The last installment in the Skywalker saga attempts to take its characters to greater emotional depths by throwing in last-minute theories of grandeur.
When The Force Awakens first flashed into theaters in 2015 like a signature J.J. Abrams lens flare, it signaled the rebirth of a generational tale, bringing back old favorites along with new heroes and foes to the Star Wars universe. Still, everything felt like it was touched by the would-be hand of George Lucas (who was in no way associated with the films), as audiences waded into another pool of culturally updated sci-fi nostalgia.
Rise of Skywalker tries to get our characters back-on-rack after the creatively daring “misstep” (and only original take from the trilogy) of director Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi in 2017. Instead, its like the producers, and director Abrams, pulled ideas from a hat, trying to tie up the most loose ends they could muster so to end the Skywalker journey on a satisfying note.
The first act of Rise of Skywalker finally brings Rey, Finn, and Poe together to form the trio we’ve wanted since the start. We get to see Rey (Daisy Ridley) continue her training in a setting akin to Luke’s training with Yoda in Empire Strikes Back before she most be foisted to lead the resistance’s fight to defeat the empire’s newest and biggest threat: the return of one of the series’ greatest villain.
Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) tag along with Rey, like they unfortunately have had to do throughout the trilogy, with writers failing to give them proper character arcs.
Same goes for Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico. She’s so underutilized in this film that its stupid.
Finn, meanwhile, is more mesmerized with Rey then he’s ever been, and it’s still not really reciprocated. He knows what she’s going through, but does he know what he’s facing, who he wants to be? His self-reflection is almost forgotten.
Poe has a bit of a love interest and that doesn’t go anywhere, but at least we get to see him become a leader and this film’s funnyman. And there’s more romantic subtext to spare in part to a shaggier Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), especially that scene of him coming out of the ocean mist like some new age Mr. Darcy.
Beyond these fluffy remarks, the first act really brings the team together in true fashion devoid of gimmicks. We get to see Rey care for her friends and find the light in herself, even with that ongoing pull to the darkness. and it makes that whole part of the film feel like the originals in the right way.
From there on out, Rise of Skywalker is a mishmash of an identity crisis.
The film has a difficult time deciding whether to honor the films that preceded it and wrap a bow on that legacy, or take the time to deal with the story they currently have on their hands. This ends up splitting the burden between those two ideas to disorientating results.
Without getting into spoiler territory because that’s for another time, Rise of Skywalker‘s biggest issue is not that there is no heart within the storytelling. Perhaps there’s too much at moments, but when an emotional, character defining moments demands for it, there is nothing to be felt.
Chewie shows the most amount of emotion in this film, even though there are a lot of intense closeups on Rey’s face that beg for us to connect with her.
The connection between Rey and Kylo continues to be one of the most interesting takeaways from the trilogy as they battle their familial ties and own self-image. Together, they give one of the best fight scenes in Star Wars history. Any sexual tension they have is wasted though, and carted off as wasteful sacrifice.
Going home from the film I was left with this dreadful feeling: what was the point? Its a terrible thing to say because I don’t want to be “one of those people” who knit pick a pop culture juggernaut like Star Wars, but it’s necessary this time. There are so many problems beyond the structure of this film.
The series’ power has always lied in its gift to bring people together and forge a sense of family, but at the end of Rise of Skywalker, it just felt like I was saying goodbye to a family I never fully got to know. And that’s the biggest disservice to the film’s cast and the series’ legions of fans who have carved out a special place in their hearts for the tales of a galaxy far, far away.