Say what you will about Rian Johnson’s divisive Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but it carried an assurance of its message and a ballsiness about its execution that is completely absent in JJ Abrams’ Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. The Last Jedi, for every Canto Bight moment and Green Milk guzzle, was, at the very least, not respectful of Star Wars mythology and lore to the point of being afraid to build upon it or subvert it. In contrast, every scene and moment in The Rise of Skywalker is a shoddy medley that plucks scenes, images, sequences (often frame for frame or word for word) from the past eight films and blends them in such a disjointed array that one wonders what of the script is truly original. Though billed as a conclusion to the Skywalker saga, “conclusion” implies a logical end that organically builds upon the films or ideas that came before. The Rise of Skywalker fails to do even this and spends much of its time trying to appease and win back its greatest dissenters rather than remain committed to the course it has already charted. It is more than just an absence of imagination but a complete and utter failure of artistic integrity.
It is fitting for a Star Wars film to wrestle with identity given that every installment of the saga has featured a “Chosen One” type character feeling conflicted between embracing the light or dark side of the force. The Rise of Skywalker’s mission statement is three-fold in that it tries to retcon The Last Jedi, be a recapitulation of Return of the Jedi and cram every ounce of its 2 ½ hour runtime with callbacks to the films that preceded it. If the film was committed to do only one of those things, it would be problematic enough, but by attempting all three, none of the elements are properly balanced to form any sort of cohesive plot. I am fully convinced that halfway through filming the beginning part of the movie, JJ Abrams realized he was shooting verbatim from the Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order video game script, shrugged his shoulders and then continued to roll the cameras. The first third of the film focuses on the trio of heroes — Rey, Finn and Poe — looking for various artifacts which will lead them to certain people who will tell them something important (the true plot is about as vague and dull as that sentence). When there is an inkling of awareness that perhaps these “quests” are overstaying their welcome, the film switches gears to weaponizing nostalgia to such an extent that there is little time to process anything. The Emperor’s back! Lando’s back! There are Red Sith troopers, Star Destroyers and an ice planet not named Hoth. If the film focused on developing these elements more naturally instead of acting like a parent frantically checking off the ingredients for a dish they were already late preparing, then perhaps there would be more tonal balance.
Despite the convoluted story, the main cast thankfully leaves nothing to be desired, which is perhaps the highest compliment one can give to this film. The chemistry between Daisy Ridley’s Rey and Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is the most compelling dynamic to come out of the sequel trilogy, and their points of contention and attraction with each other reach their full climax here. While Ren wants to convert Rey to the dark side, Rey is striving to eliminate him at all costs which is at the very least, an interesting inverse of their personalities from films prior. The rest of the cast remains likeable, even if their transformation and character arcs are unwarranted given the previous two films. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) channels his inner Harrison Ford and becomes the cocky gunslinger imbued with heart he was always meant to be, while Finn (John Boyega) channels a gravitas that is welcome in a movie that is bereft of much drama or tension. Additionally, there are some great stills and shots that will make for excellent desktop backgrounds later.
Perhaps it is unfair of me to judge The Rise of Skywalker based on the other films, but that is exactly the lens that it wants to be seen through. It does not want to be seen with new eyes or open minds as its enjoyment is wholly contingent on how many callbacks to the other movies you can name. Rather than push the franchise forward while honoring what has come before, The Rise of Skywalker does a complete 180 and Holdo maneuvers all the way back. Compared to the other installments, this subdued, spineless and sloppy picture seems like it does not belong in the same league of films that preceded it but rather in a galaxy far, far away.
Zachary Lee is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.