WARNING: This is a full review of the movie. As I did with The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, I will start things off with a short section that talks in very general terms about my feelings regarding The Rise of Skywalker and I will avoid writing any spoilers. The second half of the review, clearly marked with a picture of Mark Hamill gazing heroically into the distance, will include a more detailed analysis of the film, spoilers and all.
THE DIET SODA REVIEW (ZERO SPOILERS!):
I’ve been looking forward to this movie with some trepidation. After I had heaped enormous expectations on Last Jedi, I had been inevitably disappointed with it. My opinion of that movie remains largely the same: I respect it for what it tried to do and enjoyed it as a fresh Star Wars experience, but the inexpert storytelling makes it hard for me to recommend it to anyone. But when I was writing my review of it I realized I had built up a lot of expectations for the movie ahead of time and perhaps that wasn’t fair. I resolved not to do the same for this movie and that strategy I believe paid off.
Because this movie is in an impossible position.
Not only is it trying to wrap up the storylines of episodes VII and VIII, it’s also trying to serve as the capstone to the entire Skywalker Saga. No small task. Some leeway should be granted here if they don’t quite get it right. With such a huge burden on its shoulders, it seems like the best this film could hope for would be to “not suck.”
And I think it’s safe to say it doesn’t suck. I think it’s fair also to claim that it underdelivers on concluding every plotline satisfactorily. That’s because that would have been impossible in a 2 hour 22 minute movie. You’d have needed at least 3 hours to give good weight and expoisition to everything.
But weight and exposition is not what Star Wars does well. It does just a little bit of brooding and a tidbit or two of backstory or explanatory techno-jargon or whatever and then we’re off to the next chase, the next fight, the next confrontation. This film does just enough at each plot point to fill us in on what we need to know and then it’s off to the races once more. Obviously, this results in a movie that is almost breathless in its pace, which is both a good and a bad thing. Because while I appreciated the efficient storytelling, I was also a bit bored by it, quite frankly. However, this stems mainly from the lack of care that I have for these characters and less so from the story structure. I’ll explain more below, but the trio of Rey and Finn and Poe never really came together for me like Han and Luke and Leia.
They’re like the cover band that just kind of tries too hard.
This isn’t to say they weren’t enjoyable to watch, it’s just that I wasn’t invested in them. They all had something to do and they were at last doing things together (unbelievably, for the first time in the series) but I just didn’t really buy into their chemistry. It might simply have been because there wasn’t any or it might be because the series never quite let go of it’s original trio. Perhaps a bit of both.
Regardless, I enjoyed this film, not just as a Star Wars flick, but also as a complete movie. I found a couple of surprise revelations, plot points that had been murky before were cleared up and there was the requisite blaster fights/light saber duels/space ship battles. All fun and satisfying, if perhaps straying a bit too far into the unbelievable at times.
But most importantly, by the end of the film, I felt like it had succeeded in becoming a capable capstone on the entire saga. The major mysteries had been revealed. The major characters have answers to their deepest questions – well, the force-wielding ones anyway. The galaxy feels irrevocably changed by the momentous events just concluded.
I don’t think it’s the movie that any of us was really hoping for, but it is the movie that adequately eulogizes the franchise. You have to remember, Star Wars was never meant to be an epic series. It was always meant to be a revisit of the classic cliffhanger short films writ large onto scripts borrowing heavily from Kurosawa. They’re space westerns, samurai sci-fi, not some Tolkien-esque chronicle set amongst the stars. But, the problem is, we loved them too much. We wanted them to be so very much more than lightsaber duels and exploding space ships and funny droids. In fact, we insisted on it. And in so doing we set up our own disappointment.
So, go and see it but you’d do well to keep in mind that it’s just Star Wars, not Lawrence of Arabia.
Luke of Tatooine.
THE ROOT BEER FLOAT REVIEW (BRIMMING WITH HEAPING SCOOPS OF CREAMY SPOILERS)
And that’s a good thing, because one of the key things that made Lawrence of Arabia great was that we all loved Lawrence. He was ill-suited to his uniform and didn’t quite fit in with his fellow officers and perhaps was a bit mad. He was all the things we all feel every day we’re alive, especially when he was occasionally brilliant.
But although I’ve tried I cannot name a single character in these latest three films I give a solid piece of excrement about. Not one. The two most powerful ones come to mind first, Rey and Kylo. Kylo, I guess, came closest for me, but probably more due to Adam Driver’s performance than any real appeal of his character. I could have stood to watch a trilogy about how Kylo goes on a journey from light to dark and back to light again, exploring the eternal battle between Jedi and Sith, but that wasn’t what we got (not in the main, anyway). We pretty much just got Darth Vader 2.0, but Driver delivered it well enough to keep me from rolling my eyes.
Rey was also somewhat compelling, but mostly because she was an enigma. Once that enigma was unraveled, she was Luke Skywalker 2.0. Daisy Ridley did an okay job of acting, I guess, but she spent more time running and jumping from place to place in this movie than actually emoting. I don’t know what I wanted from her, to be honest, but when she found out she was a Palpatine, instead of taking even a single second to look into family history to find out more about her parents, she just decides to go kill the not-quite-dead-yet-feeling-much-better Emperor.
And why were her parents killed? If they were the only ones who knew where Rey was, why kill them? That made no sense to me and it should have made no sense to Rey.
Disappointing. Certainly a betrayal of her character. However, it wasn’t surprising. This movie needed to keep moving, so if her eventual decision would have been to destroy the Emperor anyway (like, for real this time!) then Abrams and company obviously felt they could ignore any curiosity she might have had about her parentage.
And basically that became the axis that the entire movie, as well as the entire series, turned on. The resolution of the saga became the resolution of a Palpatine v Skywalker generational conflict. Honestly, I don’t think that’s a bad way to go. The only problem is that wasn’t the way the conflict had been painted in the Last Jedi. In that movie, we were very definitely supposed to believe it was a conflict between haves and have-nots and Rey was the daughter of nobodies. If we had been given more of a Palpatine v Skywalker set-up in Last Jedi, then maybe Rise of Skywalker would have been in a better position to finish gracefully instead of rushing everything.
Because everything was very rushed. Poe, Finn, BB-8, Threepio and R2 were all shuffled around the screen so fast I could barely understand what they were saying, much less afford a moment to care. Were we supposed to care about Poe and Finn? Did their own internal struggles in the past two movies (Poe with hubris, Finn with self-doubt) mean anything? Oh well, too late. And what about Rose? She was shown as the embodiment of the backbone of the resistance in Last Jedi, the everywoman. Was I supposed to care about her? Because she had about as much screen time as your average turbo laser in Rise of Skywalker.
Don’t tell me Abrams and Johnson are cool with each other’s movies, because if you watch the films you can see they are very fucking obviously not.
But although I have my problems with it, I liked the movie. Although the pacing was too fast, it at least was consistent. The structure of the story progressed in a largely logical manner and the resolution of the movie’s main conflict (Palpatine v Skywalker) was a nice way to end the main conflict of the entire series (Jedi v Sith).
I also appreciated the send-off for Leia. It didn’t look to me that they needed to do too much CGI, if any at all – aside from the flashback scene, obviously. She died redeeming Ben Solo, which was one of the ways I wished for her to go out. And then, because he died in the end, one could argue that she ends up losing everything for the sake of her rebellion, a touchingly tragic note for her life to end on, which was also something that I wished for. And it was nice to see Harrison Ford come back to shoulder some screen time to help complete the redemption arc for Ben/Kylo so that they wouldn’t have to have CGI Leia do it. I appreciated that and it gave me the warm and fuzzies.
RIP Carrie Fischer. We miss you.
The movie also fills in some missing information from the last two movies, albeit in very broad strokes. We are given to understand that Palpatine “made” Snoke and the First Order as some sort of preparation for the day his granddaughter ascends to the Imperial Throne. Now, what makes this foreseen eventuality any more legit than the other he also foresaw (Luke killing Vader to become his new apprentice) we don’t know. Maybe he assumed they would both happen, since one doesn’t preclude the other, but after Vader threw him off (down?) the Death Star you have to think he must have started questioning his own foresight, right?
Anyway, we at least got some sort reason for the First Order’s being, so that was nice.
The climax of the movie was good, but like with the rest of the film, not as good as it could have been:
Kylo battles the Knights of Ren. Cool! Wait, who are they?
Rey kills Palpatine, which was exactly what he wanted, but somehow doesn’t become a Sith, because some sort of ritual hadn’t been performed? Really? That seemed plot-convenient, although you could argue the Emperor kills himself in his rage. I guess that’s fine, but that whole scene needed more. Who were all those people in robes? Sith? Real Sith or dead Sith? Who were the Sith? Were they ever a race of actual beings or just a name given to Dark Side types? I know what Star Wars canon says, I’m just saying the movie gives us way too little, but I mostly blame the prequels for not filling us in more about the Sith.
Frogs? Were they frog people? Ducks? What about a cross between a frog and a duck?
But back to the film at hand… Everyone in the galaxy shows up at the critical moment with a spaceship to fight the First Order fleet, which was a nice “hey everyone does actually care about fighting tyranny” moment but then the fight lasts all of seconds. Really? For a series-ending space battle this was some weak sauce.
And at the end we are given to understand that the galaxy is saved! Again. “Everyone in the galaxy is rising up” says Poe. They weren’t before? I’m sorry. Wasn’t there a reborn Republic after the fall of the Empire? Did we not hear that in Force Awakens? What have they been doing this whole time?
Finn leads a desperate ground battle to destroy a strategically important target, which was okay, I guess. Although, it seemed kind of unnecessary once the big fleet arrives. You also got the obligatory shot of a charging herd of animals, which seems required of all Disney movies.
If any of this is sounding familiar, it’s because it’s basically the plot of Return of the Jedi, but you kind of expected that going in, didn’t you?
And now I’m sounding like I didn’t like it again. Sorry. I watched this movie while suffering from a chest cold. Made me a little irritable. Also, I wasn’t thrilled with the size of the theater’s screen. Add on top of that a kid a couple rows back from me who wouldn’t shut the fuck up and it sort of spoiled my mood. So, take all of that together and I still walked out of there saying “yeah, that was all right I guess” and I take that to mean I liked it.
I kind of want to end this with my own eulogy for the Skywalker Saga but I’m not interested in saying anything too grand. I think the general motif of choosing your own identity is essential even if it’s hard when dealing with family and expectations is a very fine thing to portray in a space opera. It’s not terribly complicated, but it is a life lesson most people have to grapple with every day. So, there. That’s my Star Wars eulogy.
I’m looking forward to seeing it again, but probably not until it hits Disney+. You should go see it in the theater if you haven’t already. Just make sure you bring your anti-brat spray and maybe a decongestant or two.