THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (directed by J.J. Abrams, 141 minutes, USA, 2019)
BY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC At the end of The Last Jedi, we witnessed Luke Skywalker sacrifice his life so the remnants of the Resistance could escape aboard the Millennium Falcon. This was after Kylo Ren promoted himself to supreme leader by killing the mysterious Snoke, and offering Rey a place at his side ruling the galaxy. Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi made some bold choices compared to JJ Abrams’ fan service-y The Force Awakens. This created a rift between those fans that wanted a new drug and fans that wanted another hit off the Star Wars nostalgia bong. After director Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World) was fired deep into pre-production on The Rise Of Skywalker, J.J. Abrams stepped into the breach to conclude the Skywalker trilogy he started.
The Rise of Skywalker finds Kylo Ren teaming up with Emperor Palpatine, who we find out has been hiding out on a secret Sith planet, orchestrating his will through his puppet Snoke this whole time. He offers Ren the means to conquer the galaxy — an armada of planet destroying starships he calls The Final Order – but only if he kills Rey. So, begins a planet hopping cat and mouse McGuffin chase as Rey hopes to find an ancient Sith artifact that will lead her and the Resistance to Palpatine, with Kylo and the Knights of Ren hot on her trail. The Resistance only has a narrow window to launch their final all-or-nothing attack as The Final Order readies to leave the secret Sith world and destroy any planet that doesn’t fall into line.
Skywalker is a dense watch, as Abrams attempts to mix info dumps, exposition and narrative to varying degrees of success and only makes sense if you’ve seen all the previous Star Wars films. The cast are all known quantities at this point with Driver being the clear standout this time around. Even with all of the changes, his is still the most consistent story arc throughout all three films as Ben Solo continues to be conflicted over which path to take. Carrie Fisher who had passed away before the end of production on The Last Jedi also posthumously returns in a leading role culled from unused footage from Jedi to help explain a major plot hole. It’s a noble gesture honestly, but it feels like fan service rather than a genuine path for Princess Leia Organa.
The crux of this dense narrative is a string of reveals that work at the cost of coherence and continuity with everything that has come before. I hesitate to call it lazy writing, because I understand it was creative problem solving, an attempted solution to an unsolvable problem. J.J. Abrams wanted everyone to leave the theater happy. But by doing so he lost the momentum, and cohesion that Johnson had handed off to him. He turned in a film that while generally okay at best, it feels like filmmaking by committee and focus group, rather than as singular vision driven by story. While I thoroughly enjoyed the further exploration of Rey and Kylo’s relationship, which is the emotional core of the film, I felt like Abrams kept getting distracted by spectacle, the need for big final reveals and lore rather than the humanity that drives these films.