There’s a lot packed into “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”, so much so that I didn’t feel comfortable giving my usual week one hot take on it; thus my review for it comes out now.
I grew up with the prequel trilogy, so Star Wars was all around me. Some might call it the golden age of Star Wars, as while Episodes I through III were questionable in quality, they had a lot of heart and everything around them, from the comics, video games, novels, and merchandise were the strongest they had ever been, arguably the strongest they’d ever be.
The 90s and early 2000s was a time where Star Wars grew from a classic movie trilogy to a multi-billion dollar multimedia merchandising titan, and it is because of everything around the films that prompted a new sequel trilogy to be made — while the films make billions of dollars, overall Star Wars merchandising sales make hundreds of billions of dollars (In 2017, Variety reported that overall Star Wars merchandise sales were $262 billion).
So when we talk about Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm, and the reason why Episodes VIII though IX were rushed into production, we must acknowledge the elephant in the room: This new trilogy exists only so Disney can make its money back from acquiring Lucasfilm, while stimulating merchandise sales.
That in of itself isn’t inherently bad — 1986’s “The Transformers: The Movie” existed only to sell toys, and it is a pop cultural classic — but when you have a film series created by these means, in which you produce films as focus-tested products rather than imaginative, risky, and creative stories, you often end up with something that tries to appeal to everyone and ends up catering to no one.
Disney’s playing-it-safe approach to this trilogy also fundamentally misunderstands why Star Wars was able to become the cultural giant it is today. It’s risky, it’s weird, it stands out from other sci-fi properties, and it has a unique identity all its own, and the same can be said for its most noteworthy products — even those that didn’t quite stick the landing, like “The Force Unleashed” video games or the Dark Empire comic book arc.
Remember “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice?” It’s one of the worst superhero films of all time, and that’s because it’s a film that feels like it was made in a lab, with its story only serving to tease more stories and quick start a messy cinematic universe, so much so that the studio forgot to include a cohesive plot when they ripped Zack Snyder’s feature to shreds on the cutting room floor.
The more I think about it, I can’t help but make similarities to “Batman v. Superman” with “The Rise of Skywalker,” which is another film that feels like it was designed by a committee, rather than a competent filmmaker with a clear vision for the story they wanted to tell. Disney saw the Star Wars sequel trilogy as a commercial first and a film second, and it’s dead clear what was more important to Disney when making this film.
It’s been said before, and I think history will cement this, that “The Rise of Skywalker” is Damage Control: The Movie, as it is trying to make up for how far the franchise has slid from the divisive “The Last Jedi” to the financial flop that is “Solo: A Star Wars Story”.
Disney wanted another “The Force Awakens,” which is why they jettisoned original Episode IX director Colin Trevorrow, who still retains a “story by” credit, hired “The Force Awakens” director J.J. Abrams, consulted with Star Wars creator George Lucas and used just about 11 percent of his ideas, and aimed to make a perfectly forgettable and inoffensive end film to three Star Wars trilogies that don’t really go together.
I’ve already listed my top ten mistakes I think Disney made with this film, and those still hold true a few days later, as the are responsible for creating the film’s largest flaws: an incoherent story, unnecessary characters and plot points that go nowhere, and underdeveloped characters whose major arcs are resolved in mostly superficial ways.
The sequel trilogy’s biggest sin is that in Disney’s quest to make market-friendly main characters who are role models that parents will feel comfortable buying their children toys of, they’ve created protagonists in sort of Jedi Rey (Daisy Ridly), Resistance Pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac), and ex-stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) that don’t learn and adapt and are pretty much identical as characters from the beginning of their trilogy to its end. Sure, they learn new exposition about themselves and the plot, but they don’t grow and change as people.
I know that I should talk about the plot of the film more in this review, but it’s derivative; a complete rehash of what we’ve already seen done in Star Wars in “The Return of the Jedi,” “The Last Jedi,” and even “Revenge of the Sith.” Emperor Palpatine comes back (Ian McDiarmid), only to be defeated again. **Spoilers** Rey has to grapple with the fact that she’s Palpatine’s daughter, which she struggles with for just about four seconds before coming to the obvious conclusion that she doesn’t have to be evil just because her grandfather was. Balance is again brought to the force. The Sith are the bad guys again. Nothing new of value is learned or brought to the Star Wars universe.
For those that sat through the justifiably disruptive “The Last Jedi,” which attempted to course-correct the franchise from being just a remake of the original trilogy, this film is a slap in the face, as it squanders the new future that film so desperately set up. The force is once again tied to specific bloodlines. Rey and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) must re-enact their “Last Jedi” drama in the face of yet another Supreme Leader in Palpatine. All side characters do nothing of value and could have been cut or killed off with no difference to the end product.
“The Rise of Skywalker” makes the Star Wars prequels look good by comparison, really proving that decent acting and modern cinematography do not trump good themes, memorable moments, and original filmmaking in which everyone has a clear motivation and place that advance the plot, even if they be in extremely redundant and minor ways. And there has been much talk about how this trilogy wasn’t planned out when it desperately needed to, and those criticisms hold true.
This film exemplifies why the trilogy format no longer works for Star Wars, if the prequels didn’t already make that abundantly clear. It’s not 1983 anymore, and the galaxy far, far away is much bigger than it originally was, and demands stories that have more moving parts than the early days of the blockbuster on the silver screen.
Star Wars was also an early innovator in shared universe continuity with its products, of which it remains a major player in despite Disney’s unceremonious reset of its famous Expanded Universe, which arguably gave the Star Wars license more value than any of the nine blockbuster films.
Much like the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars films don’t exist in a vacuum, and must work in tangent with the multimedia empire. Disney has burned down that empire and has replaced it with market-friendly knockoffs.
Overall, aside from a few moments of (unintentional) amusement and laughter, I did not like “The Rise of Skywalker.” It’s a two and a half hour move that feels longer than it is, and it desperately needed to do its own thing.
I’ve read some reviews compare this to as imaginative and fanfiction, but I think that that would be an insult to Star Wars fanfiction. When ranking the Star Wars movie, I firmly put “The Rise of Skywalker” below “Attack of the Clones.”
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” gets a 4.5/10