Cartoonish and absurd, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is the film that fans demanded but not the one the franchise deserves.
After the fanboy backlash associated with director Rian Johnson’s “The Last Jedi,” J. J. Abrams stepped in to helm the final installment in the new trilogy. Also known as “Episode IX,” “The Rise of Skywalker” picks up right after the epic defeat of the First Order. The Resistance, led by General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher, using unreleased footage from “The Force Awakens”), is continuing their fight. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the Supreme Leader of the First Order, is searching for a magical way-finder device to lead him to the mysterious Sith headquarters.
Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley), the last Jedi, trains under the tutelage of Leia. Rey and Ren continue to engage in their mind-link love affair, as Ren’s murderous rampage leaves stacks of bodies in its wake. Naturally, Rey decides to search for the way-finder, as well, and with her is crack pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), former stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), and series regular Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo).
The race to locate the way-finder is on. In addition to combating the Empire, the goal of the Resistance is to prevent the rise of a Sith new wave, suitably dubbed “The Final Order.” And the Sith leader, a resurgent Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), has secret plans for Rey and Ren.
An unapologetic space opera, “The Rise of Skywalker” introduces an extensive collection of characters and plot elements, many of which are just plain silly. One thread concerns Finn, and a relationship with another orphan turned former stormtrooper, marooned on a planet covered mostly with water. This “Lord of the Flies” grouping has the inhabitants riding alien horses that ridiculously factor in later.
Instead of chronicling a couple of characters, the script, from Abrams and Chris Terrio, working from a story by them and co-creators Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow, tries valiantly to wrap up everyone and everything in the “Star Wars” universe. Don’t expect any end tags or cliffhangers, “The Rise of Skywalker” is a movie that ends a franchise. It might also kill that franchise, as well.
Finding plot holes isn’t hard here. And without spoiling the narrative, I can’t focus on them with any specificity. But, as we all know, stormtroopers are as clumsy and dim-witted as ever. They are, as we learned from this new trilogy, orphans that are working against their will for the Empire. But without any reservation, Finn and our other heroes indiscriminately gun them down. And this time, we see how useless the cumbersome white armor is.
At one point, an arrow kills a stormtrooper. And later, another arrow proves to be far more accurate and effective than a laser blaster. More than any film since the prequels, “The Rise of Skywalker” lays bare the foolishness of the series. It’s infuriating and pointless.
Giving the fans their wish means that plenty of franchise veterans make appearances, regardless of their former fates. Fisher, brought to us with intelligent use of previously unreleased footage, delivers the film’s best performance. And because we know that Fisher, sadly, passed away in 2016, her appearance is certainly bittersweet. But instead of giving her a proper sendoff, “Rise” is jokey and nonsensical.
Nothing in this movie has much tangible or emotional weight. Emotions are as alien as the fantastic characters that litter the film’s outer space landscapes. And the effects, while top-notch, are often shrouded in shadow, making you squint to capture details.
Having now spent my entire life with the “Star Wars” series, if nothing else, “Rise” allows me and many others to close that chapter. But the effect of box office concerns and the social media outcry has ensured that only franchise purists will be entirely happy with this saccharine conclusion. For those devoted to the material, the excellent Disney+ series “The Mandalorian” is a good example of what can be done moving forward.
When this final trilogy entry draws to a close, it drips wet with nostalgia. Perhaps in desperation, Abrams recycles, for no logical narrative purpose, an iconic shot from the movie that started it all back in 1977. This shot is like a bandaid slapped on a gushing wound. “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is the mortal injury that obnoxious fans and Disney deserve.
A RottenTomatoes.com Tomatometer-approved critic, Jonathan W. Hickman is also an entertainment lawyer, college professor, novelist, and filmmaker. He’s a member of the Atlanta Film Critics Circle, The Southeastern Film Critics Association, and the Georgia Film Critics Association. For more information about Jonathan visit: FilmProductionLaw.com or DailyFIlmFix.com