Film: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

December 23, 2019

At this point, I think it’s safe to say the recent glut of Star Wars films can officially be categorized as “too much of a good thing.” In fact, if Stars Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) and Disney Plus’s flagship series The Mandalorian (review forthcoming) are any indication, it’s probably too much of a mediocre thing. Clocking in as Episode IX in the storied franchise, The Rise of Skywalker caps off the latest blockbuster trilogy in underwhelming, formulaic fashion, delivering a few pleasant moments and mild smiles, but nothing of substance and little magic.

The conflict resumes as a shocking galactic broadcast from the late, mysteriously resurrected Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) alerts the rebellion to a new threat. Palpatine enlists the aid of the First Order’s supreme leader, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), in a mission to kill Rey (Daisy Ridley), the last Jedi and the only thing standing in the way of the First Order’s ultimate triumph. Rey, of course, has other ideas: she and her rebel besties Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaacs), Chewbacca (Joonas Suatamo), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and BB-8 undertake a quest to track down Palpatine’s secret planet in a desperate attempt, against all odds, to take out his massive fleet of planet-killing star destroyers and save the universe.

There’s a lot of pressure as a working science fiction writer and critic to stay on top of genre tentpoles like Star Wars, but I think I may have reached my limit with this particular franchise. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is engaging enough eye candy, capitalizing on the good will of its charismatic cast and iconic lore. By and large, I enjoyed the ride. But it fails to rise above the level of a fan-servicey greatest hits album. It squanders the potential of The Last Jedi by walking back that film’s most interesting decisions in favor of a flashy, slapdash plot draped over familiar structural scaffolding. Worse, that plot also resets the Star Wars universe to its more simplistic, black-and-white worldview, one that fails to evolve the universe to an interesting new thematic place, which was what made The Last Jedi so much more interesting. J.J. Abrams is nothing if not a slick cinematic hitmaker, but he persists in his exasperating trend of slyly nudging and winking at the audience — feeding them the requisite cameos, callbacks, jokes, and tropes without infusing them with any invention or heart. (But then, why should he? He’s been insanely successful at it.)

Especially after the paradigm-shifting promise of Episode VIII, The Rise of Skywalker brings things to a close in a disappointingly commercial way, snapping the Star Wars universe back into predictable shape. The third Star Wars trilogy is certainly an upgrade over the miserable prequels, thanks especially to Rian Johnson’s input, but in the end it’s just more forgettable product.