Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Movie Review
It’s hard to conclude a trilogy—let alone a nine-film arc—when there wasn’t a singular vision for the story from the onset. Just focusing on the newest trilogy, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the jumbled mess that it is, makes it clear that Lucasfilm and Disney didn’t really have their three films outlined to an adequate degree upfront.
J.J. Abrams, who returns to direct after passing the reigns to Rian Johnson for the divisive The Last Jedi, delivers a rushed, choppy conclusion that will nonetheless satisfy mainstream fans. For all its faults, it’s a fast-paced, entertaining race to wrap up the story of Rey, Finn, and Leia.
The Rise of Skywalker’s failures are in part the result of the preceding films, including Abrams’ own The Force Awakens. In that movie, which was an understandably safe return to a galaxy far, far away, Abrams introduced a lot of good elements—a new set of likeable characters, Kylo Ren and the Knights of Ren (why weren’t they the main villains of the trilogy?), and a mysterious Sith master named Snoke—but also shot himself in the foot by establishing a world, a generation after The Return of the Jedi saw the Empire fall, where nothing really had changed. The Empire is now called The First Order. They have what is essentially a Death Star. The rebels are still, essentially, rebels.
Johnson’s The Last Jedi decided to veer in another direction, killing Snoke halfway through, decimating the rebels, and killing off Luke Skywalker, the character many Star Wars fans had been waiting decades to see back on the big screen. Johnson did a lot of things right, but in hindsight Disney gave him too much of a long leash—the story didn’t help build momentum toward an epic conclusion in Episode IX; arguably, it wasn’t even clear what the trilogy was building toward.
Enter The Rise of Skywalker.
Abrams spends much of the first half of the movie working to “correct” what occurred in the previous movie. It is obvious he had little interest in making a sequel to The Last Jedi—Abrams rushes from one scene to the next to erase or overwrite the decisions Johnson made, sometimes in offensive manner. The result is a chaotic experience, one in which it feels as if every scene was edited down to the nubbins just to maintain a reasonable runtime. Abrams, essentially, tries to cram two movies into one and it shows.
The big reveal of The Rise of Skywalker, which is in the trailers (SPOILER), is the unexplained return of Emperor Palpatine. His sudden reemergence, along with his devious, eye-rolling plot, seems to exist simply because Snoke was killed off in the last one; I would be stunned if, way back when Disney was plotting out the return of Star Wars, that Palpatine was even considered as a villain.
Regardless, suddenly dropping Palpatine into the mix isn’t very inspiring, and also brings back the criticism that this new trilogy is just rehashing the originals. Shame on Abrams for going this route.
All that said, The Rise of Skywalker isn’t without spectacle. The final third of the movie, once Abrams has finally settled into a rhythm, is fairly exciting to watch—it should more than satisfy fans looking for thrilling space battle and lightsaber fights. And as hackneyed as the rest of the movie is, its fast pace helps gloss over many of its holes enough to be consistently entertaining.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has a lot of problems, and it’s a real bummer that Abrams and Disney couldn’t come up with a more compelling final act for this storied franchise. It still boasts plenty of action and excitement that should win over less critical fans (do non-critical Star Wars fans exist, though?). Sadly, in the same year Disney brought home a 20+ movie arc in Avengers: Endgame in such convincing fashion, it’s extremely disappointing they weren’t able to do the same with what should have been a much simpler story.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.