Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker ★★½

"She is not who you think she is."
"Who is she?"

[I've redacted this paragraph. It was just too mean. Sorry for the anger. I've never edited a review many days later, but it didn't feel right to keep here.]

[Some toxic fans] are the ones ruining movie-going today. It's this attitude that leads to uninteresting non-spectacles like The Rise of Skywalker, a competent but supremely disappointing end to the franchise of stories which has been a part of three generations of devotion and love from countless millions of fans, young and old. With J.J. Abrams back at the helm, director of the very good but admittedly reductive The Force Awakens from 2015, bland is back baby. What feels like a callback to the feel-good formula of the goofy and fun-but-dumb Return of the Jedi, Abrams nearly erases all the apparent transgressions that The Last Jedi committed, with utter mediocrity.

For those who drove Disney to end the "Skywalker saga" this way, and tarnished one of my favorite movies of 2017, this one's for you.

This is Rey's (Daisy Ridley) film, through and through. That makes sense, as this final trilogy has been about her place in the universe, her use of the Force, her lineage and path to destiny. But it is nearly all Rey all the time, to the point where Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is clearly a side character with just some angry quirks. Even C3PO gets more screentime than the new Supreme Leader. Having maybe the best working actor in Hollywood stuck behind a mask, spouting evil platitudes and menacing threats, is unforgivable. The dialogue by him, and nearly every character, is clunky and boring and exposition-heavy -- four men are credited with the screenplay in various fashions, and they all merged to a singularity of meh. Notably, there is also a total absence of humour (or every attempt fails), a stark 180° turn from Johnson's creative and cutting film. Along with a bizarre confounding pace that seems to either take place in entirely one single day or maybe over a whole year, as it's never evident, and The Rise of Skywalker is best observed and not fully experienced.

And perhaps that's all well and good regarding Rey, as Ridley is a competent actor albeit a flat one at times, and you likely assumed her story would be at center. But it's painfully average, convictionless, and worst of all basically reverses or simply ignores all the tremendously subversive and exciting elements of the previous entry. Here, Episode IX either hopes you forget those moments, or hated them and wanted them gone. Sure, you'll finally learn of Rey's parentage, but in a mundane and ordinary way. And, you all remember, that moment at the end of The Last Jedi, one of the best single scenes in any Star Wars film, when so much seemed possible? When the Force seemed suddenly so powerful, yet universal and willing to truly be harnessed by anyone of pure heart and conviction? Yeah, pretend it never happened here. The story is relentlessly about Rey, and considers no other larger more nuanced issues. A small adventure happens, it succeeds or fails, then we go on another. Rinse, and repeat.

Also, pretend Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) never did anything important, because here in The Rise of Skywalker she is relegated to a miniscule forgettable role. Incels, racists, and alt-right trolls will be thrilled.

Despite all these problems, it's hard for me to hate a Star Wars movie. There are some exciting saber fights, vibrant visual effects, and happy fan service that I can't even deny enjoying at times. A predictable end still has surface-level satisfaction.

But as the culmination of several decades of film, story, and cultural touchstones, this final episode fails ultimately as another lifeless Disney property run to the ground. It says nothing of significance, makes no profound mark, and chooses the hollow apolitical approach to storytelling. Catering to what's comfortable is on brand for The Mouse, and this disappointing finale surely feels like par for the course nowadays.

Star Wars is dead. Long live Star Wars.

Added to 2020 Academy Awards nominees, ranked.
Added to J.J. Abrams ranked.
Added to When Good Directors Make Bad Movies.

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