For decades, Star Wars has been the standard by which all other blockbuster series are judged. For better or for worse, no other franchise has been more revered. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker faces the seemingly impossible challenge of delivering an epic conclusion to a series composed of three different trilogies enjoyed by multiple generations of fans, each with its own set of ideas regarding what Star Wars is supposed to be. It would be forgivable for The Rise of Skywalker to fall short of that goal, but what director J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy have handed in does not even amount to an admirable effort.
The Rise of Skywalker is far too preoccupied with apologizing for, retconning, and at times directly insulting 2017’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi to even bother with telling its own meaningful story. Abrams clearly wants this to be a direct sequel to his own Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which kicked off this current trilogy four years ago. He can’t just ignore an entire film that happened in between his own chapters, of course, but Abrams could have accepted what was in the canon and built upon it. Instead, Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio sacrifice the quality of their own story by wasting time undoing the work of The Last Jedi writer-director Rian Johnson.
The mea culpa is bad enough, but concern over some fans and general audience members not digging Johnson’s film has led to another gross overcompensation. There is so much fan service in The Rise of Skywalker that Star Wars Twitter (except the group that likes The Last Jedi) deserves a co-writing credit. The film is littered with moments presented as the kind of big payoffs that they simply cannot be because they are unearned. The emotional investments have not been made by the storytellers or the audience, so these dividends are hollow.
Fan service is not an inherently bad thing. It is possible for something to be right for the story being told while simultaneously delighting fans. These moments must be set up in advance and executed with care, but that does not happen in this film. The blame for this lies not with the fans for wanting things, but with the filmmakers for not being cognizant of what this story needed and how best to deliver it.
It is with an abundance of anti-spoiler caution that I avoid even a vague description of the plot. As is tradition, the opening crawl provides the setup, but it does not take long to feel like this story is skipping steps. As already revealed in official marketing, Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is back somehow, though his role feels so forced that his character and this film might have been better off is he was still gone.
Most of the missteps in this sequel trilogy have revolved around the characters from the original films. The saving grace has been the handling of the new characters, which should have set The Rise of Skywalker up to be the new trilogy’s greatest success story. Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) are finally on mission together. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) anointed himself the Supreme Leader of the First Order in the previous film and is hunting down a crippled Resistance.
All of the right pieces are in play, but they just don’t connect. They are not given the time to do so, nor are we. Even the simplest aspects of the plot require too many mundane, moving parts to let us see how and why all of this matters to the characters involved, much less why it matters to us. Yes, there are moments that are meant to be emotional, but they’re sprung on us with a moment’s notice and moved on from just as quickly. There is little space to breathe and even less to feel.
The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi were each successful, for different reasons. The Rise of Skywalker, despite a few crowd-pleasing moments, is a failure. It proves that there was never any central, creative plan for how this story was meant to unfold. While that may not be entirely new for Star Wars, the makers of this trilogy had the full knowledge of how many films they were making and the time in which they had to do it. It was obvious they needed a plan.
The Rise of Skywalker does its best to bury Rian Johnson and/or his film under a mountain of blame, but that rings every bit as false as all of Skywalker‘s would-be emotional payoffs. One cannot deviate from a plan that does not exist.
The Rise of Skywalker is not a fitting end to The Skywalker Saga. Do not fear, however, as the world already got one in 1983. Yub Nub.