Image Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Director: J. J. Abrams
Starring: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega
Running Time: 2hr 22mins
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the much-anticipated conclusion to the final trilogy in the blockbuster franchise.
In this film, Rey and the gang, representing the forces of good, prepare for a final battle against the First Order while a greater evil is revealed in the sudden re-emergence of Emperor Palpatine. Although the plot introduces new characters and revisits old ones, The Rise of Skywalker does not show much ambition beyond what is expected of it. It exists because a story was set up in another film and it needs to be concluded somehow, without any concern for how they are ending it, or what they are even trying to say in the process.
Even the choice of villain for the film is lazy and half-hearted. By copying-and-pasting Palpatine, the iconic villain of the original trilogy, into the film with little explanation for why he’s suddenly reappeared, it is as if the writers are admitting that they cannot match that trilogy by creating their own striking villainous presence. The film is consistently reliant on using the magic of the old trilogy to try and kick some life into the new. Beloved characters appear (with a swelling musical score, tapping into the easy target of retro nostalgia) then disappear because the narrative never needed them. Yet the film does not only aim to placate the bloodthirsty Star Wars nerds, but also to surprise them. Beloved characters die, yet out of fear for fan outrage, it is quickly revealed that they survived, with their presumed death adding no glimmer of substance to the plot.
The narrative involves a dull quest to find an object (a MacGuffin, in the language of cinematic tropes) for the purposes of defeating the villain. The narrative itself is thin, despite the long running time, as it mostly consists of this quest, with few turns or obstacles. Although The Last Jedi was incoherent, it did try to explore its characters in terms of how they relate to the world (which is a simple ask of any film), rather than keeping them on the same path that reaches an entirely expected conclusion. The film tries to have a ‘twist’ in the appearance of the ghosts of the Sith, then Rey obviously summons the ghostly voices of the Jedi to give her strength; her victory ultimately emphasises the comfortable victory of good over evil. It says little about good or evil, only that the latter defeats the former because it must, to provide a positive conclusion.
In terms of positives, the acting is satisfactory and the special effects live up to expectations of a big-budget international blockbuster. The Rise of Skywalker suffers from the unexpected death of Carrie Fisher, which necessitated changing the original narrative. In the film, she appears infrequently and the distance is felt. Her exchanges with Rey lack an emotional resonance as her lines are short and generic, and most of their time is spent hugging, where a stunt double can easily be used to showcase the back of Leia’s head.
The film is a lesson in the dangers of succumbing to fan pressure, no matter how large and vocal. A popular fan theory involved speculation on the identity of Rey’s parents, implying her powers must be explained by a blood relation to an original trilogy Force user. By inserting this speculations into the film, the lines between the cinematic world of Star Wars and its ubiquitous place in popular culture become blurred. The original Star Wars films are often criticised for their plots holes and stupidly named characters and places, yet these elements reflect why they became so widely loved, because they were escapist, imaginative to the point of absurd. The new trilogy cannot match its predecessors because it cannot function as eccentric, carefree escapism. It constantly reminds the viewer that Star Wars is very much part of the real world, in which films with expensive, cutting-edge special effects must be made to be profitable not only in terms of ticket sales, but also merchandising and spin-off promotional products. It needs to make a large international profit, satisfying both its committed adult fans as well as children who lack nostalgia for the original series. It cannot exist as a film, but as an amalgamation of the many pre-existing judgements and expectations set upon it.
Star Wars is one of those iconic stories in popular mythology that if you explained it to someone who had never heard of it, they would probably dismiss it as absurd, childish rubbish. There are plenty of people who have seen it and retained that opinion. Fair enough, it’s a bit silly. But that childishness explains its appeal; science fiction as a genre is often defined by reckless disregard for any scientific principles and a determination to find the weirdest names possible for all the characters and places. The Rise of Skywalker seems like the worst way to finish this saga, as it takes no risks and introduces nothing new to the series. It lacks any escapist fun, it has nothing to say, and the worst part (and what makes it worse than films often considered ‘the worst’) is that it seems pointless even to the people that created it.