You may not know this but people have strong opinions about the Disney Star Wars trilogy. Often hyperbolic and emotionally charged, these stances usually don’t allow much for nuance or mixed feelings. Battle lines sprout all over the place when discussing them, whether you want them to or not.
But people like me are out there, basically liking and disliking them both so far. Years later, The Force Awakens still offers extremely vacant fun, while The Last Jedi remains beautiful, thematically rich and kind of a chore to sit through on rewatches. And now we have The Rise of Skywalker, tasked with finishing a story that was never defined in the first place, and returning the series to the warm safety of nostalgic fan service after a chapter of self-reflection and questioning. The takes. They are going to be hot.
As usual, I am mixed. The Rise of Skywalker is a ton of movie, feeling a bit like a trilogy in and of itself. Its hefty unpacking will fall to a host of others over the holiday season and probably even into the new year, so don’t worry about that. My goal is to offer a spoiler-free hint at whether or not this film is worth seeing, though we all know you’re going to see it regardless.
It’s hard to say whether Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has too much plot or no plot at all. Most of the film follows our old friends Rey, Finn and Poe as they bounce around the galaxy looking for a triangle. There is an action scene everywhere they stop, usually accompanied by a moment where Rey gets mystical and looks off into the distance to think about Kylo Ren or her parentage. They also make new friends along the way, to the extent that I think it’s safe to say Disney Star Wars’ biggest legacy will be in creating extraordinarily adorable things over extraordinarily cool things.
JJ Abrams films have a way of entertaining one great moment at a time, at the cost of a cohesive whole. Finally seeing this crew together brings an undeniable charm to the film, and everything looks more or less great. The Star Wars of it all is in full effect, and at first it flies by so fast you don’t have time to question anything. It’s easy to get lost in the fun. I still don’t quite understand the relationship between Finn and Rey or Finn and Rose or Finn and his new non-girlfriend in this film, but the parts where Finn and Poe are pals works pretty well. And this film introduces a great bickering dynamic between Rey and Poe that really I wish didn’t get immediately thrown away.
But this one is so long and takes so many stops and turns that the Abrams magic, which usually lasts at least until the drive home, starts waning about halfway through. By the end, the whole endeavor wears out its welcome and the empty calories become more obnoxious than just apparent and benign. I suspect even the most jazzed viewers leaving the theater will struggle to think highly of this one in a year.
And that’s the real optimists in the audience. A great many others will just be pissed off. There’s not much getting around that. I think Abrams really felt he was doing his best to make a movie that would bridge those who love and hate The Last Jedi. Nevertheless, Rise of Skywalker discounts Rian Johnson’s film out of hand (Rose Tico is almost comically sidelined), or worse, repurposes its ideas for fan service. I know some folks like fan service, but even for them this might be one too many Big Macs.
The truth is, this trilogy has never felt quite right. The first film retold A New Hope with a cast of very charming characters who felt like revisions more than creations. The Last Jedi did a lot of good things but it couldn’t fix that foundation. And now, at the end of it all, we’re still reaching toward the original trilogy for an emotional connection to this material because it generated so little itself. I find Kylo Ren interesting and felt curious about how things would end up between him and Rey. Looking back, I realize this film cured me of that curiosity more than resolved it.
I dunno, every nook and cranny of Skywalker is about to be explored to an exhausting degree. Some things that made absolutely no sense to me will get explained; most will not. Most will just sit there, defiantly nonsensical because half a decade ago JJ Abrams thought the Knights of Ren looked cool and explaining them would be somebody else’s problem.
Eventually there will be more Star Wars, and I bet a lot of it will be great. And at some point I will settle in to the parts of this film I really enjoyed. I like to think this trilogy was just something we had to get through so the franchise could move away from the Skywalker story our nostalgia demanded and get into something new. If that ends up being its legacy, that’s not so bad.