Ghosts have haunted the newest and reportedly last trilogy in the Skywalker Saga since 2015. If it wasn’t the specter of the stories that came before The Force Awakens, it was the ever present pressure of fan expectation, or the approval of George Lucas and the execs at Disney. J.J. Abrams did what he could, making arguably the safest Star Wars film in the series. Rian Johnson doubled down two years later by taking his story in new directions and new heights with The Last Jedi. Now, the trilogy, and the Skywalker saga as a whole, ends with the ninth episode, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and this is perhaps the most haunted of all the movies in the franchise, numbered or otherwise.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker not only exerts Abrams gift of rehashing tired plots and concepts to new levels, it does so while struggling with decent story elements that are trying to shine under the murkiness of all that “nostalgia.” The byproduct of this is a Frankenstein mishmash of a film that unabashedly contradicts itself and all that came before, insults longtime fans and followers, and completely trashes the many good and interesting aspects set forth in the first two films of this trilogy.
At this point, I find myself conflicted, needing very much to go into a scene-by-scene and plot-by-plot dissection of The Rise of Skywalker to highlight the glaring flaws, but in doing so, this review would slip so far into spoiler territory, that I would have to pay Disney a fee for dissemination. So, unlike J.J. Abrams, I’ll try to use subtlety to make my argument.
Rey (Daisy Ridley) is back, training to be a Jedi under her new master, Leia (Carrie Fisher). Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) are off conducting Resistance missions on the Millennium Falcon, and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is consolidating his power as the new Supreme Leader of the First Order, now with the guidance of a very much alive Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). Why is he alive? It’s never explained. But don’t worry, this is a theme of The Rise of Skywalker, so don’t bother asking any questions.
Our heroes go off on multiple chases looking for artifacts that can help them find the Emperor, who is hiding out in the Unknown Regions dropping galaxy-spanning podcasts (The Dead Speak! now on the Apple Store), according to the opening crawl. This MacGuffin hunt gives Abrams a chance to revisit pretty much every location in the greater Star Wars saga, or introduce new planets and locations with zero context — and some without names. It’s just “red planet” and “green planet” and “blue planet” and, of course, the heroes go to yet another desert planet. Somewhere, George Lucas wets his fingers as he counts his money, and long time Star Wars fans are left to suffer.
The Rise of Skywalker does finally get around to answering the (non) question fans have had since The Force Awakens, and the answer is so ridiculous that it was insulting. And just when you think it can’t get worse, the ghosts show up. This film is lousy with ghosts, not the metaphorical ones discussed earlier, I’m talking the spooky ethereal type; the remnants of people long dead.
To make matters worse, the tired “ghost” storytelling technique is used as the driving force of this narrative. Ghosts push the characters to make decisions, and to reach the outcomes needed for this story to end. This device has been used in at least five of the nine films that make up the saga, and frankly, it’s played out.
The script by Abrams and Chris Terrio, the writer of the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League films, piles silly notion onto silly notion as it builds to a climax that leaves fans empty and without any kind of closure. And Abrams just can’t help himself in rehashing more scenes from the previous films. It was understandable in The Force Awakens, but after Rian Johnson flipped the script on how a Star Wars story could be told, going back to this style of shameless fanbase coddling is perplexing.
There is some good in The Rise of Skywalker. The action scenes — and the film as a whole — look great and there’s some pretty iconic imagery in use. It was also nice to hear Ian McDiarmid spew lines as Palpatine again, and Anthony Daniels gets to really shine — literally and figuratively — as C-3PO. I’ve not loved Threepio this much since the original trilogy. There was even a fun cameo by a 42-year-long Star Wars mainstay.
The camaraderie that has developed between the new cast, especially between Isaac’s Poe and Boyega’s Finn, exceeds any other relationship in the nine-part saga. Poe has evolved from the hothead pilot we met two movies ago, and he slides into the action hero role well.
The banter and constant ribbing between Poe and Finn shows how far Finn has come as a character, driven mostly by his much-maligned arch in The Last Jedi. Ridley’s Rey truly comes into her own here, as the crux of the plot falls on her shoulders and she does what she can with the material. And Adam Driver absolutely burns as Kylo Ren, the most conflicted man in the galaxy. I just wish the script had been worthy of this stellar cast and their spectacular performances.
I could go on and on about what is wrong with this movie, but it doesn’t matter. This is Star Wars. Fans will both love and hate it and Disney will make another billion dollars. In a few years time, a new Star Wars film or trilogy will premiere, and a new generation of filmmakers will try to right the ship — again.
For a film that was supposed to end the Skywalker Saga, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker fails in almost every way, story-wise. I would even argue that the subtitle is a misnomer. The Skywalkers rose decades ago, and now, maybe those ghosts, and this saga, can finally be put to rest for good.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is rated PG-13 and is in theaters on December 20.
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