Film Review: ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’: A Neutered Conclusion to a Once-Great Franchise

December 24, 2019 Updated: December 24, 2019
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PG-13 | 2h 21min | Action, Adventure, Fantasy | 20 December 2019

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” marks the ninth (and supposedly) final film in the long-running, pop culture, “Star Wars” franchise. Director J.J. Abrams took over the series’ reins back in 2015 with “The Force Awakens,” and since that time, it’s been a pretty rocky ride for fans of the original films, as well as for some of the newer fans who have on-boarded.

“Star Wars” fans have always been a famously divided lot, but killing off the most-beloved of the old characters in the first relaunch film made many go nuclear with disdain for the franchise’s new direction. And a new, not-so-cleverly-disguised tactic became apparent, which was to embrace the new and let the old die off. Any dreams of seeing the old characters (Luke, Leia, Han, and so on) meet up for a touching reunion was dashed to pieces right from the outset.

Daisy Ridley in Rise of Skywalker
Daisy Ridley in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” (2019 Lucasfilms Ltd.)

In their place, the new cast almost seems to have been conceived of in a corporate boardroom, with strict adherence to politically correct box-checking and an overly conscious decision to pander to as many demographics as possible.

If the seventh and eighth films pushed this tactic to the fore, this final “Star Wars” film feels strangely contradictory. Everything kicks off with the oddly contrived resurrection of the old character Emperor Palpatine, who apparently has been reconstituted by a gaggle of Sith subordinates.

This act alone just about makes much of the first six films almost seem irrelevant, since the entire story arc was about the rise of Skywalker, his subsequent battle with his evil dad, and the eventual destruction of his daddy’s overlord Palpatine. In other words, with the conclusion of the sixth film, everything wrapped up rather nicely.

John Boyega in Star Wars movie
John Boyega as the heroine Rey’s new space pal Finn. (2019 Lucasfilms Ltd.)

In any event, Palpatine is hiding out on a hidden planet called Exegol. He isn’t looking too hot these days, as he’s now connected to a life-assisting machine and has no pupils. However, the scabrous villain still has enough gusto to hatch a new dastardly plan, which includes an entire slew of Star Destroyers.

Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley), the main new superheroine of the final trilogy, still suffers from PTSD flashbacks (usually involving her parents). Accompanying Rey are her space pals, Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac). Together, they’re on a quest to find a special artifact secreted on some far-off planet.

Daisy Ridley fighting a drone
Rey (Daisy Ridley) fights a drone, in the overly action-packed “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” (2019 Lucasfilm Ltd.)

This fetch quest seems artificially injected into the script. In video games, fetch quests are frequently used by game developers to puff up a game’s playtime and make things seem more interesting than they really are. However, these quests are usually irrelevant to the overarching plot, which is the case here. These types of fetch quest tropes are sort of understandable in fluff-fest cinema such as the “Jumanji” films, which literally take place within game worlds. But here they just come off as lazy and apish, as if needed to pad out the sagging script.

Things move at lightspeed, and we’re treated to a nostalgia-fest of cameos, apparently in a self-conscious decision to pander to older fans. These include such “Star Wars” stalwarts as Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) and General Leia, the latter of whom is eerily (or morbidly, if you will) pieced together using hi-tech trickery and “archive footage,” since the actress, Carrie Fisher, tragically passed away in 2016.

Carrie fisher in Star Wars
Carrie Fisher in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” She appeared through unreleased footage from “The Force Awakens.” (2019 Lucasfilm Ltd.)

We also get a slapdash of action scenes that whizz by at equally breakneck speeds. These include noisy Stormtrooper raids, humongous fleet-on-fleet battles, Stormtroopers flying high through the air with jetpacks, Force powers galore, Stormtroopers dying by the thousands, Resistance comrades riding across the surfaces of Star Destroyers on exotic alien beasts, Stormtroopers … Well, you get the point.

These action scenes contain a lot of CGI gimmickry and really make you long for the good ol’ days when filmmakers had the patience (and skill) to build and utilize practical effects. Even with a few action scenes that actually look constructed, everything is happening at such a spastic pace that you can’t really decipher what’s going on. Much like the film’s plotline, instead of having anything to do with furthering the narrative, the action seems shoehorned in as if the filmmaker’s just said, “Meh, just toss ’em in, since audiences have such short attention spans anyway.”

In the end, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” isn’t a terrible film as much as it’s a soulless one, much like its two predecessors. Overall, many of the newer cast members frankly lack the charm and charisma of the original actors. The writing is also hackneyed and at many times illogical, and the overall product seems like an insincere pander-fest to the politically correct powers that be. Hopefully, this will really, actually mark the end of this worn-out, threadbare franchise and usher in a new wave of unique, interesting, and original ones.

‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’
Director: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2 hours, 21 minutes
Release Date: Dec. 20
Rated: 2 stars out of 5

Ian Kane is a filmmaker and author based out of Los Angeles. To see more, visit DreamFlightEnt.com or contact him at Twitter.com/ImIanKane