J.J. Abrams’ anxiety can be felt in every frame of the “Rise of Skywalker.” It’s an adrenaline rush from start to finish. At 142 minutes, it zips by at lightspeed. Seriously, it feels like it’s over in about 90 minutes. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle that looks more complicated than it is. Scene after scene goes by with no coherency or structure to be found. It’s as if Abrams layed out a bunch of cards with character interactions that he wanted to see, filmed them, threw them all together, and in a time crunch just released the compilation for the world to see. The visuals are impressive, but there’s nothing artistic about them. There’s no time to appreciate any of the set pieces. I’ve always said that we love Star Wars because of the concept and the imagination. “The Rise of Skywalker” lacks creativity, imagination, and any care for quality storytelling. Even the dialogue lacks any real delight. A lot of lines are just recycled.
Abrams has admitted that he’s not very good at ending stories, and I’d say he’s done some good self-analysis. By the time the credits roll, it doesn’t feel like there’s an ending at all. The film as a whole is like one giant run-on sentence, with planet hopping, character introductions, and big reveals that have absolutely no time to be fleshed out. There’s no emotion in “Skywalker” because everything is just so damn rushed. I should have cried in this movie like I did in “Endgame.” I’ve been a Star Wars fan since I was three years old. Rather than crafting emotional send-offs or honoring us with a visionary story, Abrams pulls out cheap shots of fan service that hardly moved me, and you see them coming from a mile away. Fans of Luke will no doubt be disappointed that his short scene feels like it was shoe-horned in at the last second to please those who disliked “The Last Jedi.” I wouldn’t say that the progress made in “The Last Jedi” is completely undone, but most of it is ignored. There’s no sense of continuity between “Skywalker” and its predecessor.
Palpatine is back, and shows up much earlier than I expected. Perhaps Abrams thought that having him in the movie longer would make his character seem less forced, but it doesn’t. His reveal isn’t particularly intelligent or at all explained. There was no build-up to Palpatine’s return over the last two movies, so of course nothing feels organic about him re-surfacing. I suspect that fans who disliked “Last Jedi” will love “Skywalker” in the short-term, but over the years will realize just how messy and emotionless the film really is. I’m also sad to say that I did not enjoy any of the lightsaber battles. I like wide shots that capture the action and the setting, not just close-ups of body movements and grimacing faces. There’s also nothing personal about the fights – Rey and Ren are usually battling over some object that one is trying to get from the other.
Many critics have likened the plot of “Skywalker” to that of a video game, and that comparison is not far off. The plot was likely designed this way in an attempt to blend all of the fan service moments into the story, but it ultimately just makes them too transparent. Remember this place? Check out this thing! Remember this person? The first 30 minutes have been panned by mostly everyone, but I actually found them to be the most interesting. Had elements in the beginning just been slowed down and fleshed out, there would have been a lot of interesting expansion in the lore of Star Wars. It wouldn’t have felt like so much exposition had the screenwriters just taken their time with the story. This is the final installment in the Skywalker saga – if it were 200 minutes long, people would still sit through it. Instead, we cut back and forth from place to place and it all just becomes muddled and unmemorable.
Carrie Fisher’s scenes are handled fairly well, but it’s obvious that other characters’ lines were written around what footage they had of her. Most of her lines are generic and some of the same expressions are used multiple times. I suppose Abrams made the most of a bad situation, and this is the least of my problems with this film. Her presence in the story just felt very unnatural, and her final scenes had no emotional weight.
There’s not much to say about the plot of “Skywalker” other than that the battle of good vs evil comes to its epic conclusion. At the center of it is Rey still struggling with an identity crisis, and Kylo Ren still wavering between the light and the dark. Their scenes together remain the most interesting parts of this trilogy, at least until a final scene that’s straight out of a fan-fiction comic book. There’s a lot of spectacle in this one that’s done for spectacle sake, and a lot of it is just quickly thrown in out of left field. There are more plot holes than resolutions. Abrams and “Skywalker” are a direct result of the vitriol towards the “Last Jedi,” and many of the choices in the film can be interpreted as apologetic pandering towards outspoken fans. “Skywalker” takes me back to what I was happy to get away from in “The Force Awakens” – safety and familiarity. This final installment lacks what’s most important in the end of a saga – conviction.
Why is it so difficult to make a good Star Wars film? I wish I knew. There’s so much to work with, yet so little ground has been made. I’m relieved this saga is finally over, but not for the reasons I wanted to be.