Far from flawless, ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ is an uneven and bloated mess that, despite its shortcomings, still manages to deliver a somewhat fun and satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.
After the debacle that was ‘The Last Jedi’ (a film I found excellent), one had to wonder what Disney, Lucasfilm, and everyone involved would do in the wake of fan criticism that ensued after the film. Bringing back ‘The Force Awakens’ director J.J. Abrams and including Chris Terrio as a writer were the first steps into possibly redeeming the trilogy for frustrated fans. Did it work? Well, the debate opens up. At least for me, the first thing I realized two scenes in, was how much of a good writer and director Rian Johnson is, because, despite their best efforts, the script Abrams and Terrio conjure up not only pales in comparison to that of its predecessor but is genuinely laughable. The pacing is awful, which makes me wonder if it is the script’s fault or there was at the very least an extra hour that was cut from this film.
You can tell their evident frustration generated by Johnson’s film throughout this one, repeatedly trying to undo what he achieved and desperately appease to everyone in the audience. With ‘The Last Jedi,’ to each their own, however, it is hard to imagine that there wasn’t any other better choice on the table than to bring Palpatine back. It is a tired and uninspired attempt to introduce a villain this late in the trilogy and pretend he was always behind everything. Was Snoke supposed to fill that role? One can only wonder, but what we have is a mess and robs the character from his incredible demise in the Original Trilogy and diminishes it to a campy standoff that is far from unique.
Despite all this, the film does have redeeming qualities. Its visuals are amazing, as one has come to expect from these films, and Abrams knows how to direct action. It can be amusing at times, and it is nice to see the promised central trio together and finally interact. The conclusion manages to stick the landing and have a great end battle sequence and a satisfying finish for the new characters, especially Kylo Ren (despite a particularly cheesy moment).
It is, after all, a film designed to appeal to both hardcore fans and general audiences the way Disney probably thinks ‘The Last Jedi’ did not, and in that case, it worked. ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ becomes a mostly mindless, predictable, and action-heavy blockbuster, abandoning the intellectual and unpredictable qualities that mainly were there before in favor of a more straightforward approach. You can tell Abrams tries to replicate what he did right in ‘The Force Awakens’, but the charming simplicity of that film does not work this late in the trilogy, especially following up Rian’s film. The move is not only incohesive but frankly feels like a backtrack more than redemption. It is a film designed for the people who thought ‘The Last Jedi’ was trash, and to that extent, it might work for them. Does it work for me? I left the theater mostly pleased with what the third act offered and had fun once I had accepted some of the butcherings of characters and horrible story decisions. It is still hard not to admit it could have been so much more. It is painful to say, in a way, because I had come to like these characters so much, especially Rey, and to see them go in such a middling chapter when what came before was so exceptional is frustrating. It eases my mind to know that there is no way this is the last episode of the franchise, but if it in any way turns out be, it is not great.
In the end, did I enjoy it? Yes, I did. In a way, it is much better than many other blockbusters that have come this year. But to have this specifically be the conclusion to one of the most significant first two chapters of a trilogy in recent memory is an undeniable letdown.