It’s clear from the opening minutes of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker that course correction is on the menu. After the completely divisive The Last Jedi, J.J. Abrams is back at the helm for the final installment of this saga. All the subversion of Rian Johnson’s masterful middle entry of this new trilogy, is gone. What we have with The Rise of Skywalker is a highly convoluted follow up that Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio have devised to heal the broken fanbase. Hardly anything is explored in-depth and nearly all of it is recycled from previous films in the saga. Even worse, pieces of this movie directly reverse previous knowledge from the last movie. Conversely, most of it is solidly entertaining and fun to watch. I’m not sure that it is enough to make this movie truly work.
The Rise of Skywalker takes almost no time to get its plot into motion. Through a series of odd editing decisions and some very rushed plot movement, we find Rey, Finn, Poe and the rest of the crew are off to find a “wayfinder” to find a very much alive Emperor Palpatine. From there, a messy and very unfocused plot leads the heroes on the heroes journey. The heroes journey is visually compelling, but seldom is it actually interesting on a narrative level.
Abrams action sequences are always fun to watch. The movie has virtually everything fans would want from a finale, but is that good enough? I’m not sure I’m the one to answer to that. The franchise as a whole is something I’ve never been strongly connected to. I’ve become more than a casual fan, but I’m not sure I’m as emotionally attached as much of the opening night audience will be. What I can say is most of this movie truly does not work. What’s more, I’m not even sure most of it even makes sense. Plot threads are unraveled, aspects of canon are destroyed and the occasional fan service is shoe-horned in.
Still, I keep coming back to the entertainment factor of it all. I enjoyed watching this. I didn’t hate my time at the theater. Even though what most of The Rise of Skywalker is, is a corporation responding to backlash, it is hard not to enjoy portions of this movie. Action sequences are kept mostly fresh, and there’s a few fun lightsaber battles and space dog fights to wow the senses. The movies sound design and incredible visual effects are immersive and fully realized. Even through the sheen of great action, I come back to the films quieter moments and plot reveals, they seem so soulless and devoid of emotional stakes.
Abrams’ films have always lacked the imagination (with the exception of Super 8) that is necessary to build these grandiose worlds. Even The Force Awakens retreads over past Star Wars material. Perhaps, that is why Johnson’s film is so unique, and captured an imagination unlike any of the previous films. Johnson sought to comment on the ideas brought forth by the other films and challenge them. The Last Jedi added a vastness to this world. The Rise of Skywalker is never interested in answering those questions, and closes the world back up to the few bloodlines fans are familiar with. Abrams even did this with Star Trek: Into Darkness, a movie the relies heavily on The Wrath of Kahn with one twist to the narrative.
The Rise of Skywalker will please a lot of people. It will tie a bow on a saga fans have loved for four decades. A true generational right of passage. Although its end doesn’t really feel satisfying in the way the finality of something like Avengers: Endgame does. Perhaps that isn’t a fair comparison. Maybe as the film exists in the world, it’ll grow on me. Something truly strange has happened here. I came out of this movie feeling okay about it. Yet, as I write, I find that I’m not sure I am. A sense of disappointment has come over me. The Rise of Skywalker is likely not the end of the Star Wars saga, but it is for now, and that seems a bit underwhelming.