Rounding out the latest Star Wars trilogy, Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker hit the cinema this week. Warnings out the way: this review has spoilers. Here’s the blurb:
“The surviving Resistance faces the First Order once more as Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron’s journey continues. With the power and knowledge of generations behind them, the final battle commences.”
Writing a Star Wars movie must be a tremendous pressure. While it’s true that writing for any franchise isn’t easy – you’re often holding someone else’s baby – a Star Wars movie brings with it a huge fan expectation. The Last Jedi sharply divided the hardcore fans (who hated it) and the casual fans (many of whom enjoyed it). I fall firmly into the latter camp, and I actually enjoyed Luke’s return in The Last Jedi. I thought that film wrapped up many story arcs, and the biggest criticism I have is that it brought the trilogy to a premature close: with the fall of Kylo Ren and the death of Supreme Leader Snoke, as well as the reveal of Rey’s true heritage.
Well, in many ways the writers of The Rise of Skywalker seem to feel the same way. The movie overwhelmingly feels like a continuation of The Force Awakens, rather than a true sequel to Jedi. It undoes many of the successes of Jedi, and I wonder to what degree it suffered rewrites as a result of the untimely death of Carrie Fisher and the critical post-Jedi backlash. The Rise of Skywalker feels amazingly safe in every aspect. It really reflects the same approach the The Force Awakens – rather than trying to tread new ground, it just sort of repeats much of what we already know.
When Skywalker does introduce new material, it does so without any foundation whatsoever. The big “reveal” of the series is that Emperor Palpatine – that Emperor, from the original films – has actually been cloned and has been pulling the strings all the way along, and orchestrating the actions of the Third Order in an effort to bring back the Sith. While this is a neat idea, it felt incredibly rushed to introduce this in the third instalment of a trilogy. Why not at least foreshadow it in the earlier films? Why not give us some background to the Sith? How come, suddenly, everyone can understand Sith and knows all about them? I was reminded at this point that in The Force Awakens everyone seems to think the Jedi are a thing of legend. Wouldn’t the Sith and the Jedi go hand in hand in that respect? Well, Skywalker says no. Some random Resistance tech guy can even decipher Sith apparently. Okay, right…
One of the most criticised plot points of Jedi was the reveal of Rey’s parentage. Fans were very disappointed by the fact that she was essentially a nobody; the child of two scavengers, sold into slavery. She had no grand backstory, and the mystery of her true lineage being teased in Force Awakens, that came to nothing in Jedi. This is an example of what I suspect suffered a re-write: Rey turns out to be the granddaughter of Palpatine himself. Her force sensitivity is therefore the result of the dark side, making her exceptionally dangerous. This is a very cool idea and one that I could easily have embraced, but again: where’s the foreshadowing? Why wasn’t this at least hinted at in earlier films? Why didn’t Luke or Leia comment on this at some point? The latter criticism is addressed in passing (basically they knew but decided not to tell Rey, for some reason), but not to my satisfaction. The end result is that it feels like any decent ideas Skywalker has are shoehorned in. It ’s all a bit too little, too late.
That’s not to say that Skywalker isn’t a very enjoyable film. But it’s just that: an enjoyable film. It’s not a classic. It doesn’t reinvent the SF movie. It’s another episode in what has become a very long and wieldy series, struggling under the weight of its own lore. I’m afraid to say that I felt a bit fatigued by the movie by the end. Not just because of its over-long running time but because we’ve had so much Star Wars content over the last few years. Nothing stands out anymore. The films are fun, they do the job, and then they’re done: on to the next target.
Maybe I’m being too critical. Probably I’m being too critical. But it does feel like this series has lost its magic. I’d certainly recommend going to see the movie to make up your own mind, but don’t go in expecting anything more than a fun popcorn flick.