I went into the new Star Wars entry, “Rise of Skywalker” with low expectations, and how couldn’t I? Almost every review I saw was an angry rant about how bad the film sucked, and that it was a chaotic mess of overly fast pacing, ridiculous dialogue, and lacking action sequences.
My fiance and I saw it on Sunday and despite these reviews, I still felt excited. I was seeing a Star Wars film, and even though “The Last Jedi” was an unforgivable disaster, I still felt that warm glow of the franchise I’ve been enthusiastic about since childhood. Perhaps it’s Disney’s marketing team doing its job well, and if so, hats off. I’ve been inundated more with Star Wars than I have Christmas things this month. I’ve seen more lightsabers than I have Santas this year.
Whether it’s my love of the Star Wars franchise or the marketing, I went in expecting the worst and left…kind of impressed, actually.
Let me assure you that this review will be spoiler-free, but I will write a second one today that is full of spoilers so that I might get my thoughts out more fully for those who have already seen it or don’t care.
Let’s start with the reason it’s getting bad reviews and the most common I’ve seen so far is that “Rise of Skywalker” is a movie that does too much while trying to be too safe before sticking a very sloppy landing. These comments and claims are, sadly, true, but I don’t blame J.J. Abrams for that. Allow me to explain.
The movie hops from planet to planet, ship to ship, and scene to scene so quickly that you hardly have time to settle into the atmosphere. You’re on a forest planet one moment, then a desert planet, then a rocky planet, then a wet planet, then back to a desert planet. Each stop also attempts to introduce a new character whom you hardly get to know before you’re whisked away again.
What’s more, even though you’re with the already established characters who are finally all together for the first time consistently, you feel like they’re pushing in a lot of character development very quickly, pretty much to the point where it feels shallow.
The movie, though two and a half hours long, feels rushed and not particularly fulfilling. Like you were given a five-star meal but was forced to consume it so fast that you didn’t really get to enjoy it.
But like I said earlier, I don’t necessarily blame Abrams for this. In fact, I think Abrams did the best he could with what he was forced to work with.
This guy had to do so much. He had kicked off a story with “The Force Awakens” that set up some fascinating characters and interesting plot points. This movie was a rehash of “A New Hope” and made its lead character a Mary Sue, sure, but it was the beginning of a decent alley-oop.
Then Rian Johnson took over as director for “The Last Jedi” and essentially brought everything to a screeching halt. Johnson hardly utilized the story that was given to him and instead created a monstrosity that was filled with political messaging and nonsensical storytelling. In fact, not only did he hardly use the plot points that were given to him, he straight up defied them.
The mystery of Rey’s parents? Forget about it. They were no one. Who were the Knights of Ren? They were some dudes who hung out with Kylo Ren back in the day and that’s all you need to know. Will Luke save the rebellion? Nah, he’s too grumpy to go rescue his own sister and everything he fought for in the original movies after his nephew killed his brother-in-law.
Instead, the woke SJW that is Johnson pushed messages on us, left and right. Men bad, rich people bad, women great, environmentalism great, and so on and so forth. The movie was so reviled that even its own cast and Abrams himself considered it trash.
And you get the sense that Abrams is correcting Johnson’s mistakes throughout this movie. Whatever plot elements Johnson had dismissed or openly rejected in “The Last Jedi,” Abrams does his best to correct in “Rise of Skywalker.” You’re finally given the story that you had been teased with, but only shadows of what it should have been because these things should have been developed in “The Last Jedi.”
And this is why I left the theater not hating “Rise of Skywalker” like many of my fellow movie critics did.
I sensed that Abrams was trying to make two movies and stuff them into one, and he did that because he had to. Johnson left him with a mess he had to clean up and then continue the story he began telling in the first place to boot. Character arcs, which should have been continued in the second serving but were grounded to a halt, were picked back up and rushed through in an effort to complete their stories.
When you take a step back and see what Abrams did, you actually become rather impressed and get the full sense of his talent as a director. He tried to give the fans what they had wanted from the beginning despite the odds. I can appreciate that.
A few more gripes and then I’m done with the negativity.
If you think you have a solid idea of how the force, or lightspeed, or power structures work within the Star Wars universe, then prepare to be confused. There were moments throughout the movie where I literally felt like Han Solo after Finn just told him they can use the force to blow up the Starkiller Base.
“That’s not how the force works.”
These new additions to the structure of the universe open up some massive plot holes that will force you to up your suspension of disbelief in a world that already asks you to do a lot of that. The movie ignores these plot holes, forcing the viewer to fill in the blanks themselves in order to make the story cogent. This wouldn’t work in any other franchise, but here we have “the force” as the answer to every question.
I felt more like this was used so often, however, that it began to feel more like a crutch for lazy writing than an actual story element.
Also, character interactions become confusing. It’s implied that a love triangle is developing with between some characters but then there’s not and you’re left wondering why they included that. In fact, the romance portion of the story doesn’t really rear its undeveloped head until near the very end, and you’re not exactly sure why it showed up at all at that point.
But enough negativity. Here’s what did work.
The visuals were absolutely stunning. There were moments where you really get a sense of the grandeur of the threat our heroes face. During fight sequences, they really impress upon you just how impossible the odds are and the heroes attempting to overcome them despite it really conveys some tragic heroics.
I was thrilled that we finally got to see the main characters interacting consistently. There’s some real chemistry between John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Oscar Isaac, and it’s one of the things that was so underutilized in the last two movies.
Despite its rushed nature, character arcs are tied up with a nice red bow. The tie is sloppy, but again, I can’t blame Abrams for that.
I also think the original characters were finally treated with some respect. Despite Carrie Fisher’s death, Leia is still present and even gets a bit of extra character development herself. I’m pleased to say that Luke’s storyline didn’t end with his death in the last movie. Chewbacca returns and plays a very central role. C-3PO and R2-D2 make a return, though you’ll get a little less R2 than you’d like. I can’t say the same for Palpatine, but he’s one of the most perfect villains ever created and him being brought in at least made some sense in terms of the grandeur of the threat.
Overall, I can’t say I hate this movie. Compared to “The Last Jedi,” this is a good film, though that’s like comparing room temperature coffee to old milk. You’ve had better, but at least it’s not making you gag. It’s flawed, but it’s flawed because it was set up to be by bad leadership decisions from Johnson and “the force is female” executive producer Kathleen Kennedy, who took over the Star Wars franchise with no plan in place.
I recommend you see it, especially on the big screen. I likely will a second time myself.