Well cinephiles and Jedis, The Rise of Skywalker is no Avengers: Endgame, Toy Story 3 or Return of the King. But it’s also nowhere near as bad as Twilight: Breaking Dawn or Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
In other words, director J.J. Abrams landed the behemoth 9-film saga, but he didn’t stick it. Like the Millennium Falcon, it was in need of repairs after.
Years from now when the final Star Wars trilogy is debated, the conversation should quickly move from the superficial likes and dislikes of each film to a deeper exploration as to what happens when an artist or visionary, George Lucas in this case, is removed from the project that he gave birth to.
Sometimes others can carry on the torch successfully. And this final trilogy has been very lucrative for Disney, but it came with a creative price and that is losing Lucas’ voice.
One only has to look at the difference in tone, plot and characters of AMC’s The Walking Dead before and after showrunner Frank Darabont was fired early in the second season. The series has certainly had its highs since, but it’s had many lows, which has caused its audience to erode.
Darabont held a vision as to how these characters should progress in that apocalyptic world. Others have not been able to carry it out with much success.
Back to Lucas. He took multiple slams from audiences on the bad acting and writing in The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and The Revenge of the (“Nooooooo”) Sith, but you could still feel his hands stitching a story through those six films which began in 1977 with Star Wars: A New Hope.
When Lucas’ vision for the final three films was quickly dismissed by Disney execs and torch-bearer Kathleen Kennedy and her all-female writers room, you could feel many of Lucas’ ideas painfully melt away. Corporate Disney was determined to rush out Star Wars films every two years.
And rushed these new films are. Sounded like Yoda there. But true, these new films have the stench of someone chasing a cash cow.
All this said, I’m a big fan of J.J. Abrams. I loved Alias and Lost. I loved Super 8 and Star Trek. And I loved The Force Awakens. At the time. Now, TFA has fallen far behind what I consider the best (and most original) film in the new slate of films from Disney and Kennedy, Rogue One.
According to Rotten Tomatoes, the movie has a score of 56% based on 117 reviews and the Critics Consensus say that “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker suffers from a frustrating lack of imagination, but concludes this beloved saga with fan-focused devotion.”
Now, it is not rotten by any means. J.J. Abrams had the mountainous task of delivering a finale that would not only satisfy diehard fans of the Skywalker saga but also those fans who hyper-spaced out after Rian Johnson’s terrible The Last Jedi.
Rian Johnson is a great director. Loved Knives Out, but he shit all over Star Wars canon to be different. Defenders will say he made bold choices. No. Johnson wanted to be different for different sake. It was obvious from the opening moments of Poe’s (Oscar Isaac) terrible mama joke.
Abrams was forced into a position of righting a ship that had capsized from Johnson’s dimwitted decisions. And make no mistake, on a film of this scale and scope, a director doesn’t hold sole decision-making power. These are decisions by committee, led by Kathleen Kennedy, the real villain of Star Wars.
The Rise of Skywalker makes the jump to light-speed right after one of the best opening crawls in the series. “The Dead Speak…” Abrams never lets up on the action. After 10 minutes, we have been thrown into three fairly spectacular action sequences, leaving us catching our breath.
Then we sink into an hour or so of exposition. It’s a lot of exposition.
There are quieter, more genuine moments from Rey and Kylo Ren that keep the film from sinking into Michael Bay mindless action territory. But don’t blink, there is another breathtaking action set-piece coming fast and hard.
The action in Rise of Skywalker, admittedly pretty jaw-dropping for the most part, with space-battles, lightsaber duals and speeder chases (right out of Return of the Jedi) galore. The lightsaber duel on a wrecked Death Star, amid crashing waves, may be the most beautiful in all nine films.
Leia’s arc plays out elegantly and lovingly. It will make you miss Carrie Fisher all over again. And the cast operates at peak performance. Finn (John Boyega) who has always been somewhat annoying, isn’t as much here. Adam Driver is quickly becoming an actor I admire after Marriage Story. And Billy Dee Williams is a welcome return from the OG trilogy as Lando Calrissian.
The ending and final shot is touching and beautiful. Some will be upset that Johnson’s decisions were mostly retconned (Bye Rose). I for one will not be. But it is time to move onto different stories in this universe far, far away.
Thank you George for giving us this. And damn you Kathleen Kennedy for mostly f*cking it up.
The Geek is a working Screenwriter/Director in Los Angeles.