The Empire Returns the Jedi Back.
With the benefit of hindsight, beginning a mere four years ago, the Star Wars sequel trilogy has hardly been outstanding, has it? Upon announcement of its return in 2012, following Lucasfilm’s absorbment into the wholesome, sprawling entertainment Kraken that is Disney, opinions varied. The saga was done, why make more? It could be fantastic and what Star Wars needs. It could be god-awful, a-la the general attitude to the prequel trilogy at the time.
Thankfully, 2015’s The Force Awakens, helmed by J.J Abrams pleased fans by serving up a hearty helping of well-paced nostalgia and introducing promising new characters. However, said nostalgia was soon recognised as blatant remaking of the franchise’s first film, and has soured it slightly in the year since. 2017’s The Last Jedi was a bravely different, but tonally rubbish film from director Rian Johnson, where very few things of great importance happened, but splashes of brilliance came to the fore. The film split audiences right down to the core, some despising it, other adoring it. Nevertheless, it proved that this much ballyhooed trilogy may not have been as well-planned as previously hoped. And now the saga concludes once more with The Rise of Skywalker. This time, for good. Probably.
Despite its many flaws, The Last Jedi offered bold new directions for the franchise to go in, which could have led to a truly outstanding finale. Could have. Abrams, returning as director, instead opts to fall, Ridley, back on his original tactic of waterboarding nostalgia into our eyeholes, earholes, and heartholes, thinking it’ll get our goosebumps rising. Alas, no. The Force Awakens was a one-timer, and Abrams’ insistence on resurrecting older aspects of the trilogy (including some of his own, rather forgotten ideas) simply feels like a frantic attempt to hit “undo” on all The Last Jedi laid the groundwork for. Rey’s parents, Snoke’s origin, Kylo Ren’s rejection of the past; pfft, well, ol’ Abrams is gonna set the record straight on those bad boys.
In the opening ten minutes, Abrams’ camera dollies and flows all over the shop, shoving exposition relating to the plot into one’s face so hard and fast, it becomes quite funny. Yet, it strangely tells us bugger all at the same time. The Knights of Ren finally appear! Who are they? We don’t know. The Emperor (Iain McDiarmid, still channelling that raw energy) has returned! How? We don’t know. And, simply, we don’t ever begin to care about either point. This is The Rise of Skywalker’s most egregious disappointment; the film is so reliant, yet again, on our enthusiasm for things of the past, that the film loses any originality it may have shined in exhibiting. This is (purportedly) the conclusion to arguably the most influential series in modern film, and to be delivered with such a disappointing rehash of old ideas cements it as undoubtedly the dumbest film in the trilogy. As the film goes on, its hard not to draw obvious similarities to Empire or Return of the Jedi. Safe to say, alas, that whatever your first thoughts were upon seeing the trailer, were probably exactly what you theorised they would be.
And dumb is the word. Rarely does anything illicit an emotion, and just so little is explained with regards to the plot, the film comes dangerously close to the consistency of a Transformers movie. While many bemoan the prequel trilogy, it’s hard to argue that their individuality and creativity were not laudable. Indeed, the film does feel as though it is the antithesis of Revenge of the Sith‘s orangey emotion.
However, it ain’t all bad. Rey (Daisy Ridley) is training her Jedi abilities with Leia, while Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) fuel those gay-rumours by bickering all over the Millennium Falcon while on a mission for the Resistance. And it is through these characters that The Rise of Skywalker holds its strongest hand; while largely unremarkable, or portrayed as plain dunderheaded, in the shadow of The Last Jedi, Ridley, Boyega and Isaac each get their times to shine, and building on that likeability established in The Force Awakens. C-3PO even gets some of the film’s best moments, a welcome aspect to the current trilogy, given his largely sidelined role in the previous two films thus far.
And while it suffers from an agonisingly derivative string of events, there are moments that just about tug at the heartstrings. Chewie’s cries of upset around the film’s midpoint will chip at the most stone of hearts, while that final shot will undoubtedly induce a swell of emotions.
The visuals and, by extension, the action also continue to impress. A fleet of Star Destroyers as lightning strikes dazzles, while a simple shot of Rey walking into a big tomb with a only crack of light shows a clear flair for the visual storytelling. A landspeeder chase on yet another desert planet offers some enjoyable giggles.
With the three trilogies now complete, if the word to describe the original trilogy would be “great”, the word for the prequel trilogy to be “disappointing”, then the word for the sequel trilogy is, unfortunately, “unnecessary”. With two of the three films relying heavily on recapturing the magic of the original, why bother? The cinematic legacy of the sequel trilogy will likely be a lesson in restraint, or even in communication given the clear lack of it between films.
The Rise of Skywalker is by no means the worst Star Wars film. Indeed, it’s hard to point out a specific one as being inherently “bad”. But of the three closing chapters, it is undoubtedly the most disappointing. While entertaining enough, thanks to its charismatic cast, all of whom elevate it from two-star ignominy, and occasional emotional sequence, the film remains little more than an less-than-inspired, toothless whimper of a finisher. Less of a Rise, and more of a trip over.