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It all ends here. At least for now. When Disney first took over the Star Wars franchise, they made clear they were going to bring the “Skywalker Saga” to a close. There’s been detours, new characters and lots of turnover, but the much anticipated movie is finally here. What do you need to know before going to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker?
Alright… here’s the trick… to sum this up without spoilers. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker picks up with Rey (Daisy Ridley), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) as they contend with Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the First Order. Let’s see, I’m keeping this spoiler-free, so that’s all you’re getting. J.J. Abrams directs the film from a script he co-wrote with Chris Terrio.
As most who don’t live under a Star Wars rock will know, this film signals the end of Disney’s newest trilogy, as well as the end to the George Lucas arc dating back to 1977 and Star Wars: Episode IV- A New Hope. There’s a lot of entertainment history here.
If there’s one thing the crew over at Disney have down, it’s the ability to produce visual effects filled, box-office dominating (if occasionally a bit bloated) popcorn films, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is no different. Abrams creates a visual marvel throughout, which will see this movie become a definite contender in all the visual awards categories. This creative team’s ability to blur the line between reality and computers continually evolves as the good guys find their way to the burned out wreckage of the Death Star on a planet covered by a turbulent ocean. The crashing and churning waves are so real, it’s difficult to remember that this is all created in a computer.
However, as the action gets going there’s a bit of a narrative disconnect. J.J. Abrams returns behind the camera after a bit of an absence. While he directed Star Wars: The Force Awakens, he turned the franchise over to Rian Johnson for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. To make matters trickier, Abrams stepped into this movie with a shortened timeline after filmmaker Colin Trevorrow was let-go. While the franchise has always been primarily defined by the producers as opposed to the vision of directors, the vast difference in creative voice between Abrams and Johnson is incredibly apparent as the action plays out on screen.
As a result, The Rise of Skywalker is packed as Abrams returns to close out the story he began. In fact, this narrative could have filled three additional movies. There are plot points which come to light in this story which feel jarring at their late inclusion. The team over at Marvel demonstrated the painstaking process of laying groundwork with each new installment; unfortunately, three minimally connected films doesn’t always make a franchise. The Rey of this story feels to be in a drastically different spot than she is in The Last Jedi. She experiences some mental struggles which seem to have popped out of nowhere… she possesses powers which are crazily and amazingly mighty, but seem intense for even a polished Jedi Master like Yoda. There are some mental leaps which are hard to make early in the story– even in this science fiction universe.
One unintended consequence of this lack of development is a reduction of the dramatic, narrative stakes. Interestingly, in the first two films, despite the characters (particularly Rey) abilities, they side-stepped this problem. People getting hurt is a real fear, the battles of the Republic felt grounded in tension. Unfortunately, this time out, the script feels very much influenced by the magic wand of the screenwriter. Things aren’t set up, they happen because they must in order to get to the next plot point. While this can work to craft fun moments on screen, it also has the ability to pull the audience back from the action. Why get invested in these characters if you know they are going to easily escape?
Furthermore, every time the movie moves towards a particularly interesting plot point, it pulls back. The Rise of Skywalker is very… safe. Have we finally seen the Disneyfication of Star Wars? Perhaps. Things happen to characters and it is waved off with a thinly developed excuse. Entire interesting narrative arcs are created, only to disappear with no payoff. Big name actors are integrated as little more than rather distracting extras— did they simply want to be in Star Wars? How do you waste an Oscar nominee? Other moments seem to be crafted merely because it would make a great shot.
While filmmaking is a visual medium, it is still a storytelling medium as well. A budget which would run a small country is great, but it means absolutely nothing if you don’t have a great script, and this is where The Rise of Skywalker struggles. The Force Awakens showed what the franchise could be, The Last Jedi showed where it could go, but ultimately, The Rise of Skywalker seems unable to move on from there. Star Wars has been onscreen in some form for more than 40 years, and it’s sad that this hastily written film is where the saga “ends”. This movie could have been a heck of a lot better.
Ultimately, there are two things consistent in life: time will pass, and everyone will have a different reading of a Star Wars film. So, if you are a fan of the franchise, go see this one. Star Wars always has been, and likely always will be, event filmmaking and an enjoyable popcorn movie in all its glory… just temper your expectations.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opens in theaters around the country today.
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