Review: “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” falls flat

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Image: Dean Yusuf

It’s safe to say that there have been few film franchises as iconic and impactful as “Star Wars.” The original trilogy was a cultural phenomenon and has since evolved into something much larger than just a movie series. 

The sequel film trilogy attempts to introduce a new generation to a galaxy far, far away. The release of J.J. Abrams-directed “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in 2015 saw the creation of a new stage for “Star Wars” after Disney acquired it in 2012. The conclusion of this saga, “The Rise of Skywalker,” was highly-anticipated and had high expectations.

Abrams takes up the reins once again as the director of “The Rise of Skywalker.” Ever since Rian Johnson’s “The Last Jedi” came out in 2017, fans and critics alike have eagerly awaited Abram’s conclusion of the modern Star Wars trilogy. And while “The Rise of Skywalker” isn’t bad by any means, its old, tired tropes stunt any growth made by “The Last Jedi.”

The Achilles’ heel of the sequel trilogy is the handing off of the director title from Abrams to Johnson then back to Abrams. As a result, “The Rise of Skywalker” feels disjointed. It attempts to tie up the loose ends of the past few films, but ends up raising more questions than answers. 

“The Rise of Skywalker” was written as the antithesis to “The Last Jedi,” and it shows. It completely reverses many of the plot points of the latter film, including one of its most important revelations: Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) parentage. The big reveal of Rey’s lineage as a Palpatine feels tacky, and the resurrected Emperor Palpatine seems like a shell of his past self. 

Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) also falls flat as both a villain and a character, deflecting back to his Ben Solo persona without any real character development. Finn (John Boyega), once so full of potential, is squandered with his limited role in this film. Poe’s (Oscar Isaac) role as a character transforms from “The Last Jedi,” but even elements of his story, such as his spice dealer past, seem out of place. 

The new plots and characters “The Last Jedi” introduced, such as Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), are completely ignored, and the story harks back to past villians and heroes without any real significance.

Of course, no blockbuster film on the level of “The Rise of Skywalker” comes without controversy. A brief scene of two women kissing at the end of the film, the first gay kiss in the franchise’s history, was removed from the film for its release in Singapore. This move was also criticized for its subtlety, as many fans were hoping for more substantial LGBTQ+ representation, particularly between Boyega’s Finn and Issac’s Poe. In an interview with IGN, Issac said, “I think there could’ve been a very interesting, forward-thinking – not even forward-thinking, just, like, current-thinking – love story there, something that hadn’t quite been explored yet; particularly the dynamic between these two men in war that could’ve fallen in love with each other. I would try to push it a bit in that direction, but the Disney overlords were not ready to do that.”

Roger Cheng of CNET said, “Here’s the thing about Abrams’ films: they move so quickly you don’t really have time to process everything that’s going on,” and I think this exemplifies “The Rise of Skywalker.” It’s chock-full of flash, which is nice, but there’s little substance. Even most of the bombshells of the film are passed over, quickly moving on to the next shootout or fight. The pacing is off, and I found myself resisting the urge to check the time on my phone when I saw the film in theaters. At the film’s end, Rey announces her chosen name, which turns out to be a very unsatisfying and even borderline cringeworthy moment.

Skywalker does have many of the thrills and high-speed chases of previous films, and for many nostalgic “Star Wars” and movie fans, it should be a relatively enjoyable viewing experience. But Skywalker was written as a pleaser. The whole thing feels like a rehash — nothing about it feels fresh, original or interesting. Most importantly, the magic present in most Star Wars films is nowhere to be found. It is instead replaced with mediocrity stew with a side of nostalgia. It is good enough, but it is missing those little elements that could have made it great.