JJ Abrams’ Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is disappointingly backward-facing and fan-serving.
One of the many trademark images of a Star Wars film is the yellow-texted opening crawl that slowly recedes into the stars before the film gets going.
The prologue provides context to what you’re about to see, both previewing and recapping to heighten excitement around the saga’s latest instalment. Yet the first few words seen at the start of the latest and supposedly final chapter, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, only reveal one of many dodgy decisions made in relation to a film so desperate not to bring about the wrath of keyboard warriors, it forgets how to impress altogether.
On this occasion, the prologue begins by announcing that the very familiar (and supposedly very much dead) villain Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is back. He’s been hiding out on the planet of Exegol where he hopes to regain power with the help of his enormous Sith fleet. With the First Order still fighting the Resistance, Palpatine tasks Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) to find and kill Rey (Daisy Ridley), who has been training herself as a Jedi with the help of General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). Watch the trailer for the movie below:
The principal way in which the film falls short is in fact related to the previous film in the saga, Rian Johnson’s exceptional The Last Jedi. Disney gave the writer/director full creative control over the film and the result was one of the weirdest and most wonderful Star Wars stories that boldly took characters and themes in new directions.
The problem was, Johnson taking the intergalactic franchise to the creative outer-rim also led to an onslaught of backlash from a community of vitriolic diehard fans. So, for the ninth and final film, Abrams was put back in charge to steady the ship and get that Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes back up. But, by ham-fistedly trying to undo the work done in The Last Jedi, Abrams’ The Rise of Skywalker plunges into pitfalls of circling back to trite, familiar territory to the extent where it feels like its plot has been conceived by a focus group of Redditors.
For example, Johnson’s film threw away the idea of Ridley’s Rey being the child of well-known characters, instead delving into a far more interesting and inspiring idea that anyone from anywhere in the galaxy can be a hero. Abrams finds a way to reverse this by finding some fan-fictionesque parentage for Rey, and it’s clumsy, to say the least.
As the gang of good guys plod along the galaxy, this rehashing of the franchise’s greatest hits only becomes more regrettable. The film is peppered with cameos from characters we had assumed were long gone, either arriving in the nick of time to save this trilogy’s heroes or appearing as ghostly holograms to offer some advice. While some of these appearances are fun, it mostly feels uninspired, especially given that it sidelines some fresh new faces such as Richard E. Grant’s sullen First Order bigwig, Allegiant General Pryde.
Those reprising roles make valiant efforts with a screenplay that has less of the genuine comic wit seen in previous films. Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley continue to riff off one another as the trilogy’s moral core, while John Boyega and Oscar Isaac charm again as bumbling good guys in the middle of a bromance. However, Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) – who was so crucial in The Last Jedi – is head-scratchingly marginalised as she’s told to stay behind in the first act.