Let’s all just be honest – it should have been titled “The Rise of Fan Service” and I like fan service as much as anyone. I also like to eat the corner piece of a cake with the extra frosting but sometimes you can have too much frosting… but I digress.
I was hesitant to sit down and even try to write out my thoughts on this film if only because of a discouraging text exchange that I recently had with a longtime “Star Wars” friend (i.e. the guy who I drove two hours with to see the “Episode 1” trailer, the same guy who saved a spot in line for me all day for that film, etc.). I confessed that I was ‘moderate’ on “The Last Jedi,” pointing out what I saw as some high highs. Yes, I thought that Snoke was a joke and was fine with his quick dispatching; I’ve said in the past that I really liked the tack-on scene with the kid in the stable and what it seemed to imply. Unfortunately it had its low lows too, like Luke being a downer/mostly depressing, the weird slow-speed chase at the center of the film being a fundamental problem.
My friend was dumbfounded that I found ANY redeeming value in “The Last Jedi.” I might as well have walked around with a “Make America Great” hat on a rainy afternoon in downtown Seattle and gotten a better reception.
This exchange did serve to remind me (apparently, I did need a reminder?!) of how uncomfortable and, frankly, toxic a split had seemingly emerged in “Star Wars” fandom a couple of years ago. I figured that this new film would just stir that anger up again and was mostly right, although less people seemed to even care this time.
It had been reassuring that “The Mandalorian” had seemingly come out of nowhere to appease fans and bring some sort of unity back to fandom. Yeah, no one is saying that that show is a masterpiece but it helped. In the meantime, we had to get over this hump called “Episode 9.” How sad was it that this film seemed like little more than an obligation?
Anyway, with that context in mind… I had to jot down something if only for my own personal therapy and trying to make sense of my place in the continued realm of “Star Wars” fandom. I felt like being a part of this fandom was a life’s work and not an easy occupation at that.
Maybe the worst thing that one could say about “The Rise of Skywalker” was that, like “The Force Awakens,” it was a forgettable film. And how the heck can the supposed ‘final’ film of a trilogy of trilogies not be memorable?
Say what you might about “The Last Jedi,” referring to it as ‘forgettable’ isn’t a description that comes to mind. As I said above, it had higher highs than “The Force Awakens” but it also had frustrating missteps in the chances that it took. Much like with “The Phantom Menace,” one wished that they could take a scissors or make a tweak to this or that little thing and arrived at something that was more consistently satisfactory.
There had continued to be a perception that Rian Johnson was some sort of ‘rogue agent’ who snuck a film past everyone in charge, much like one kid kicking over everyone else’s Lego creations and then getting away with it.
In reality, it was quite certain that the power brokers at Lucasfilm and Disney allowed Rian to make his film his way, likely in some response to the reaction to “The Force Awakens” being perhaps too bland and too much of a retread film. Of course, be careful what you ask for, as that film was in some ways too much of an overcorrection and now “The Rise of Skywalker” again followed that overcorrection trend.
The tease that the film’s central ‘big bad guy’ would be the ambiguously-resurrected Palpatine was well-known from past previews and fan events, so I was thankful that he appeared in what amounted to be the opening of the film. Sure, it was unclear how he’d managed to survive and also somehow seemingly rebuild a vast chunk of the Empire’s old Star Destroyer fleet but such questions of mysterious building projects were left just as unanswered (and irrelevant?) as they had been in “The Force Awakens.”
As I’d done in past reviews of this sequel trilogy’s films, rather than looking at the film scene by scene, I wanted to think about how it worked by character.
That said, there were a couple of things that I wanted to touch on first:
First, this was a strange time to suddenly learn that, after eight films, the Jedi had a super power that involves healing each other. At first, I figured that I’d missed some sort of obvious references but the basis for this seems to come from old expanded universe stuff and “The Mandalorian” (from the episode that came out the same day as “The Rise of Skywalker!”). Cool power, cool use, but could have used a little more foreshadowing people!
Second, I couldn’t believe that J.J. basically used the same video-game-style ‘fetch quest’ plot structure that he used in “The Force Awakens!” I mean, come ON man.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at our characters…
Palpatine – We always start with the villain, right? This was probably the biggest letdown in the film. Yeah, I was a total sucker for thinking that Ian McDiarmid might be able to magically save this trilogy with his charm. During much of the film, I didn’t entirely buy that it even was the ‘real’ Emperor and, given now context or foreshadowing. In the end, I got what I wished for (i.e. Palpatine being the big bad guy of the saga yet again), but two films too late and it all seemed really rushed – like a drawing that was only lightly sketched out. Anyway, the result was VERY fast-paced, sort of whiplash inducing… like the filmmakers were trying to do a 4-hour movie in 2 hours.
Rey Palpatine/Skywalker – It made me feel gross typing out that last name. You were cooler when you were nothing John Sno… er, Rey. You were a commoner like the rest of us but then we found out that you were just another of the elites of the galaxy. The revelation of her origin as Palpatine’s ‘granddaughter’ felt like it had come straight out of “Spaceballs.” My angst on this point aside, I didn’t mind her in the rest of the movie, as Ridley has always been a not-unlikeable actress and by this point seemed to have earned her Mary Sue-ness with various trainings (and some helpful genetic influence).
Kylo Ren – Man, they did you wrong buddy. Your mask was, again, “Spaceballs” and we thought you’d moved on from it, but nope… you had to have it back to sulk around in, this time with cool lava lines in it?!? The mind-meld conversations with Rey were a good idea from “The Last Jedi” that I was glad to see continued and the scenes with the pair continued to be oddly hot. The redemption, etc. and his conclusion seemed to make sense. I mean, there was never going to be a happily ever after, right?
The biggest slight of all? He didn’t even get a force ghost at the end!!! He was the Skywalker that Rey was seemingly in love with and he got left out!!! That made no sense!
Rose – I never cared much for this character (I cared a lot more for her sister in that character’s brief appearance), but I was still really surprised that they sort of wrote Rose out of the movie in a way that was so blatant that I turned to my viewing companion and blurted out “They just wrote her out of the movie!” and we got a giggle out of it. It was weird to me that she’d had a great/raw emotional climax with Finn and then, like, he was all back to chasing Rey? Finn needed to get over the ‘one-itis’ and stick with Rose!
Finn – Hey John Boyega, how did mouthing off after “The Last Jedi” that your character didn’t have enough to do work out for you? Oh, you had less to do in this film and were even less interesting? And you’re still eternally single?
Poe – I wish we’d gotten to know one another more? You really got squeezed out of these movies – barely in the first one and then spent the second one getting yelled at the whole time – but I applaud your charm.
Princess Leia – I saw reaction all over the map on the re-use of Carrie Fisher in the film and I found most of the stuff with her to be very distracting. It must just be in my head, as others have really liked her use and felt that it was natural, but I kept thinking in every one of her scenes how characters were just ‘reacting’ to what was essentially un-used bits of her performance from “The Force Awakens” that they’d re-purposed to fit this particular scenario. Related, why did they just randomly have her body lying around for days (?!?) with a sheet over it… that was weird wasn’t it!?
Luke Skywalker – So yeah, Mark Hamill, you spent the last couple of years implying that Rian Johnson had done you dirty and then, I’m guessing, J.J. bent over backward to appease you. In return, you gave us a couple of odd scenes that involved you seeming to break the fourth wall and smirk or giggle at us (!?) when lifting that X-Wing. It would have been a better scene if you’d just played it straight. Oh, and you looked haggard and I’m not sure if that was intentional or not.
Chewbacca – This is how you earn the title of “Fan Service: The Movie”… I audibly groaned when Chewie got his medal. He had a fair bit of on-screen relevance at the start, so bonus points on that.
Lando – Billy Dee Williams had a performance that walked a line between charming and ‘Is he doing okay?’ I’m never against Billy Dee getting paid though, I guess.
Wedge – I’m not saying that his cameo was not welcomed but… it made me chuckle in the abrupt randomness of it all.
Han Solo – Harrison Ford almost surely blew his paycheck on a vintage airplane or five for what had to have been an afternoon of work.
Dominic Monaghan – I’m too lazy to look up your character’s name. I’m slack jawed at how truly distracting he was in his glorified cameo role. Not only was he distracting, but he gave us bad information – like saying that Cloning was some Sith thing when, like, everyone was doing cloning in the prequels… but of course J.J. didn’t seem to ever reference those films.
Ghosts of Jedi Past – The movie had so much shameless fan service that it was a total failure to not do the obvious thing of having an “Avengers: Endgame”-type assembly shot where all the actors who voiced past Jedi were shown in force ghosts. Was this where they tried to save a few bucks?
This was all a long-winded way of saying that, while I didn’t hate “Rise of Skywalker” I didn’t love it… it was a rushed collection of decent ideas that needed to have actually been planned out five years or more ago. It had many of the problems of the past couple of films and didn’t really elevate itself in a way that, say, one could argue “Revenge of the Sith” at least elevated itself amongst the prequels. As a conclusion to this sequel trilogy, it was more of the ‘blah’ that we’d felt around the whole effort. As a conclusion of all nine films, it really missed the mark.
When I reviewed “The Last Jedi” I admitted that it connected with me for possibly (business-wise at least) the worst possible reasons, in that it felt to me like it was letting me go as a fan. Similar to a comic book series that you’d collected for decades finally getting to a point where you didn’t feel guilty anymore with no longer supporting everything that came down the pipe next.
“The Last Jedi” felt like it was a symbolic sort of ending to the saga by opening up the Force (and “Star Wars”) to ‘everyone’… you felt like things were dire but some new resistance would rise up and save the day.
“The Rise of Skywalker” didn’t really acknowledge that ending directly but maybe it kind of happened? Or it was in the process of still happening? Setting aside how it was baffling that that plot thread wasn’t directly addressed, one had to assume that the hints of ‘force sensitivity’ by a couple of characters meant that the general direction was still in effect. As a result, “The Rise of Skywalker” felt more like an epilogue… like, the ‘bonus’ ending. I really didn’t need to know how this particular saga would end, since I was already given clues that things would eventually work out fine.
And now that I did get an ending that spelled out those details anyway, I guess that’s fine? It was an ending. <shrug>
When I think back on the arc of the nine films though, it won’t be about Rey and the binary suns being the story’s ultimate message, it’ll be about the broader implication that was made well before we finally got around to that scene.