With The Rise of Skywalker, J.J. Abrams returns to the Star Wars franchise for one last hurrah, rallying characters old and new and attempting to conclude the Skywalker saga in satisfying fashion. Unfortunately, ‘satisfying’ isn’t in fashion, because the last installment in this 42-year-old story flounders when it should fly, sinks when it should swim, and fumbles at the finish.
Middling at best and nearly unwatchable at worst, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker perfunctorily closes out a trilogy largely characterized by dueling visions and apologetic creative choices. Gone is the confidence of The Force Awakens. Gone are the boundary-pushing themes of The Last Jedi. What we’re left with is a shell of a story, a carapace that, when cracked open, smells as fetid and familiar as Palpatine’s halitosis. Character deaths play second banana to the movie’s need for closure. But the closure never comes because the film doesn’t live its moments. There is so much that’s brushed off or hurried through that it’s difficult to enjoy anything about what Abrams and company have thrown together. It moves past its pivotal moments without ever seeming to revel in or enjoy its distinction as the final Skywalker film. It squanders its potential and never quite resonates emotionally.
The film’s zippy pace and zappy action often work against it, especially during that final, vital Exogol sequence. A frenetic space battle and…electrifying confrontation between Jedi and Sith feel as if Abrams wanted fans to have their cake and eat it, too. That would’ve been fine if he hadn’t fucked up the cake.
For those who want to blame The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson for this film’s shortcomings, let’s explore that. Johnson didn’t force Abrams into a narrative corner. He offered up an opportunity for his successor to bring new life, new energy, and new ideas to a trilogy that reeks of corporate homogeneity. That short period where viewers believed that their plucky protagonist was “Rey Random” rather than “Rey…You’ll See,” was as fresh as that sea-salty Ahch-To air. But now, the saga has pivoted. It fights so hard to restore faith in the franchise that it communicates a distrust in its concepts and its characters, a distrust that becomes its undoing. And this perceived need to course correct stems from an “Oh my GOD, Johnson! The fuck did you do?” reaction to the previous film.
The Kylo/Rey dynamic serves as the film’s conceptual centerpiece and stands as the strongest aspect of the script. The tension between them has been evident for years, and it’s nice to see Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio give the relationship ample time to develop further. A large chunk of the film focuses on the two and how their Force connection defines their complicated “kinship,” but everything, even the music accompanying their best moments, evokes completely different emotions than what Abrams undoubtedly intended.
Poe, Finn, Chewbacca, and company make for fun supporting characters but ultimately buckle under the weight of a busy narrative. Abrams doesn’t equip them with the tools they need to perform well, and it shows. Sure, Abrams crushed The Force Awakens. Introduced us to interesting new faces and did a bang-up job making viewers care for them. And yes, there are fleeting moments here where inspired storytelling trumps hackneyed writing (lookin’ at you, fantastic desert chase sequence). But when examining the product as a dysfunctional whole, it’s impossible to ignore its lifelessness. And that is a damn shame.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker fails on nearly every level and solidifies itself as one of the franchise’s most frustrating entries. Abrams botches the direction by attempting to do right by fans rather than tell them a good story.
A hard no in just about every way.