Release Date: December 20th, 2019
Cast: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo Kelly, Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid, Billy Dee Williams
Director: J. J. Abrams
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The Skywalker Saga comes to it’s final conclusion. In some ways, with a bang, and in others with a whimper.
Following 2017’s The Last Jedi is a monumental task for any movie and The Rise of Skywalker had a lot to live up to for fans of that second installment in the sequel trilogy. Where do you take the final entry, how do you follow that!? That’s how I felt as I left the theater in December 2017, with a sense of awe and wonder, we were truly on a new path now. The story seemed wide open for what could follow.
Disappointingly, J.J. Abrams, Chris Terrio, and crew didn’t seem to be as enthused with the wide open possibilities. The Rise of Skywalker retreads old ideas, brings in old villains (Palpatine is back, unclear how and why) and more world destroying threats for the main thrust of the film, but it’s Star Wars, aren’t those always the threats? Kinda?
We join our characters some time after the Battle of Crait, each doing their thing to help grow and defend the Resistance/lead the First Order. Quickly they are put on the adventure, to trek – er, war across the stars meeting new friends and foes, visiting amazing new worlds, finding exciting ‘objects.’ It’s quite the wild ride. This is the good stuff.
The characters have wonderful moments with each other. The friendship between Finn and Poe is in full bloom, Rey’s training is leading her to be the Jedi she wishes to become, and the whole gang is along for the ride. This is where Rise of Skywalker shines. Adventuring with our space friends. It’s such a fun ride that while in the midst of it, the spectacle and excitement of the movie holds up, after all it’s Star Wars. My favorite thing in the galaxy.
And yet still there are moments where I actively found myself having to talk myself through coming to terms with choices the filmmakers made. In progressing from Rian Johnson’s entry to this, it feels as the creators got their footing mixed up moving two steps back before going forward.
In many ways, Rise of Skywalker feels like fan fiction, it has moments that call back to the old Expanded Universe books and comics (especially the likes of Dark Empire and Dark Empire II) that were what Star Wars fans like myself thrived on for the 16 years between Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace.
Not all of that content was good, mind you, but it’s what we had dammit and it’s what we grew accustomed to. It’s why a minor but vocal portion of fans screamed out #notmyluke. They had read years of novels of Luke becoming a Grand Master, meting out justice with the green blade of his saber, demonstrating new powers (the first time he throws his lightsaber blew my mind!), and building and defending a new order of Jedi.
I wonder if Luke always would have went that direction in the books if there hadn’t been the directive that the Big Three (Han, Luke, and Leia) couldn’t die, just in case more movies were eventually made. What stories do you tell with your characters if they’re never really threatened? Do they just power creep into godhood? But I digress.
The Disney reset meant that only selected pieces were canon moving forward. No longer were creators tied to the ideas that came before. The films and select works were the new Old Testament. With Force Awakens, and Last Jedi, it seemed that many of those outrageous, fantastical and sometimes frankly absurd concepts had been lost, but Rise of Skywalker brings them back.
It’s equal parts exciting and unnerving. After all, this is the final film – bringing all of this into just this one feels overwhelming, jammed too full of ideas, without the room to let them breathe or explore them fully. In a movie where half these choices had been made it might be easier to reconcile as the movie continues, but with all of these beats it becomes difficult to stay completely with it.
I’m left wondering how different this movie would have been if it hadn’t been arbitrarily decided to be the conclusion of the Skywalker Saga. Did that change in push make the narrative, both in the film and in expectations, twist to something grander? After all, how do you wrap up a trilogy and the 6 movies prior, especially when those seemed well wrapped up already. Shouldn’t this entry be a great finale to this trilogy alone, and in doing so naturally be another fine trilogy on the shelf of Star Wars lore?
I could go on (and likely will later,) about nitpicks that left me uneasy. Things like the misnaming of weapons, why are these things called ‘Wayfinders’ and not holocrons, the cutesy call backs (that ignore the current comic continuity ((yes, I’m referencing Canon, ugh))), dropped plots and disappointing choices. But that just speaks to how much I, like so many others, truly love this universe.
And The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t change that. It is still a fun, often thrilling space adventure, despite the fact it seemed to have devoured itself, and the Sequel Trilogy with it, along the way. If the Prequel trilogy made the mistake of taking decent ideas and executing them terribly, Rise of Skywalker seems to have flipped that script and taken silly ideas and executed them well. I’m excited to see it again and see how approaching it knowing what’s coming changes the experience.