There is one indisputable truth about the final episode in the Skywalker Saga. After “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi” it is impossible to make a movie that everyone will love. It’s equally impossible to make a movie that will coherently conclude the two thematically opposed precursors. Armed with these expectations, it’s possible to highly enjoy the rather preposterous “Rise of Skywalker.”
George Lucas has repeatedly stated that both Star Wars and Indiana Jones have been structured on the delightfully melodramatic Saturday morning serials he watched as a child. With that in mind, it’s fascinating to consider the ebb and flow of solemnity throughout the saga. “The Phantom Menace” may have contained the goofiest characters and situations, but it was also derided for spending too much time on vacant political drama. Perhaps it’s fitting that the final film has reached the opposite extreme. It treats its characters more seriously than it should while rapidly tossing them from one ridiculous scenario to another. After the opening crawl (which contains a title word from each of the previous 8 films) begins with the exclamation “The dead speak!”, our heroes are off on a jet-setting (star-skipping?) adventure that makes the first half feel like the Indiana Jones of Star Wars. There are hidden artifacts! A Forbidden Language! Secret Cyphers! Colorful new Cultures! Random Alien Allies! And even a Desert Canyon Chase! Though we’re aware of the staccato editing and copious exposition, if you don’t think about it too much, it’s rather fun. Our favorite characters are together breathlessly connecting the dots on a mission to save the galaxy once again!
Writing this review, I keep pondering the choices J.J. has made. Each has equally opposing pros and cons. He’s taken it on himself to course correct a number of the previous films, including his own. Some of these “corrections” are beautiful, poetic. Others, such as a couple of jabs directly at “The Last Jedi” play well in the moment, but completely disrupt the flow of the final trilogy. Other events are meant to elicit emotional responses from the audience due to their gravity but are then quickly reversed. You can get away with this trick maybe once in a film, but more than that and it becomes cheap and manipulative. Even worse, it removes all stakes. Without lasting consequences, conflict loses all meaning. There are also copious amounts of fan service which cover the spectrum from amazing to patronizing. A few of these are treats lifelong fans have always wondered about and will finally see for the first time which balances out the other references which clumsily finger our nostalgia.
Many will say that the over-arching theme of Star Wars is basic good versus evil. I believe it’s more about the power of family. Family isn’t just those we share bloodlines with, but the close friends we find who would never let us face darkness alone. “The Rise of Skywalker” has a nice conclusion to this theme, but it’s grossly overshadowed by Abram’s addiction to escalation. He keeps pushing everything bigger, and more extreme. By the time we reach the climax, we’ve seen enough ships to blot out the stars in the sky, and our Force masters have reached God Level powers. Sure, it makes for some incredible visuals, but at what cost? The emotional core of the story is sapped, and the heart of Star Wars takes a back seat to spectacle.
Die-hard fans and casual viewers alike will have equal things to love and loath in “The Rise of Skywalker.” Perhaps that’s what it really means to bring balance to the Force?
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker