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On Disney+: “Rise of Skywalker” doesn’t stick the landing

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Courtesy of Lucasfilm
2stars
Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Domnhall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Keri Russell, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams, Harrison Ford
Director: J.J. Abrams
Release Date: Dec. 20, 2019

Endings are important, probably even more so than beginnings.

Beginnings of a story rarely have the weight of expectation thrust upon them. But after hours, months and even years invested in a story, fans demand an ending that can validate that investment.

Endings are perilous business, and “The Rise of Skywalker,” the final(ish) “Star Wars” film had higher expectations than most. This is a film that had to tie up not only the most recent “Star Wars” trilogy, but the most culturally significant series of nine films ever made. No pressure.

In other words, “The Rise of Skywalker” was doomed to fail. There was no way that any film could live up to that kind of scrutiny and expectation.

But, man alive, it would have been nice if director J.J. Abrams and screenwriter Chris Terrio at least gave the impression of trying. Because “Rise of Skywalker” is one of the most lazily plotted and uninspired franchise enders I’ve seen in a while. Forget continuity or character development or even imagination – you won’t find much of that here.

“Rise of Skywalker” has little of the throwback joy of “The Force Awakens” and none of the creative (if controversial) revisionism of “The Last Jedi.” So what does that leave us with? Not much, unfortunately.

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Courtesy of Lucasfilm

The plot, if you want to call it that, more or less forgets everything that happened in the previous two “Star Wars” movies and instead creates a new/old threat in the form of Emperor Palpatine, who, like this franchise, just won’t die.

The Emperor, we’re told, is building an army on a hidden Sith planet. Our heroes need to find the planet and destroy it, obviously. But first they need to find a “wayfinder” to find the planet. And before that, they need to find a magical dagger that they can use to find the wayfinder.

So, yes, this is a movie with not one but two obligatory magical doohickeys, which regular readers of the site will know is not my favorite plot point. And to find the doohickeys, our heroes are sent to a lot of “new” planets that look a lot like old planets.

Our first stop “Pasaana” is the obligatory dessert planet that always shows up in this series. “Kef Bir” is a moon of Endor that looks, well, exactly like Endor. (There is a fun Ewok cameo though!)

Along the way, Terrio adds some plot twists that feel more like a soap opera than a space opera. They materialize out of nowhere and make little sense in the context of this film or the larger universe.

Everyone in the cast is coasting – mainly because the script doesn’t give them much of anything to do. The beats that do work connect because of the audience’s previous history with the characters and not because of anything actually happening on screen. Yes, I smiled like a small child when Billy Dee Williams resurfaced as Lando Calrissian. But that was before I realized that he didn’t have much of anything to do.

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Courtesy of Lucasfilm

Anthony Daniels, as C-3PO, is given more screen time than he’s had since 1977, but little of it connects emotionally. Poor Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford and the late Carrie Fisher are drug back to the well one more time, and they seem as weary of all this as the audience.

New characters, played by very talented folks like Keri Russell and Richard E. Grant, have little more than a name and a single character trait.

The character design is, as always, striking, and the film’s blend of CGI and practical effects is impressive. There’s a nifty lightsaber battle on an abandoned Death Star shell and a cavalry charge on top of a star destroyer which is utterly bizarre but also pretty darn delightful.

But those shallow pleasures weren’t enough to pull me through nearly 2.5 hours of “Rise of Skywalker” (rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action). I wanted to like the film – really I did- and I smiled like a good sport through the John Williams score and the character cameos and even all the wayfinder nonsense. I was tempted to give the film a slightly higher score due to my lifetime love for “Star Wars.”

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Courtesy of Lucasfilm

But at some point, you just have to accept that a film isn’t working, and I’m sorry to say that “Rise of Skywalker” doesn’t. I wish it was better, truly.

It’s really hard to find a bright side in a film that is as dryly perfunctory as this one. It’s better than the prequels, I guess. And, at the very least, it gives the next filmmakers a very low bar to clear when Disney inevitably decides to revive the franchise again down the line.

We’ll see how that shakes out in a decade or two. In the meantime, rest in peace “Star Wars” – I wish I could say I’ll miss you.

About the author

Stephen Dow is an award-winning journalist with a passion for film – not just consuming it, but thoughtfully and actively engaging with it. He believes that these modern myths have a lot to tell us about our world and ourselves.  He can be reached at staticandscreen@gmail.com.

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