Against my better judgment, I went to see Rise of Skywalker this weekend. Oddly, it was actually the negative critical reception that gave me a new hope (ba-dum-tish.) After all, these were the same idiots who loved The Last Jedi because it was subversive, and here they are complaining that it’s just more of the same old Star Wars. More of the same actually sounded pretty good. So how did it turn out?
Well, it’s definitely not offensively bad the way The Last Jedi was. Unlike Rian Johnson, J.J. Abrams actually wants fans to be happy with this movie instead of seeing it as an opportunity to give them the finger. He does his best to pick up the pieces he’s been left with and craft an epic end to a long-running saga. He has the three main characters go on a long-overdue adventure together (something that should have happened in Force Awakens.) He blatantly repudiates The Last Jedi on some key points and even throws in a bunch of enjoyable little touches and moments that would have made a good movie great.
The problem, unfortunately, is that it’s just not a good movie. It’s not impossible to enjoy it, but your enjoyment hinges on your willingness to accept “just because” as the rationale for pretty much every major development. The movie introduces all manner of big over-the-top ideas, but none of them flow organically from the saga thus far or even the movie itself. Most of the characters go through some manner of character arc this time around (a first for Rey). Unfortunately, they’re less “arcs” and more “seismographs” because the movie seldom pauses long enough for any reflection that would help us understand why anyone does what they do. Their experiences of triumph and tragedy fall flat because we were never given enough reason to care about them. The film rushes and rushes to make up for lost time–extending itself with an endless sequence of fetch-quests straight out of a video game–but the third installment of a trilogy can’t do both its own work and all the work of its predecessors.
And that’s really the unsolvable problem with Rise of Skywalker. If J.J. had full-on retconned Last Jedi (e.g. “it didn’t happen the way Rey remembered it because Palpatine were altering her perceptions” or some other excuse) it might have worked, but it still would have been nothing short of a miracle to pull it off well. As it stands, it doesn’t dig the hole any deeper, but neither does it escape from it it. Rise of Skywalker really needed a solid predecessor to set up all the big things that should be paying off in the final installment. It needed character development, foreshadowing, and a slower introduction of new elements–all of which should have happened in the first two movies. But it didn’t, and Rise of Skywalker never really adapts to that handicap.
I don’t blame Abrams on this one. He did his best, but he just wasn’t able to pull off the miracle necessary to make this film a success. If The Last Jedi was the freak accident that killed the new trilogy, Rise of Skywalker was the funeral. As director thereof, Abrams does his best to make the corpse presentable and cater to the family’s needs, but he cannot breathe life, and the result remains empty and unnatural.