Premise: The surviving Resistance faces the First Order once more in the final chapter of the Skywalker saga.
In The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren tells Rey “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to.” The line, along with many other plot developments, was read as director Rian Johnson’s overt message to fans to let go of any preconceived notions of what a Star Wars movie should be. It was a bold move, considering fans have done nothing but look to the original films, hoping to reclaim the glory and joy that they felt when Star Wars was at its peak.
Johnson may have upset the natural balance of the Star Wars universe, but J.J. Abrams – who directed The Force Awakens, the first of Disney’s post-Lucasfilm-takeover trilogy – aims to reset that balance, for better and worse, with The Rise of Skywalker. Yes, Abrams had a Star Destroyer-sized task in front of him, in that he had to not only wrap up a highly-anticipated trilogy, give each character enough screen and plot time, and include enough Star Wars lore to keep the diehard fans interested (not to mention he had to make an entertaining movie, of course). And, yes, Abrams does succeed in some respects with this entry.
I do want to clarify that this is not a completely unredeemable film, on par with much of the prequel trilogy. There are some character moments that work, specifically between Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and the action set pieces and visuals are top notch, as always. Both Ridley and Driver exceed expectations in their roles, along with Oscar Isaac and John Boyega. However, Kelly Marie Tran, who was one of the better new additions from The Last Jedi, feels stuck in a kind of purgatory for much of the film, with very little to do. Tran is most likely sidelined so much because Abrams has thrown so many balls into the air with this film that he’s not able to catch them all, and some balls seem to have been thrown, only to never come down at all.
J.J. Abrams was able to channel the spirit of the original 1977 Star Wars with The Force Awakens, while still telling a new story with new characters for a new generation. Sure, there were call-backs to previous films, but those call-backs were to films that were over 30 years old at the time, as opposed to the 2 years since The Last Jedi. After the behind the scenes drama finding a director for this film after Colin Trevorrow left – something that seems to be a common thread on most of Disney’s Star Wars projects – Abrams was called back to finish what he started. But whereas he has had great success with franchise reboots or subversions (like Star Trek or Super 8), he’s had less chances to prove himself with follow-ups.
One aspect that Abrams and Disney sadly could not control was the untimely passing of Carrie Fisher in 2016. Since Leia was left alive at the end of Last Jedi, the writers (Abrams and Chris Terrio) were backed into a corner and forced to come up with a satisfying conclusion to her arc, without resulting to killing her off-screen. What they came up with as a result is one of the bright spots of the film. Since she passed away before filming had even begun, everything her character does and says is stitched together from discarded recordings, or computer-generated, a la Peter Cushing in Rogue One. I myself hadn’t realized this until after the film was over; that’s how great the technology has become. (Now if only Disney could work the same magic on its talking lions).
The Rise of Skywalker is so chock full of momentum that it hardly gives us a chance to catch our collective breath and ruminate on what’s at stake. The pace is unrelenting, even for a film with such a simple plot. Without spoiling anything, the story largely concerns a search for a MacGuffin that will help the Rebellion put a stop to the First Order, and a resurrected character from long ago. This is a film that references moments, characters, and Reddit-sourced complaints from almost every previous Star Wars film at every opportunity. Again, some work, and some feel like desperate studio notes from Disney executives. Fan service isn’t necessarily always a bad thing; just look at how well it worked for Avengers: Endgame (another Disney property that Rise of Skywalker borrows from entirely too often, including an iconic line near the end!). Abrams seems to have become too preoccupied with paraphrasing previous films that he forgot to say something new himself. Which isn’t to say that every Star Wars film has to have a profound message at its core; it can be just as fun to watch your friends zip around space, fighting the forces of evil. But, unfortunately, the most innovative aspect that Abrams has brought to his entries in the Skywalker saga can be boiled down to this: flying stormtroopers.
It’s difficult to talk about any Star Wars film critically without coming off as a total crank. For every moviegoer that hates The Rise of Skywalker, there’s bound to be an equal amount that loves it. And I will never, ever begrudge someone for loving this movie. They are probably the ones that Abrams and his corporate overlords have catered to. But maybe Disney & Co. should have worried less about satisfying Star Wars fans and more about satisfying movie fans.
FINAL TAKE: Look, I’m no betting man but if I had to, I would put money on another Rey film. I don’t know how long it will take, or who would play her, but this is Disney we’re talking about here. No IP ever stays dead, especially not from them.
About the Writer: Ben Sears is a lifetime Indianapolis resident, husband, and father of two boys, as well as a contributing writer on ObsessiveViewer.com. Aside from watching movies and television, Ben enjoys photography (bensearsphotography.com) and running marathons, but never at the same time. That would be difficult.