The end of Star Wars? Probably not. There will be more to come. Instead, this newest installment denotes a farewell to the characters and stories that once began as the daydreams of an independent director, and now populate the coffers of a media empire. JJ Abrams returns to the franchise to conclude a story that’s taken over 40 years to tell. Nevertheless, his Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is bereft of ambition, excitement, and grand ideals. It’s a languid dull tale that acts far more as a warning against the powers of pop culture in the face of art, than as a compelling picture.
For instance, there are no plot spoilers for The Rise of Skywalker because there’s no plot. Sure a couple of revelations will cause a general pearl clutching sensation for die-hard fans, but Abrams’ film drips with the malaise of fan service disguised as macguffins. That is, the filmmaker commits the greatest sin of all: He co-opts his vision to appease first, and create second.
Unfortunately, I now struggle to conjure up what I liked about the film. The character arcs of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe (Oscar Isaac) all take a massive step back. Even so, a bevy of strong performances from the cast admittedly provide The Rise of Skywalker with a slightly graceful limp, especially the bromance between Finn and Poe. They inject a playful radiance into this tedious string of events.
New characters are introduced like D-O (a droid), Jannah (Naomi Ackie), and General Pryde (Richard E. Grant), but are never handled with the care required to shape them from new-line merch into critical narrative elements. Nevertheless, the picture’s treatment of Leia (Carrie Fisher)—the only component that’s artfully composed—hints at the emotional payoff Abrams probably wanted his entire film to emit. That same emotion only arrives as a trickle in the form of Lando (Billy Dee Williams) and Chewie (Joonas Suotamo), and C-3PO (Anthony Davis) taking center stage. But in totality, the material doesn’t do much justice to anyone.
Even the film’s technical elements are a step down from the previous installments. Abrams never steadies his framing or compositions. I felt as though my eyes were needlessly unfocused, not directed toward any action in particular. Worse yet, the action lacks energy. These might be the worst shot lightsaber fights in the history of Star Wars. Abrams, to his detriment, too often relies on close-ups making every shot want for space. That is, while we hear the impact of the plasma blades, we often miss the swing. A critical error in an all-too safe movie that doesn’t take nearly enough swings.
In Episode IX the maxim holds that every element must overtake the screen. More destroyers. Bigger destroyers. More action. Bigger Explosions. Poor Abrams. Does he really think big emotions come from big images? The only element that holds is John Williams’ admirable quest to discover new brilliant suites within his past score.
In fact, one gets the sense from the milquetoast ambitions of The Force Awakens that Abrams doesn’t persevere well in the crucible of this fandom. To his chagrin, his task certainly became heavier with this final film, a terrible burden to carry. But nevertheless, a cage he gladly gilded for himself. The Rise of Skywalker is one of Star Wars’ worst films. Not solely because of quality, but due to intent. Even those prequels had some fun and heart behind them. This on the other hand, takes the previous films’ grand mythical elements and reduces them to a Fast and the Furious platitude. “It’s all about family.” Indeed, the main characters droll on-and-on in regards to a family we’ve barely gotten to know—even over the course of two previous films and a 142 minutes.
Instead, Episode IX doesn’t ask: What can it accomplish next? It demurs: What can it find again?
A film may be mindlessly fun, sophisticated and cruel, haughty and humble, but above all else, it must be bold and courageous. Boldly stupid. Courageously kink. Thoughtlessly free.
Sound enticing? Too bad—none of that exists here. Hoot and holler, applaud for the limpid theme park whose calculated maneuvered rides leave the system quicker than sticky confections, and buy a ticket for a movie that gives you what you want, but is too frightened to tell you what you really need.
Some might say, it’s just a movie. Well, be weary. Weary of the same “jovial” viewers who decried the previous film with greater ire than given to any real-world tragedy. No one’s paid to care in our time-looped world, no one made to consider. And with that in mind, The Rise of Skywalker eases its viewers into comfortable resignation and uncomplicated callbacks meant to pacify and not injure. Even a sterling final 15 minutes doesn’t fill the appetite. It’s a pitiful fall for a franchise born from the plucky self-belief of a daring vision that once walked and skipped in the expansive sky, but now only seems to exist as a fragile echoed whisper decaying in a galaxy far, far away.