Boy, it’s a weird time to be a Star Wars fan.
On the one hand, Disney’s stewardship of the franchise has resulted in the well received streaming series The Mandalorian, which has pushed “Baby Yoda” (yes, we know it’s not actually Yoda) into immediate superstardom, even among people who don’t know a rathtar from a mynock. The Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge themed land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a hit, with many proclaiming the Rise of the Resistance ride to be one of the best theme park attractions in history. And the partnership between Marvel and Lucasfilm has resulted in some really great stories and new characters over in the comics arm of the fandom. (Seriously, go read the “Vader Down” storyline. It’s fantastic.)
And then you have the movies.
The schism that erupted among fans after 2017’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi has not abated. Many felt like the series had lost its way under the watch of writer-director Rian Johnson. They hated the characterization of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) as a bitter old hermit. They hated the fact that the heroes fail. And then some of the most vocal “fans” couched their arguments in blatant misogyny and tired complaints about “political correctness,” poisoning the well of discussion so much that bringing up the film even two years later is like walking into a conversational minefield.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker** isn’t going to fix any of that.
Director J.J. Abrams, working off of a script by himself and Chris Terrio, has very obviously tried to course-correct from the legacy of The Last Jedi by retconning some of the earlier film’s bold – arguably flawed, but bold – choices and returning to a predictable narrative. In trying to please everyone, though, Rise of Skywalker struggles to please anyone.
In the interest of avoiding unnecessary spoilers, we won’t discuss much of the plot outside of what’s revealed in the trailers. Yes, the big bad is the Emperor. Ian McDiarmid returns to the franchise to reprise his role as Sheev Palpatine, former Emperor of the Galactic Republic and also a Sith Lord known as Darth Sidious. There’s no buildup to this reveal, though: It’s just thrown into the iconic title crawl.
Despite all of the work The Last Jedi did to move beyond the legacy of the past films – that was kind of the point of the movie – Abrams has decided to resurrect a villain who didn’t have anything to do with the previous two films – or did he? Rise of Skywalker tries to connect the Emperor to events in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, but don’t think too hard about his so-called plan unless you want the many, many cracks to immediately show through.
Speaking of resurrecting the dead, the late Carrie Fisher makes her final appearance as General Leia Organa, even though the actor died in 2016. Her performance here is cobbled together from leftover footage from The Last Jedi, and while it’s nice to see her face again, it’s painfully obvious that her lines have nothing to do with the scenes she’s in.
There are things to like about Rise of Skywalker. The core trio of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) have great chemistry together, and the scenes in which they’re out adventuring across the galaxy are some of the best in the trilogy. Unfortunately, it’s one of the only times in the trilogy that we get to see that group dynamic on screen, and all it does is make us crave more of the same, which we’re never going to get.
Also, Babu Frik, a diminutive alien droid engineer, steals every scene he’s in with his incomprehensible but unmistakable enthusiasm. A buddy-cop movie starring him and Baby Yoda might solve world peace.
New characters Zorri Bliss (Keri Russell) and Jannah (Naomi Ackie) have been touted in pre-release promotional materials, but barely get any time on screen, along with the thinnest of background stories for each. Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) returns from the original trilogy, only to be similarly given very little to do.
One of the most appalling slights of Rise of Skywalker, though, is how it treats the character of Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran). Tran herself received so much backlash from hateful fans in the wake of her debut in The Last Jedi that she ended up having to delete her social media presence due to the prevalence of toxic misogyny, racism and threats that she was receiving on a daily basis. How does Abrams stick up for this actor? By all but cutting her out of the film. She appears in passing a few times, and has a handful of lines, but her relationship with the other characters has been deleted.
The whole thing feels like a report that was cobbled together at the last minute by Disney and Lucasfilm. The plot reeks of a back-up plan, crafted to take the place of whatever direction Johnson had planned for the trilogy, and as such, has to do the work of both an alternative second act and a third act, crammed into two and a half hours.
By the end of Rise of Skywalker, plenty of questions are answered about Rey’s parentage and her relationship with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, who also turns in a fine performance even if some of his character’s choices are suspect). But you can be forgiven if you find yourself looking forward to the supplemental stories in other media that come out of this film more than the film itself.