I love Star Wars. Now, you see, that’s the kind of sentence a person has to preface a piece like this with because, as you can probably tell from the headline, there are some dire words coming ahead. But, I do *love* Star Wars. And it’s just the worst feeling to be watching a brand new Star Wars movie — one I paid to fly across the country so that I could attend my first Star Wars premiere; a bucket list kind of thing for me — and come to that terrible realization: “Oh no, I’m not enjoying this.”
J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the most convoluted of all the Star Wars movies. It feels like three full movies worth of plot crammed into one film. The stories in the other Star Wars movies, even the Prequels, have a way of bringing a viewer into that world. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker never lets us in. It, instead, keeps us at arms length so it can use almost its entire first half as exposition. Just character after character explaining things.
Well, other than how the Emperor is back. (Don’t worry, I couldn’t spoil that if I tried.) When the movie opens, he’s already back. As the title crawl reveals, Palpatine has been sending messages across the galaxy and now there’s a race to find him. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, who inexplicably wears a helmet again for half this movie; because when you hire an actor of Driver’s talent, he should for sure wear a mask) thinks of Palpatine as a threat to his power. Our heroes in the Resistance — Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe (Oscar Issac) — think of Palpatine as the ultimate threat to the galaxy.
Unfortunately, this turns Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker into any other typical action movie where it’s just characters searching for multiple items that can lead to another item that can lead to the actual thing they want. Here, it’s something called the wayfinder, which shows the way to Palpatine. And there are two of them. But to find the wayfinder, they first need to find a sacred Sith dagger that explains where the wayfinder is. There are so many new trinkets that everyone needs I started to lose count.
Now, if you’re thinking, wow, that last paragraph was over explanatory, that’s what the first hour of The Rise of Skywalker is like. Just explaining what all these items are and what they need to do to get them. And why this item we’ve never heard of before is now the most important thing ever. It’s just a weird thing, in the final movie of this whole saga, to be introducing so much new plot that has to be explained over and over.
A lot of my favorite moments over the course of these films are just quieter moments, with these characters spending time with each other just … talking. It’s why we care about them in the first place. It’s how we know Han really cares about Luke. It’s how we know Finn cares about Rey. But in this chapter, we don’t get that. It’s almost remarkable how this type of scene wasn’t included. Instead, we are just chasing after wayfinders and magic daggers.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker eventually hits a better stride. The second half offers some legitimately fun and emotional moments — seeing Billy Dee William’s Lando again is a treat; and Abrams and company really did the best they could have done handling Carrie Fisher’s scenes — before kind of going off the rails again at the end (obviously I can’t get into these details now but, yes, I have a lot more to say about all this after its release).
The biggest bummer is how it deals with the events of The Last Jedi. Look, that’s a movie I love, but I understand some of the valid criticism of it. But instead of The Rise of Skywalker building on top of that, it just feels like there was an active plan to wipe that movie out. (Again, unfortunately, I can’t get into specifics yet.) Which, hey, I get if you don’t like The Last Jedi, you might think that’s a good thing. But so much time and effort are spent explaining a lot of it away, it just all feels clumsy. There were times it felt like The Rise of Skywalker was put together by reading angry reddit boards, just throwing in anything a fan might possibly want to see. It really is baffling.
So, here we are, at the end of this Sequel trilogy. Three movies that exposed the tug-of-war, back and forth between two talented people on opposite ends of the spectrum. Yes, Rey and Kylo Ren. But, more importantly, J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson. For whatever reason, their two visions just don’t work side by side. Abrams gave us a great first movie that brought a lot of people back to Star Wars. Johnson gave us a second film that dared us to question what it was about Star Wars we believed in anyway. And now The Rise of Skywalker feels like a movie trying to steer against the skid instead of into it. And as a result, there was no way to avoid the crash.
‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ opens this coming weekend in theaters everywhere. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.