The Rise of Skywalker had a tough task, especially after Disney announced that it was going to be the last film in what they are calling the Skywalker saga. I am not here to write about how this movie fits into the overall Star Wars story; I am planning that post for a later date, after I have had more time to digest this and maybe see it again. I am also not here to relitigate The Last Jedi, which for the record is the best movie since the original trilogy, no contest. I am merely attempting to review the movie itself. All the other stuff is important and it is nearly impossible to separate this movie from ‘what this movie means’ but for the next few hundred words I am going to attempt to do that.
The Rise of Skywalker opens with the reveal that Emperor Palpatine is still alive (alive again? Its not clear). He has been hiding on a Sith planet called Exegol, building a new fleet of Star Destroyers and secretly controlling the first order from the shadows. A spy in the First Order gets this information to the Resistance, and our heroes set off to find the hidden planet and put an end to Palpatine and the First Order for good.
If I had to describe The Rise of Skywalker in just a few words, I would call it frantic and desperate. This is a movie that seems to be unable to stop for a second to breath or contemplate. Maybe because it knows that the house of cards that is its plot would completely collapse. JJ Abrams remains great at manufacturing excitement. The gang rushes from one catastrophe to the next, from one giant set piece into another, from one revelation to the next. There is no time for things to settle. For the most part, it works in the moment. Then there is the sheer amount of fan service. This movie remains as determined as The Force Awakens to remind the viewer of the original trilogy, even at the expense of telling its own story. That gives the whole thing a feeling of sweaty desperation, that that greatest fear of the people behind this movie is that the viewer might not like it.
One thing the movie does that is absolutely great is that, for the first half of the movie, keeps the central trio of Rey, Finn and Poe together. In the previous two movies, the main characters spent precious little time interacting with each other. Part of that was due to how many characters these movies have tried to juggle, adding characters from the original trilogy with plenty of newcomers. Here, we finally get to see how these characters interact with each other. It is a lot of fun.
Where it started to fall apart for me is when the movie did slow down a little and you could see how empty it was. Mostly, the movie plays the hits. Bits from Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi show up. Most of the revelations with Palpatine fell completely flat for me. Kylo Ren’s fate felt underserved, an echo of the past that was not really rooted in some character decision.
I can’t say the fan service didn’t work on me. I teared up a little with Leia’s exit. I loved to see Lando and that brief glimpse of Wedge. New characters, like Zori Bliss, were fun, though I hated to see Rose Tico get sidelined. The ending, which was easy to predict as soon as they announced the title for the movie, worked wonderfully.
The Rise of Skywalker is a movie that is trying very hard to please, to be everything its fans want it to be. The problem is that it doesn’t really have any ideas; all it has is a love of the past. So it trots out things you seen before, maybe gives them a little twist, and shows them to you again. Don’t you remember when the Death Star destroyed Alderaan? Here that destroys another planet. Remember that moment from A New Hope when Han Solo came back and saved Luke during the trench run? What if it wasn’t one ship but hundreds? It can delight in moments, but there is nothing hiding how empty everything is. But it tries so hard.