An action packed spectacle it may be. A satisfying conclusion to a saga spanning forty two years it is not. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is an incoherent mess of a film.
Concluding a successful trilogy is a tough task. Wrapping up a saga that spans forty two years and attracts some of the most passionate and least forgiving of fans in the galaxy is an unenviable task. J.J. Abrams took on that challenge with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
J.J. Abrams kick-started the Disney era for the Star Wars franchise in 2015 with The Force Awakens. Like any film, there was criticism. The Force Awakens shared many similarities in plot with the first Star Wars film, A New Hope. The comparisons are clear.
Despite this, what Abrams managed to achieve with such great aplomb was to introduce a fresh new cast of characters that fans could be invested in. Rey, Finn and Poe, a trio of characters that led the way for the rebellion. Kylo Ren as an antagonist with vulnerabilities. This was the future of Star Wars.
Of course there were familiar faces from the original trilogy to bolster the nostalgia feels, but the intrigue lay in Rey’s mysterious and unknown past. Finn and Poe’s relationship. Kylo Ren’s tormented struggle with his allegiance to the Dark side of The Force. The foundations for each of these character’s stories was in place.
Two years later, The Last Jedi hit cinema screens. Written and directed by Ryan Johnson, the film fared well with critics, but attracted considerable negativity from fans. Visually, The Last Jedi is spectacular. A glorious feast for the eyes. In contrast, Johnson’s script was bleak and changed what we thought we knew about the main characters, leaving viewers with more questions than answers.
In a little under two and a half hours J.J. Abrams makes a brave attempt at giving fans what they want from The Rise of Skywalker. Action packed space battles, great dollops of nostalgia, heart-wrenching emotion, drama and tension. The Rise of Skywalker is a family film. It’s a decent enough Star Wars film. But a satisfying conclusion to the long-running saga it is not. The problem begins with Snoke. Or rather the absence thereof.
With very little back story or character development, The Last Jedi saw the premature demise of the Supreme Leader, the series antagonist. One might presume that Kylo Ren would fill the void. In command of the First Order, his embracing of the Dark Side of the Force could have made for an unstable, angry and merciless adversary for the Rebel Alliance. And in particular for Rey with whom Ren shares a unique bond.
This route does echo the same journey taken by Darth Vadar of course. And with the need for Kylo Ren’s redemption clearly in the balance the writers chose a different solution. Resurrect Emperor Palpatine. Or in fact, pretend he was never dead at all.
Viewers are expected to accept that the Emperor survived the conclusion of Return of the Jedi. Since then he’s been hiding in a dark corner of the Galaxy, amassing a vast armada (The Final Order) and manipulating the First Order from afar. The plot ties into the ever present use of cloning technology without ever succinctly explaining how.
This sets up an interesting juxtaposition where Kylo Ren raised by a family who embrace the Light Side of the force, turns to the Dark Side. And Rey (big reveal) Palpatine!!! comes from a dark lineage, but embraces the light. The two are inextricably bound within the Force. Their journeys are as one, intertwined.
This is where the focus of the film lies. Other characters we’ve seen developed in previous films serve little function other than to progress the plot of the central three.
Finn’s story is all but ignored and never concluded. His relationships with Rose and Poe receive no progression. Most peculiarly, Finn alludes to a secret he must tell Rey several times in the film. The secret is never revealed. There probably wasn’t enough time for it.
With so much to wrap up in one film, so much is brushed over. The same constraints dictate that, equally, there isn’t enough time for exposition either. Elements of the story are crow barred in to progress the plot. Palpatine’s return. His family! How could Rey possibly be the Emperor’s Granddaughter? How does Han Solo appear to Kylo Ren as a… memory!?!? That’s not in-keeping with the established rules of the Star Wars universe. When was Leia training to be a Jedi? Why doesn’t Rey seem to care that much that Kylo Ren is dead given their unique and inseparable ties?
Now, I know. There will be fans out there that have read the novels and know every aspect of Star Wars canon and can justify each of these aspects and how they fit into The Rise of Skywalker. Before you pound me in the comments section, just wait. Your average Star Wars fan knows only the films. In the same way that most Marvel movie fans have never read the comics. Much of this may be lore. But you can’t just drop it into a film and expect Joe Average to swallow it.
In the context of a single film, it all – just about – makes sense with some pretty big leaps of faith. As the conclusion to a nine film saga? I felt unsatisfied. The Rise of Skywalker suffers from needing to tell too much story and by taking many shortcuts to reach a conclusion. It leaves too much unresolved and undeveloped.
In summary. An incoherent mess of a film in a galaxy far, far away. Shame.