“A confusing combination of giddy childhood excitement and disappointed resignation” is how I described The Rise of Skywalker as we left the theatre at 2.30 AM. I had decided that an eight-hour triple bill would be the only worthy cinematic environment in which to conclude my lifelong journey with the Skywalkers, and honestly I did have a great time. As a Star Wars purist, the new trilogy had never really been my cup of tea, but the final instalment was an enjoyable, exciting film to watch. The film was as beautiful as ever, with interesting character developments and a well-navigated farewell to Carrie Fisher. I really enjoyed the continued exploration of Kylo Ren, and this final film has cemented him as one of the most intriguing, multi-faceted characters of the Star Wars universe. Not only this, but the dynamic between Kylo Ren and Rey which was so interesting in The Last Jedi is further explored with emotional depth and maturity, although ending on a rather strange note.
However, obviously it couldn’t all be double suns and rainbows. After the initial excitement of watching the film died down, I began to realise that it is almost entirely J.J. Abrams backtracking from all of the interesting developments that Rian Johnson had created in The Last Jedi. While not a perfect Star Wars film itself, The Last Jedi was fresh and exciting, promising a new, undefined frontier for the Star Wars universe that didn’t rely on nostalgia like The Force Awakens. Opening with Luke throwing his lightsaber off a cliff, The Last Jedi followed Luke and Kylo Ren as they sought to “let the past die”. And, in an era defined by reboots, this clear decision to move away from the original films that we already know and love seemed hopeful.
However, J.J. Abrams (and apparently an exceptionally large portion of fans) decided that the past was all that held Star Wars together, and the opening title of the new film unexplainably manages to resurrect the original trilogy once more to appease these fans. An incredibly significant problem (one entirely removed from the first two films) is introduced in the scrolling script of the opening of the film…how? Who knows. The film then endeavours to hastily create and resolve this problem, MacGuffin in hand, to come to an ultimate conclusion to a 42-year long story (all in the span of 142 minutes). It’s a little bit of a mess, and many reviewers (aka my film student friends) have mentioned the inconsistent pacing. Not only does this failure to “let the past die” mean that the film is motivated by an unnecessary grasp upon the old guard, but it also removes the threat of death itself. In doing so, action scenes that could have been extraordinary become empty shows of spectacle with no ultimate consequence. By undoing Rian Johnson’s work, J.J. Abrams grapples to explain Rey’s exceptional untrained power— seemingly in response to the rather misogynistic fan complaints surrounding her “Mary Sue” talents. In doing so, Rey’s inspirational journey from nothing becomes redundant. By overdeveloping Rey’s character, Abrams casts aside Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose, a character that Johnson had clearly been setting up for a more prominent role in the trilogy. Rose is left behind, consequently limiting Finn’s development. While the film is enjoyable, and the nostalgic elements excite life-long fans, attempting to redirect the momentum of The Last Jedi by quite literally dragging Palpatine’s corpse from his grave, means that the film feels rushed and undeveloped.
After reading the reviews online, I can’t agree that The Rise of Skywalker is a godawful movie to be scrubbed from the Star Wars canon. It is a beautifully made film full of excitement, emotion and humour. I will most certainly watch it again. However, the switching of directors throughout the new trilogy is painfully obvious (especially when sitting for eight hours and watching the movies back to back). The Rise of Skywalker feels like the victim of a tug of war between Johnson and Abrams. It spends more time trying to undo the direction of the previous film than it does making itself a well-rounded, substantiated conclusion to the franchise.