise of Skywalker” is the rare movie that feels like it just wants to be over. The nonsensical opening in which the Millennium Falcon blindly “lightspeed skips” across the galaxy is an apt metaphor for the film as a whole. If there’s anything of value along the way, it’s easily missed in the rush of poor editing and questionable camerawork. Even the central premise directly contradicts what was established in previous films.
The dialogue of “Rise of Skywalker” consists almost entirely of snappy, quip filled exchanges, none of which are memorable. The script rushes through plot point after plot point, barely leaving you enough time to figure out what you just saw, much less why you should care. The editing further compresses all this, in what ends up being a suffocating experience.
The film culminates in a barely-coherent climax that combines every imaginable Star Wars trope and image to the point of unintentional parody. The villains’ threat and the heroes’ triumph feel equally unearned due to how little the film established and developed the story. To compensate for that lack of substance, everything happens at once in a conclusion that is as noisy as it is contrived.
“Rise of Skywalker” is more than just a bad Star Wars film. It embodies everything wrong with the modern science fiction genre. Characterization, pacing, themes and anything that requires too much thought is sacrificed for the sake of fun. The film has no interest in following its own rules, much less those established in previous installments.
The end result is a barely coherent series of set pieces that crash into each other at high speeds, interspersed with cameos and callbacks.
For all its faults, Star Wars used to examine contemporary politics and the human condition through the lens of starfighters, blasters and aliens. The fantastical elements were always a draw, but there was a dose of reality to back it all up. Never has Yoda’s exclamation “Wars not make one great!” felt truer, as “Rise of Skywalker” is built purely from spectacle and nostalgia.