With this final order, Disney’s corporate overlords are hereby branded traitors of the republic. Other than that, The Rise of Skywalker is fairly entertaining.
So, here we are. The end of the end. With Rise of Skywalker, Disney closes the books on the numbered Star Wars stories. And truly sorting out whether I enjoyed this book or wanted it burned atop Vader’s corpse would require spoilers that I promised myself I wouldn’t reveal until the movie has had some time to breathe.
So instead, I’m going to dance around it with a three pronged report. This review will talk about the technical aspects, the pacing, and my overall impression. The rest of my insights I’ll bury deep. They serve me well, but they could be made to serve the Emperor.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
The trilogy comes to a close for Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe (Oscar Isaac) with a new foe: The Dark Lord of the Sith and Emperor of the Galactic Empire, Sheev Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) also seeks out this new threat to his nearly triumphant First Order.
The Tech Specs
I watched Rise of Skywalker in 3D (non-Imax). It looks nice, but was not nearly as breath-taking in it’s cinematography and style as The Last Jedi. I also really didn’t find myself ever thinking “Thank the Force I saw this in 3D”. There are a few moments where the depth of view is cute (like the fight in the raging sea), but it never really dazzled as it had in TLJ and Rogue One. If it’s not of a comparable price to a regular ticket, save yourself the dough.
The music is fantastic. Which is something I can’t say wowed me in the first two films in this trilogy. John Williams does a great job weaving songs from all the previous films in and out; selling tension, tenderness, and pathos when the script wasn’t quite getting me there.
And I do place a lot of that underselling at the feet of the script-by-committee. Because the acting is once again very good. Ridley is wonderful, Driver steals every seen he’s in (he really is having one hell of a 2019), and McDiarmid is his cackling best. The core three spend a lot of time together this go around, and the charm and chemistry they had in The Force Awakens hasn’t missed a beat. Poe and Finn’s buddy dynamic adds a lot of levity to the film without it being too jokey (one of my only complaints from TLJ).
C-3P0 and Chewbacca get some nice moments without feeling shoe-horned in, and the new characters get just enough to do to be worth having them. Importantly, this film does its level best to send Carrie Fisher off with love and gravitas, and it largely succeeds. The only (painfully obvious) sin was what Disney did to Kelly Marie Tran’s character Rose Tico. I’ll get into that in greater detail in my impression section.
The other thing I place squarely on the script is the pace. It’s breathless and relentless from the jump. But instead of making sure no moment (cough, Pod-Racing, cough) drags, this pace renders the stakes hollow. In some attempt to avoid having it’s own Canto Bight scene, EVERY scene is its own Canto Bight. It’s a sprint from MacGuffin to MacGuffin, where the sheer providence of meeting just the right person to get to just the right thing strains all credulity.
The acting saves the film from itself, but can’t possibly elevate it into something truly special. As such, the movie is a cheaper version of Disney’s new Galaxy’s Edge theme park: you get dragged around by the nose from one Star Warsy moment to the next. At least Rise of Skywalker only costs you 10-15 bucks. Yay?
2019: The Year the Vocal Minority Won
Having Rise of Skywalker premiere just a scant 10 days before the year ends is fitting. The most notable feeling I had walking out of this movie was an encapsulation of how I’ve been feeling this whole year: capitalism/Americana doesn’t care about quality, and the loudest voice wins every time (no matter how small the crowd it’s coming from).
The final Star Wars in the ennealogy is 100% comfort food, served up to the small cadre of very-online white men who’ve been screaming their heads off since The Last Jedi came out. This film is so safe, so stripped of nuance or challenge, and so sanitized that it comes across as tasteless. I’m a hardcore Star Wars fan. I’m also a white, heterosexual, cisgender man. And getting everything “I” supposedly asked for was the last thing I wanted.
If you liked anything Rian Johnson did, if even on a purely conceptual level, you will walk out feeling like there’s a Sith Dagger sticking out of your back. If you enjoyed more prominence to minority characters, TRoS will feel like a spineless betrayal. Not only did an angry hoard chase Kelly Marie Tran off of social media, they apparently chased her off the Disney film lot. Liked that the Force was a little more egalitarian? Jokes on you. It’s Bushes and Clintons all the way down in this Galaxy. I guess it was not so very far away after all.
All said and done, I’m glad I watched this film. It was that “can we get the spark back, one more time” date that let’s you know that while you may still be friends, you’ll never be lovers again. While Rise of Skywalker was pleasantly entertaining, it was formulaic and completely unoriginal. Disney is so thoroughly entrenched with selling you mildly updated nostalgia it’s strangling its past instead of creating its future. Kylo Ren might heartily agree with that ethos, but I can’t say it leads to truly good films.