A disappointing finale
Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker (2019): After Palpatine mysteriously returns, the Resistance faces the First Order once more in the final chapter of the Skywalker saga.
It’s hard to approach this film with any sort of objectivity. I, like countless others, was raised on Star Wars. One of my earliest movie memories was seeing my brother’s VHS copy of Episode IV (with a title scroll that did not feature “Episode IV” in it) and thinking it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. That childlike sense of innocence and wonder is integrally tied to Star Wars for countless fans, so it’s hard to look at the finale of the latest trilogy in the biggest franchise in movies with a critical take. Especially when you add in the divisiveness of the previous installment. However, I will do my best because that is what I’m here for, right? So, let’s talk about The Rise of Skywalker!
The Rise of Skywalker is the 9th installment in the Star Wars saga and 11th film in the Disney mega-franchise. The finale in a trilogy that began with Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, this installment sees director J.J. Abrams return to the helm after Rian Johnson led the groundbreaking and divisive 8th film, Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi. The film concludes the battle between the lowly Resistance and mighty First Order with the same cast of characters from the previous two films. From the opening scene, J.J. Abrams sets the tone for a frenetic and chaotic Episode IX, often to the film’s detriment. One of the many wonderful traits of many Star Wars films is its lush and beautiful planets the characters visit. However, because of the frantic pacing of Episode IX, you hardly ever get to take a breath and enjoy these worlds. It also doesn’t help that the primary world this film takes place on, the mysterious planet of Exegol, (which I had to look up to remember because, worst name ever) is a hideous, decrepit, and forgettable setting with nothing but distracting, seizure-inducing lighting that is some of the worst lighting I have ever seen in any film, let alone a Star Wars film. Seriously. I wish I knew what J.J. Abrams and co were thinking when they made this planet the crux of this film, because there are ways to promote the idea of a “sinister” planet without making your film unwatchable in the process. *Facepalm*
Ok, so the set design is *not great.* What about the story? It’s….. mediocre. Back in the hands of the crowd-pleasing Abrams, The Rise of Skywalker is completely devoid of any originality or creativity. It’s a carbon copy hero's journey, a bland and utterly predictable story that taps into your nostalgia veins from the first shot by making the puzzling decision to bring back the Emperor, making him the overarching villain of the entire trilogy in the process. (This is revealed in the opening title scroll, so don’t @ me with spoiler complaints.) Seriously, The Last Jedi left this trilogy in such a fascinating position, pinning a seemingly irredeemable Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and his mighty First Order against Rey (Daisy Ridley) and the decimated Resistance after a STUNNING battle on the gorgeous planet of Crait. (Ugh, The Last Jedi was SO good.) But, nope, J.J. Abrams has the unquenchable need to reintroduce a massive villain, because the worst thing about people can’t be other people, right?
In its attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator, The Rise of Skywalker takes no risks, a conscious decision made by Disney entirely out of fear of a toxic fanbase’s overreaction to something they don’t like and/or expect. Nowhere is this fear more prevalent than in The Rise of Skywalker’s abhorrent treatment of Rose Tico. After having a major role in The Last Jedi, actress Kelly Marie Tran found herself at the epicenter of a toxic fanbase of neckbeards, honing in on her for all the issues they saw with Episode VIII almost entirely because she was an Asian woman. The abuse leveled at Tran was despicable, and Disney’s decision to cut her out of The Rise of Skywalker almost entirely was equally as such. No, introducing a black woman in Jannah (Naomi Ackie) does not make it better, guys. Rose has around 5 lines in this entire film as she is cast aside by Disney out of fear of enraging the neckbeards again. (Man, The Last Jedi was great….)
That said, it’s not all bad. This is still a superficially fun film. There are lightsabers, plenty of space and ground battles, the final action sequence is enjoyable (even if its set design is terrible) and it’s still Star Wars. On my second viewing I turned my brain off and approached this film as a popcorn flick, similar to a Fast and Furious film, and had way more fun than I did the first time around. The core cast is still wonderful, with characters like Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) receiving plenty of aesthetically pleasing screen time. The dynamic between Kylo Ren and Rey is still intriguing, even if it is butchered, (especially at the end, my GOD did I hate the conclusion of their arc) but that is thanks largely to where Rian Johnson left their storyline at the end of Episode VIII. Also, newcommer villain General Pryde (Richard E. Grant) is fun and gleefully sinister, as Grant basically rolls out of bed, puts on his best Grand Moff Tarkin (villain from A New Hope) impression, and screen chews to the bitter end in this unnecessary but welcomed role. I do wish he had been the main general in this franchise over General Hux, (Domhnall Gleeson) because Hux has had hilariously little to do since The Force Awakens. Also, veteran Billy Dee Williams reprises his role of Lando to a merrily nostalgic effect. Who doesn’t love a charismatic laugh from the 82 year old actor? The dude’s still got it! And, the score! It's great! Composer John Williams returns for one more Star Wars score and fully leans into the nostalgia of the franchise this time around, rehashing many of the iconic themes this saga has to offer in what may be the legendary composer’s final film score. (John Williams is 87, after all.) This is one department where I have no quarrel with leaning into the nostalgia alllllll day.
What else is there to say about The Rise of Skywalker? As you’ve probably gathered, (and can see firsthand in my previous review) I adored The Last Jedi and its courageous effort to upend the status quo. I think if you enjoyed Episode VIII, you are going to have an opinion similar to mine on Episode IX. If you hated the previous installment, you’ll probably enjoy this film a lot more. I can’t help but go back to Disney’s puzzling decision to have two (and initially three, before nixing poor Colin Trevorrow in favor of Abrams return after the response to The Last Jedi) different auteurs helm this trilogy. George Lucas may have had no idea how to direct actors, or pen a script, but at least he had a consistent vision that he was able to execute virtually uninterrupted (or in a heavy advisory role re: The Empire Strikes Back) in the previous two trilogies. Here, the visions of Abrams and Johnson ultimately clash and conflict, creating a disjointed and disorganized final product. But, at the end of the day, it is still Star Wars, and Star Wars is, at its core, a space opera between the forces of good and evil and the ability to make millions off of merchandising rights. If you go into this film looking for an entertaining sci-fi battle between good and evil, there may be enough here for you to have a good time. For those of us (like me) hoping for Star Wars to set the bar for the best big budget Hollywood has to offer? Prepare to be disappointed in what may be the worst installment to this entire saga outside of The Phantom Menace.
My Number: 5/10
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