Something very surreal happened to me about 90 minutes into watching “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” It was a feeling that I had previously experienced many times working busy holidays at retail but never really felt during a film until now. As I sat watching what was most likely ten trillion spaceships shooting lasers at each other all at once near the end of the movie, I suddenly realized that if someone had pointed a gun to my head and told me I was going to die unless I could tell them exactly what happened in the movie 5 minutes ago, I would almost certainly have to sit through the rest of the film with a bullet in my brain. What happened to these movies? How did we get here?
The Rise of Skywalker is, if nothing else, a completely overwhelming film. From the opening title crawl informing the audience that a certain character many of us assumed to be dead was apparently just faking it for the last 30 years and has been secretly building the biggest armada in the history of the galaxy, to the following five minutes in which we go through what feels like a new location every 30 seconds, we quickly learn one thing for certain: this movie is not for people with anxiety. If you need to catch your breath between action scenes in a movie, good luck. I pray for you. Because this movie will mentally defeat you, like it did me.
The film itself essentially breaks down into two sections: exposition and action. I can’t think of a single line of dialogue, aside from the throwaway humor of C-3PO, that presents some kind of character interaction or emotional advancement beyond people explaining things about themselves, what they’ve been up to in life, and what their next objective is. The entire movie just feels like it’s stuck in high-gear, introducing new worlds, new characters, new plot points, all before promptly dropping them and exchanging them for new ones. It reminds of a toddler who can’t pick her favorite toy, or a dog that can’t decide which ball is his favorite tennis ball. So many things in this movie are introduced and either dropped, forgotten, or simply pushed to the wayside until the very end of the film.
Because this movie is so heavily reliant on its constant exposition to drive the narrative forward, it makes it extremely difficult to talk about without getting into spoilers. Without giving anything away, the plot is essentially what you would imagine your average “highly rated” Star Wars fanfiction to be. It has super overpowered Jedi and Sith characters fighting constantly, a trillion starships with the biggest lasers ever, and even an extremely forced love triangle just in case you thought things couldn’t get any worse. Throw in a whole lot of fan service through revisiting old locations, digging up old characters, and having people randomly spout out literal Star Wars memes, and you’ve got the basic formula for how this movie was birthed. It’s sloppy, amateur, and completely tensionless. And seriously, can someone please tell me when Star Wars became a celebration of the elderly?
So, without all the exposition, all we have left to fall back on is the action. Oh, the action. The action in this movie is basically nonstop, with people constantly finding themselves under attack by the hilariously overpowered and ultra-resourceful First Order. I’m usually a fan of fight scenes or firefights, especially in fantasy and sci-fi settings, but it’s problematic when the action is constantly directed towards a very small group of main characters that essentially have “god mode” on and hit all their targets perfectly while the bad guys can’t even get a hit in, every single time. Without spoiling too much, there’s also a new mechanic to this movie introduced very early on that essentially guarantees that any character who takes any damage at all will be absolutely fine, short of being completely disintegrated. This completely removes the tension from everything that happens going forward and makes the constant fighting have even lower stakes than it already had before.
However, even after all of this, I still think the biggest flaw with this new Disney trilogy is the overwhelming sense that nobody had any idea what they were doing from the start and were basically winging it post-TFA. Making “The Force Awakens” into what is essentially a direct remake of “A New Hope” was, in theory, a smart way to kickstart interest towards a new trilogy and get some excitement behind these movies right out of the gate. Unfortunately, the problem with remaking something that already exists is convincing people to watch the new version rather than the one they’ve already seen and paid for. Rise of Skywalker has never made the Star Wars universe feel smaller than it does now, and the idea of making more Star Wars related movies after this just feels kind of gross. Their adherence to the structure, themes, and characters of previous movies has completely destroyed the audience’s interest in what happens to these new characters and storylines going forward.
In all honestly, it’s a shame the series had to end with such a series of blunders. In retrospect, I actually really liked Rey as a character, even if she was a little too experienced in every single aspect of Star Wars life. Poe was also a favorite of TFA until the next two movies slowly degraded his character into a petty, whining, arrogant man-child. And poor Finn had nothing to do ever since his extremely fast heel turn from Stormtrooper to Resistance icon. And that’s my second biggest issue with these movies: the new characters don’t seem to have anything to do beyond advancing the plot. They don’t grow more connected to one another as time goes on. If anything, they feel further apart at the end of this movie than they did when they all met for the first time during TFA. They don’t develop themselves emotionally either, and they don’t really seem to have any skin in the game of the Resistance beyond basic survival. And a bunch of people coming together to fight an enemy for no other reason than “they have to” isn’t interesting.
In conclusion, Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker is an extremely fast, messy, and overwhelming movie that loads all of its plot points into a shotgun and fires them directly into the eyes of its audience. Despite how negative this review has been, the movie isn’t actually the worst thing ever. It’s certainly better than “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones,” despite what some die-hard fans might say. But then again, “better than garbage” isn’t exactly high praise either. It has some funny quips, some cool (if exhausting) action scenes, and a whole lot of lightsaber fights. But unfortunately, it simply fails to tell a compelling story in a way that is both narratively comprehensible and actually engaging to the audience. It is basically a Transformers movie with a Star Wars coat of paint. As Kylo Ren once said “Let the past die, kill it if you have to.” And Disney has certainly followed that advice with this one.
4/10 – Mediocre