A writer friend of mine once told me, “Anyone can start a story.” It’s fun to put pieces on the table, set them up how you like them, then run off to do it again. But what do you do with the pieces you have, on the board you positioned? If you’re J.J. Abrams, you usually hand it off to other people. Until you can’t. After much behind-the-scenes turmoil, Abrams returned to co-write and direct Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker; he himself in the press lead-up said how he isn’t any good at endings. We should have heeded his warning.
Following the divisiveness of The Last Jedi, and the pre-production of Rise, when they fired director Colin Trevorrow, Disney wanted a safe pair of hands. After all, Abrams brought Star Wars back to the big screen following years in prequel purgatory. But The Force Awakens needed to re-establish the status quo, the characters, and feel of the original trilogy. Fans needed to feel the sigh of relief that we are indeed back. Like or dislike The Last Jedi, it took risks, and attempted to blaze its own trail with the new characters Abrams established. The Rise of Skywalker mostly reverts back to playing it impossibly safe, to the detriment of the new characters.
The lack of specifics has more to do with disinterest in the movie’s set-up than deliberate avoidance of key details. The opening act is the most cluttered in its attempt to set our three new lead heroes on their path along with Chewie and the droids. There’s a threat, they have to fight against it, it takes them to various planets where they meet various people; it all feels very rote and perfunctory. These things need to happen in a Star Wars movie, so they do. At the same time, Abrams tries to neatly tie up threads from the previous two movies quickly so he can get to the self-imposed problem of wrapping up 42 years of Star Wars movies.
But sadly, Abrams backslides to a rather silly degree with The Rise of Skywalker. Nothing is allowed to breathe, even the nice moments, because he’s packed it so full of nostalgia and would-be damage control that there’s little room for anything else. It chokes the narrative in ways I didn’t expect. The First Order seems, well, secondary this time around, when it powers should be reaching their peak. Kylo and his Knights of Ren seem impossible to overcome, but they take a backseat to another threat—you know if you’ve seen the trailers—and then, inexplicably, even that threat takes a backseat for good portions of the movie.
While it’s nice to see Finn and Poe go on missions together, there’s not much there to further their bond. We learn a bit about Poe’s roguish past, though the information feels more like an advertisement for a spin-off than an essential moment in this movie. The same holds true for Finn’s sudden connection to Jannah (Naomi Ackie), another victim of There’ll Probably Be a Comic About This Syndrome. Finn really has next to nothing to do here. He’s involved in the action, but he doesn’t have the arc he had in either of the last two movies. Remember in The Force Awakens when Maz Kanata says “That’s a story for another time”? That’s what every plot thread in The Rise of Skywalker feels like – oh, thanks for teasing something else that won’t pay off any time soon, if ever.
That’s not to say there’s nothing worthwhile here. There’s some nice beats that tugged at my Star Wars fan heart, evoking the ideas and themes that connected these movies so powerfully to fans. Star Wars is at its very core a myth about good and evil, and friendship above all else. People love those elements, and for better or worse it’s what makes them feel like their time spent in this world and with these characters was worthwhile.
2.5 out of 5
Featured Image: Lucasfilm