It would have been hard enough for the Star Wars filmmakers to deliver a universally-satisfying conclusion to what is being pitched as the official end to the beloved saga – one which fans have loved for so long and with such passion – without the problems posed by 2017’s The Last Jedi. Their job was made no easier by the reception to the penultimate entry in the final trilogy, which massively divided fans and caused an outrage that seemed designed to annoy the internet at large and me in particular. As a result, much of the build up to this film has been dominated by questions of how it would compare to The Last Jedi, and whether it would continue the route started by Rian Johnson’s entry or diverge massively. Personally, I liked The Last Jedi, but since Star Wars is a topic that, on the whole, I am willing to play the role of centrist on, I was more curious to judge The Rise of Skywalker as a film and see how it held up on its own merits. Until I saw it, that is, and realised it had very few merits to actually speak of.
I’m not going to sugar coat it, people. I really didn’t like this film. The Rise of Skywalker is an incoherent mess of feature film; an unimpressive and bewildering experience that frequently left me bored, confused, antagonised, and annoyed. Whilst I can’t say it’s the worst film I’ve seen all year, and it’s certainly not the worst Star Wars film, as a finale in a franchise it does feel like a spectacular failure which, though of course it’s going to make bucket loads of money, really feels like a whimper rather than a bang.
Be warned, the rest of the review will feature discussions of plot elements which, whilst not full spoilers, may still reveal certain details you might not want revealed. Read on at your discretion.
The Rise of Skywalker picks up about a year after the events of The Last Jedi, where it is revealed that the Emperor Palpatine of the previous galactic Empire (played once again by Ian McDirmid) is not as dead as was previously thought, but has been instead hiding in the far reaches of space constructing a new massive army (because apparently Sith retirement plans are limited). Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) wants to find them, because he believes it will give him the power to conquer the galaxy, whilst the galactic resistance want to destroy said army and hopefully Palpatine alongside it, and so our heroes Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Issac) go on a quest to do so. Along the way, battles are fought, new friends and allies are made, and personal revelations are revealed.
Okay, there’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s start on a technical level. The editing and pacing in this film is really choppy and confusing. Almost every single fight scene consists of close up shots that change every two seconds, and seem imbedded with so much shaky camerawork that you can barely make out what’s going on. And, unsurprisingly, the pacing is very much the same. The plot moves so fast in this movie, particularly in the first two acts, with the characters jumping from planet to planet, mission to mission, so quickly that you barely have any time to really absorb what is happening before something else is. New characters and ideas get introduced, but they get barely any screen time and, in some cases, get dropped altogether.
The Rise of Skywalker is an incoherent mess of feature film; an unimpressive and bewildering experience that frequently left me bored, confused, antagonised, and annoyed
On the whole, this weakens the emotional impact of the film, especially in terms of characterisation. Only a few of the several characters actually get developed and less get anything close to resembling an arc, meaning our ability to connect and/or empathise with them is lessened significantly. This is a core problem with the film, as its main tactic of getting you to feel anything close to an emotion is through nostalgia and sentiment for the franchise as a whole, instead of actually creating characters and story-lines in this sequel trilogy for us to feel for. The film feels equivalent to a Disney live-action adaptation of an animated classic, relying on your love for previous material instead of cultivating love for the new works. Honestly, the amount of fan service and call backs in this film is downright hilarious, and whilst some of it can be effective, a lot of it mostly falls flat.
And the new stuff that The Rise of Skywalker does offer makes me honestly wish it had just stuck with retreading all the story threads as it did before. Now, I can’t really get into what they are without going into full spoiler territory, but there are at least three big plot points that enraged me so much as to turn me away from the film completely. The first one (the big act 2 reveal) is mostly due to its lack of actual meaning and impact within the story and because it feels clearly done to pander to the fan base theorists who frankly deserve to be paid as little attention as possible, but the last two are downright problematic and really offensive if you spend even a modicum of time thinking about them. I won’t press on too much as the vagueness is getting confusing, but for those who have seen the film I heartily recommend reading this article on The Rise of Skywalker and abuse. It’s heavy stuff, but some of this film’s subject matter should seriously not go uncalled out.
Its main tactic of getting you to feel anything close to an emotion is through nostalgia and sentiment for the franchise as a whole, instead of actually creating characters and story-lines in this sequel trilogy for us to feel for
If I’m sounding unfairly harsh on this movie, it’s because it deserves it. But there are a few things to like here which it’s only fair to acknowledge. The acting, for one, is mostly really good. Driver and Ridley, in particular, get to shine, both together and separately, and whilst I may dislike the writing choices relating to their characters, I won’t deny they do their utmost to sell it convincingly. Probably my favourite scene in the film is between Kylo and ******* at the end of act 2, as the emotions and overall connective meta-theme of the trilogy feels best expressed there. It’s also a Star Wars movie, so the music and visuals are excellent as per usual, and there’s a good variety of contrasting locations and colour pallets in each of the places they go to. And whilst I wasn’t a big fan of the absolute scale of fan service and callbacks, there were a few that I enjoyed on their own, particularly the music scores and an element of backstory between Luke and Leia.
Listen, this is a Star Wars film, and my guess is that you already decided whether or not you’re going to see it the moment it was announced, if you haven’t already. And, I’ll admit, if you want to just go and watch the film with your friends for a good time it’s possible you may enjoy it, I certainly have friends who did. But for me, this film falls apart at barely a tap of scrutiny. It’s over convoluted with so much plot and yet so little impact, has way too much fan service to the point of it actively harming the plot of film, has little emotional resonance, and throws away any potential at having new interesting ideas or different directions in favour of hitting the same notes that this franchise always hits. Star Wars isn’t my favourite thing in the world, but even I’m let down by just how bad this saga has managed to end. And frankly, if in future the franchise keeps releasing films like this, I kind of wish it would.