The Rise of Skywalker seeks to erase every bit of The Last Jedi with a movie that is desperate to satisfy every fan demand available.
How does one start a review about the end of something like this current Star Wars trilogy? Since the release of The Force Awakens in 2015, this new iteration of the Star Wars saga has seen its share of ups and downs, as well as fervid critiques about the nature of nostalgia versus change. In 2017, director Rian Johnson released The Last Jedi, the second installment that inspired a war between established fans and newcomers and, despite its box-office success, the hatred for it still rages heavily on social media.
It is The Last Jedi that is at the heart of this final installment, The Rise of Skywalker, in that returning director J.J. Abrams (of The Force Awakens) comes in on his white horse to save the franchise from its previous brush with “woke culture.” Acting like a hostage negotiator whose goal is to give the kidnappers (i.e., the fanboys) every demand they want, The Rise of Skywalker isn’t a thrilling conclusion so much as it’s a remake of 1983’s The Return of the Jedi.
You can practically hear the cries from Disney’s corporate team, talking like Darth Vader throughout The Rise of Skywalker’s 2 hour and 21-minute runtime: “Undo The Last Jedi.” Nearly every fan conspiracy you’ve thought of comes true and that’s not a spoiler but is telegraphed from the opening scenes wherein Rey (Daisy Ridley) receives visions involving her family and the belief that she’s doomed to turn to the Dark Side. If this sounds like the plot of Frozen 2 — wherein a young woman has to travel to find out about a mysterious force drawing her somewhere involving past family secrets — you’d be correct.
Rey, along with friends Finn and Poe (John Boyega and Oscar Isaac, respectively) must travel to an unknown planet where the villainous Sith have gathered. At the same time, the Resistance, overseen by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher in stock footage) sees the trio as the last hope to prevent the Final Order, the fleet led by Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), from destroying the galaxy. And as for Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), he’s still engaging in a love/hate relationship with Rey and, for reasons, grappling with his life choices with regards to moving beyond Supreme Leader.
For a movie that was so tightly wound in the previous film, where divergences happened but the audience always knew the goal, The Rise of Skywalker aims to hit specific beats. Because the goal is to undo what came before, it’s hard not to see this as a “greatest hits” movie punctuated by action scenes utilized to bridge the gaps between sequences. Rey, Finn and Poe are tied together this movie for reasons that extend purely to “because we’re friends” which does limit the amount of individual stories, but it ends up shortchanging the long-term effects of their actions.
Only fleeting glimpses are given to the Resistance who are hiding out on an unnamed planet purely used to draw comparisons to Return of the Jedi. They’re left to run around and remind the audience of the stakes. Fisher, who passed away before her scenes could be shot, is haphazardly inserted into sequences that just feel crass, particularly as the cast likes to reiterate that this movie is “for her.”
Considering how her plotline plays out, in one of the most frustrating scenes in a movie chock-full of frustration, the “for Carrie” thing is a baldfaced lie. Instead, she’s replaced by living actors who, if you watched the last film, are there purely to give fanboys the warm fuzzies.
Because of this heavy need for nostalgia, Finn, Poe and Rey also feel stock. A reveal involving Rey isn’t special at all if you’ve read any conspiracy theories since The Force Awakens and effectively situates her as another Luke (Mark Hamill). Finn, who went from coward to reluctant hero in the previous films, is bland and optimistic till the last scene where he’s teamed up with another child soldier to actually do something.
What’s worse is, to kill off #FinnPoe hope, the movie makes Finn have a schoolgirl crush on Rey that comes out of nowhere and is brought up regularly as if to say, “All man, baby!” Oscar Isaac is given a chance to be his magnetic, charming self, especially as he travels to the planet of Kajimi and reunites with an old friend named Zorii (Keri Russell). Sure, the relationship implies drug-dealing connections and, again, heterosexuality, but the two have far more chemistry in a movie that forces it constantly between its characters.
Oh, and if you’re asking where Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose, the sweet character who anchored The Last Jedi, is….she’s there. She’s there standing in the background, reacting to scenes. Really, she’s probably only there because her contract gave her another movie. The hate for The Last Jedi is so high lines that could have gone to Tran — not big monologues, just “this is what we could do”-level lines — are given to a new character played by Lost alum, Dominic Monaghan. Abrams got to pay those Abrams-verse actors somehow!
This is all before we get to the third act and it is there where J.J. Abrams doubles down on pleasing only the white, male fanboys who have complained about everything, from the notion of a black Stormtrooper to everything in The Last Jedi. So Driver, who’s Kylo Ren has been a fascinating character to deconstruct in the wake of #MeToo and anti-fa rhetoric, is left to mush into a new personage for reasons that extend to “guess I’m not doing that anymore.”
If you think I’m being catty, I’m not. This script course-corrects so heavily it sinks the ship before it’s even allowed to make a turn. It’s as if to say nothing happened to these people since The Force Awakens, and thus their personalities are malleable when they aren’t. They come off as hollow-eyed Sims creations for Abrams and crew to play with.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is made for one specific fan, and to appease them, it limits its storytelling and characterization to a sloppy degree. The cast is still able to keep things moving, but you can see the boundaries they’re confined to. A franchise initially started for a new generation of fans ends by saying new fans never mattered, only those who were there from the beginning.