The problem with a property like “Star Wars” is that you must keep everyone happy all the time. Many fans were displeased with the direction “The Last Jedi” took, so “Rise of Skywalker” appears to be a capitalist course correction in order to protect the property against its most ardent “fans.” It is a cautionary tale that franchise movies have become less and less about engaging storytelling and more about placating the masses.
“The Last Jedi” attempted to explore parts unknown as far as “Star Wars” goes. It tried to blaze a new path, full of though-provoking questions about the larger universe and provided a pathway to an unexpected outcome.
Unfortunately, Rian Johnson’s film was ultimately sandwiched between two J.J. Abrams films that strangled it to death. Abrams has taken back the reigns and put a blaster to all the interesting storylines “The Last Jedi” endeavored to set up.
The first half of “Rise of Skywalker” is a whole lot of exposition about specific trackers that are necessary to find specific places. There are loads of explanation as the characters and their interactions get bogged down in telling the story rather than showing it. All of this is to set up a storyline that can easily erase everything “The Last Jedi” left us with.
Rey’s (Daisey Ridley) character arc is one of the most disappointing things of “Rise of Skywalker.” Why must she have a meaningful lineage? Why can’t “Star Wars” be content with someone coming from nothing and becoming something? I’m reminded of the great Jyn Erso in “Rogue One” who was able to take on Darth Vader without the help of force powers. Just a band of people doing something amazing. “Rogue One” is terribly underrated simply because it doesn’t cling to the tropes these stories are known for.
Abrams has also managed to make the entire film look dingy and uninspired. “The Last Jedi” was vibrant and full of memorable cinematography. Whole sequences beautifully filmed and presented in a way that no “Star Wars” movie had done up until then.
For all the retconning and unmemorable photography, the rest of the movie is aggressively fine. “Rise of Skywalker” abhors taking any kind of risks and instead basks in nostalgia since that’s all fans seem to care about any more.
While watching it I was reminded of the scene in HBO’s “Watchmen” where Angela ingests a pile of “nostalgia pills” and is overcome with sickness as her mind wanders into someone else’s memories. There are plenty of “remember this?” scenes that will, no doubt, get cheers just because the audience does remember that.
“The Last Jedi” took risks and “Rise of Skywalker” walks them all back. If that sounds like the “Star Wars” you’re looking for then this one is for you.