I have a few quick thoughts on Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and on the sequel trilogy overall now that’s all wrapped up. (Allegedly.) No spoilers!
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was a wholly unsatisfying experience. The movie is just a mess, really, both taken on its own and as the final part of this Disney-era Star Wars sequel trilogy. Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver deliver great performances again (and thank God for those two), and it was great to see Carrie Fisher one last time. And… well, I don’t really think I have much else to say about it!
My friend Daniel summed it up pretty well: “Abrams screwed it up, bottomline.” Couldn’t agree more.
But! The Rise of Skywalker does one thing really well: It makes so incredibly appreciative of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. In retrospect, those two films — the fact that they are as good as they are — are near-miracles.
It’s clear by now: It’s hard to make a good Star Wars film. Of the 11 total movies, three are complete disasters (you know which ones), two are competently made but severely flawed (Return of the Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker), two had so much behind-the-scenes trouble they had to re-do them halfway through (Rogue One and Solo), three are excellent (Star Wars, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi) and one is perfect (The Empire Strikes Back).
So yeah, it’s not an easy thing to do do, and we should be thankful that the first two sequel films are as good as they are. They’re not perfect. But they’re pretty close.
The biggest complaint about The Force Awakens is that it’s a re-tread of Star Wars, which is true, but from my point of view, that’s a feature, not a bug. After the prequel trilogy, Lucasfilm and Disney had to re-establish trust with the audience, and show us that they knew how to make a good Star Wars film. The best way to do that was to back and give us something we’d seen before, while giving us new characters to root for going forward. (Literally, the first line of the film is “This will begin to make things right.” They knew exactly what they were doing.) It works, amazingly well. I don’t really care about the familiar trappings, because I’m so engaged with Rey, Kylo Ren, Finn and BB-8.
In The Last Jedi Rian Johnson takes those new characters and says, now that we’ve established trust by taking you where you’ve been before, we’re asking you to trust us to take you somewhere new. (Again, it couldn’t be more plain: “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to.”) And again, it works. Star Wars was fresh and new! I had no idea how that throne room sequence was going to play out and it was absolutely thrilling. The biggest flaw of the film is that the Canto Bight sequence falls flat (it’s too long, and the creatures and environment, and the terrible gags, feel prequel-y) but the message of that sequence — about how war affects the wider universe — is important, and also something new for Star Wars.
Unfortunately it seems Lucasfilm and Disney and JJ Abrams weren’t interested in going down that path any further, choosing instead to return to the safe and familiar ground. It’s a shame, because turning The Rise of Skywalker into a re-tread of Return of the Jedi — pausing only long enough to throw some Indiana Jones-esque treasure hunting in — is not a feature at this point. It’s just tired.
And the wholly unnecessary potshots at The Last Jedi? Just embarrassing. This movie could have been made without giving the worst people on the Internet a reason to feel hard. Those voices aren’t worth listening to.
So, I’m disappointed in The Rise of Skywalker, but I am more grateful than ever for The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. I absolutely adore those movies, and the failure of The Rise of Skywalker makes me appreciate them even more.