Director: J.J. Abrams Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleeson, Naomi Ackie, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Kelly Marie Tran, Billy Dee Williams, Ian McDiarmid, Carrie Fischer, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Joonas Suotamo Running Time: 142 minutes
If there is one thing we can surely all agree on, it’s that conversation around Star Wars has long since become exhausting. The most popular thing in the world seems destined to be endlessly divisive, drafted unwittingly into assorted sides of the culture wars, something that has gone from nerd fixation to an inescapable franchise conveyor belt. Surely we can all agree that a children’s movie about lasers and space goblins shouldn’t be taken too seriously one way or another. If you couldn’t care less about The Rise of Skywalker with all the baggage it has, it would be hard to blame you. If you watch it and enjoy the film’s spectacle and fan service, more power to you. But in trying to wrestle with the considerable backlash to The Last Jedi, while both concluding a nine film saga and keeping the franchise in good enough favour to continue into the future all while also also trying (one hopes) to be a functioning narrative and entertaining film in its own right, is all too much for one film to rise above. Instead, it falls down a bit of a pit, but has that ever been much of a problem where Star Wars is concerned? It never quite seems to kill things off the way it should.
Unfortunately, to say that The Rise of Skywalker is a film designed by committee is to insult the decisiveness and insight of committees everywhere. It feels stuffed to a breaking point with fan service intended to mollycoddle or distract viewers from thin, mostly incoherent storytelling. At best it speaks to uncertainty on the production of what they ever wanted this trilogy to be (besides a money-spinner) and at worst it represents a caving to the more toxic elements of the fanbase. The sidelining of Kelly Marie Tran, subject to racist and misogynist abuse online after The Last Jedi , is a decision with lasting, deeper damage put aside story revelations that are ultimately of fleeting importance. Daunted by the impossible task of making this movie all things to all people, the producers, the four credited writers and director J.J. Abrams – a creative voice with a rapsheet of being better with setups than payoffs – fall into second-guess mode, playing it utterly safe and delivering something somehow both skittish and dull in the process.
The plot-heavy nature of Star Wars films means that it’s best to go into them without too many details of what’s going to come. Without saying too much, a familiar voice has returned to the series posing a vague but overwhelming threat to all as we know them. Kylo Ren, now the Supreme Leader of the First Order is determined to get to the bottom of this, driven as ever to find some meaning in his dark impulses, the better to drown out his pain and doubts. Those emotions continue to be pushed by his lingering connection to Rey, working on her training as a Jedi and wracked with doubts about where she’s come from and where she’s going. What follows is checklist, a fetch quest that rushes breathlessly from one set piece to the next, reeling off beloved characters in a slapdash attempt at payoff. If nothing else it will make you appreciate Avengers: Endgame doing something similar with more cohesion earlier this year. Moments are set up here and then never resolved, bold choices are walked back or explained away. Pandering abounds. The character interplay is wet and joyless, the spectacle is muddled and repetitive. What else exactly does Star Wars have? Lightsaber fights? They’re grand here in fairness.
Very little of what plays out during the film’s (thankfully fast-moving) 2hr 20 min runtime resonates emotionally. Very little of it is given the space to, always rushing through to the next piece of gibberish exposition, the next video game item to collect. More and more dumps of Plot and Stuff are stacked on top of each other at the expense of any meaningful character development, giving its central players Quests instead of Goals. Adam Driver, to his credit, maintains his lumbering Heathcliff wounded physicality as Kylo Ren, Daisy Ridley conveys Rey’s struggle with believable despair, but they come across as wasted efforts. John Boyega and Oscar Isaac are Ron Weasley-fied, wise-cracking sidekicks, the attempts to shade in Finn and Poe’s backstories belated and hollow. Side characters new and old are reduced further into the margins to reel off more Important Stuff You Need To Know, they feel lifeless and hard to engage with. With actors sidelined and creative voices streamlined, the film ends up as one of the most shallow in the expanded series.
Ultimately, to give The Rise of Skywalker some credit, it manages to sift through its heavy, lumpy plotting to at least communicate a clear theme. Anger is a powerful force. It can lead people to be manipulated, to be victims of their own selfish impulses, to do things they regret. If you are angry, The Rise of Skywalker understands. But it’s okay because they can fix it, they can fix all of it, through the incredible power of Star Wars iconography. Look! A Star Wars character you recognise! Hark, those old familiar John Williams notes. You can have everything you want, now lets all agree to be friends and be quiet. The final film in this trilogy that has been torn to and fro by the strong arms of studio and fanbase attempts to make peace by getting all sides to agree, we all like franchises, right? It’s just a bit of a craven theme, especially paired with this trilogy’s exciting promise gradually and gravely being pushed aside to give the old (with more brand recognition and customer loyalty) bigger, brighter spotlight. In its most aggravating moments, of which there are just a few too many, it feels like what many blockbusters feel like at their worst; a coddling, a shielding from depth, from growth, from consequences.
But sure look. Two suns rise, two suns set. Some fans will find plenty to enjoy from this installment in the series, and a fair bit to squabble about too. There are and always will be many films worse than even the worst Star Wars, no matter how much cultural oxygen it consumes. It’s just that Rise of Skywalker gives that sinking feeling as many Disney properties now do, that it has nothing to communicate, explore, inspire or discover, besides itself. It it what it is. IP management.(2 / 5)