The following is a spoiler-free review of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
Star Wars has gone through three evolutionary stages. The first trilogy of films captured the spirit of the Saturday afternoon movie serials produced during the golden age of Hollywood. Imaginative world-building and unambiguous good versus evil storylines provided state of the art escapism for a generation still recovering from Watergate and Vietnam. The second trilogy reflected the creator’s elevated sense of self-importance, the films themselves taking on a pretentious air of somber seriousness, as if George Lucas thought his puerile space operas were on equal footing with Shakespeare. Aesthetically, their antiseptic, computer generated images reflected the technological boom of the ‘90s. With the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – the supposed final episode of the final trilogy (yeah, right!) – the franchise has successfully recaptured some of the fun of the original trilogy while pandering to the concerns of millennials, such as diversity, representation and gender equality.
No matter where one falls on the previous installment, the general consensus is Rian Johnson’s script for The Last Jedi was, for the most part, unpredictable, taking delight in deliberately subverting audience expectations. Despite grossing over a billion dollars, Johnson’s upset-the-apple-cart approach did not sit well with most fans. Apparently, the lesson learned from the backlash is that a successful Star Wars sequel must play it safe with a nostalgic approach that adheres to previously established formulae. To that end, writer/director J.J. Abrams, along with three other writers, course-corrected by recycling characters and plot points from the first trilogy, just as they did with The Force Awakens. Then they compensated for their lack of vision with more frequent and extravagant action sequences, Jedi powers approaching those of a god, and a bigger technological threat, which, of course, has the exploitable Achilles’ heel.
Some fans might appreciate returning to familiar territory. However, there’s a fine line between familiarity and predictability, and The Rise of Skywalker crosses that line more than any of the previous chapters. It also undoes or ignores virtually everything that occurred in The Last Jedi. Structurally, it takes a while to settle into a comfortable rhythm; the first part of the film feels rushed, as if the filmmakers are desperately trying to establish where everyone is and what they’re doing as quickly as possible. The result is a “Previously on Star Wars…” ambience, as if we’re watching an extended recap of an episode that never was.
Despite these shortcomings and more, The Rise of Skywalker mostly succeeds as popcorn entertainment thanks to a talented cast, impressive set pieces, a few laughs, and the occasional inspired moment. In fact, those who are emotionally invested in Rey’s character arc might want to bring some Kleenex along. But after an exhausting nine chapters, it’s become pastiche. Sadly, even John William’s classic Star Wars theme is starting to feel tired and clichéd.
For KSQD’s Film Gang, this is Paul Kanieski.