Star Wars Rise of Skywalker review Daisy Ridley Oscar Isaac

Year: 2019
Director(s): J.J. Abrams
Writer(s): Chris Terrio, J.J. Abrams
Region of Origin: USA
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: PG-13
Color, 131 mins

Synopsis: The surviving Resistance faces the First Order once more in the final chapter of the Skywalker saga. (Source)

I’m not sure if I could say that Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the worst Star Wars film, but it’s certainly the most creatively and morally bankrupt. At a time when fandoms are at their most toxic and vocal, this final Skywalker chapter bends over backwards in order to undo the series’ most controversial yet progressive advancements. At its heart, Lucas himself had always been about expanding the universe. If he failed, it was a sincere failure that was trying something new. Now, at the series’ crossroads, J.J. Abrams and team have decided to rely on nostalgia as a warm blanket. It’s slap to the face of what Rian Johnson worked so hard to built up on The Last Jedi, resulting on something that feels like it was created by an algorithm. It’s overstuffed, ugly and frivolous – the work of someone copying someone else’s test, without even base level knowledge of what makes the answers work. 

The long and short of it is, The First Order and the Rebellion are at a make-or-break moment. Rey (Daisy Ridley) is finishing her Jedi training with General Leia (Carrie Fisher). Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) are busy tracking down a Rebellion sympathizer within The First Order. When new information comes about, Rey, Poe and Finn reunite to find an object that could lead them to big bad, Emperor Palpatine. As it turns out, he’s been inexplicably alive and pulling the strings since the end of the original trilogy. Palpatine has some competition, however. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) also looking to destroying him because he wants to become the galaxy’s true Supreme Leader. This all sends Rey and Kylo on a collision course, once and for all learning about their unique bond while attempting to bring balance back to the universe. 

Star Wars Rise of Skywalker review Daisy Ridley Adam Driver

The film’s fundamental issues aren’t hard to spot. At base level, there’s a genuine distrust or lack of confidence in the material, probably because these characters have been stripped of anything resembling growth. They are, in this final installment reduced to avatars. They jet-set from one indistinguishable planet to another, on fetch quests that hold no real bearing to what their stories have lead up to. On every level, the artistic choices made here are a direct reflection of vocal fans’ dislikes from TLJ. It all ends up walking each character back in ways that are horrifyingly regressive. Make no mistake, this is pure noise and flashing lights. The action is joyless because it’s chopped and edited to pieces, and the pace is so fast, there’s no consequence. Each scene has to be cut off prematurely so that the story can move on, and major moments of manipulative emotion are resolved in the next scene. In a film where impermanence (and literally undoing death) are the only through line, the stakes are flat and the emotion is shallow. 

In terms of performances, everyone is fine, but they really have nothing to do except run around and scream at everything. I personally loved how each of these characters had to learn from failure in TLJ, but when this film begins, everyone seems to have forgotten where they’ve come from. Rey shows some growth, but has no agency. She succumbs to the whims of over plotting, which force Daisy Ridley to just “react” without real context. Oscar Isaac’s Poe is the worst off. He’s reduced to a flaming meathead who would rather shoot first. Isaac needs a grounding, and without it, his character comes off as a jerk. John Boyega’s Finn literally has no story here. He’s just on a ride-along with the crew, never really contributing. It’s a shame because Boyega is so charismatic when not rendered useless. Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is the only one who comes out unscathed here. It still feels like they botched his ending, but he’s the only character in this series with any real inner struggle. Driver acts the hell out of his Kylo, the only character to feel meaningful. On a more somber note, it’s commendable to see the late Carrie Fisher be so integral, but as they were obviously working with limited resources, her scenes just don’t work.

Star Wars Rise of Skywalker review Kelly Marie Tran

If we’re going to talk about one of the film’s most unforgivable sins, it has to be the erasure of Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico. Arguably the heart and soul of TLJ, here she is literally a background character spouting meaningless jargon. As the series’ first WOC lead, her character, and spunky, vibrant Marie Tran (who withstood vile trolling post TLJ) deserved better. This decision is so baffling, taking a character like hers and shoving her to the back, when she was so obviously primed for more. In essence, the angry nerds won, and the series’ final installment is impossible to take seriously because of it. 

On every level, the film feels like a betrayal. TLJ still feels like the more appropriate ending. This film is an effort to appease a vocal minority clamoring for the franchise’s most regressive traits. It’s also the product of filmmakers unwilling to let the franchise grow, and an audience who doesn’t want it to. If this is the best that we want from a once shining beacon of hope, or a series that could literally reach for the stars, then what’s the point? Even as someone who has been drawn to the series on a lesser level than most, I can understand how this chapter fundamental misunderstands where the series has come from. All of the visual callbacks or over reliance on nostalgia have no meaning here. It all culminates in a final shot that recalls one of the series’ most beautiful moments. When you see it here, it feels cheap and crass, the product of someone who understands that it looks beautiful, but can’t fathom why it did or why it mattered.