‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’: Overstuffed but Entertaining Fan Service
Klugey doesn’t begin to describe Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, an occasionally charming, relentlessly entertaining and undeniably overstuffed conclusion to George Lucas’ elephantine space opera. Technically, it’s the finale. Fingers crossed.
STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Written by: J.J. Abrams, Chris Terrio
Starring: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie
Running time: 142 min.
There was a lot of pressure for the ninth and final installment of Star Wars to stick the landing, especially when George Lucas never meant it to happen in the first place. Do you really expect to be satisfied? Regardless, the Rise of Skywalker is chock-full of thrilling chases and majestic visuals, with the high-end polish of a billion-dollar franchise and all the breezy flair of a B-movie Saturday-matinee serial.
“The dead speak!” begins this chapter’s opening text crawl, usually a deadpan recap that here sports an exclamation point with all the awkward flare of a Trumpian tweet. It goes on to say that there’s a mysterious broadcast coming from a phantom emperor. Wait, are they bringing back Emperor Palpatine? You betcha. But how? Maybe one of the main characters will explain. “Somehow Palpatine returned,” says Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). Oh, that’s how.
Palpatine is hiding on a secret Sith planet that seems to be called Exogol, which sounds a lot like Testicle. And he’s also created an armada of star destroyers that now float above the planet’s surface like it’s an intergalactic parking lot. So now everyone is hot to find Planet Testicle. And the only way to find it is with a pyramidal device called the Wayfinder. Seriously.
Meanwhile, bad boy Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is on the hunt for former desert urchin Rey (Daisy Ridley). “My knights and I are going hunting for the scavenger,” says Ren with casual intensity. She’s busy levitating with floating rocks and running obstacle courses in a one-student Jedi home school overseen by General Leia (Carrie Fisher). When duty calls, though, she hops on the Millennium Falcon with Poe, Finn (John Boyega), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and 250-year-old Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). “We go together,” says Finn, sounding like a chorine from Grease.
But Rey still has her connection to Ren. They’re a diad in the Force, apparently, a sort of spiritual BOGO that’s never really explained well. But it allows them to communicate across space. “I see through the cracks in your mask,” says Rey. Because Ren literally has cracks in his mask. They’re thin and red and don’t blend well with the black matte metal. Monkeys with bat ears sautered Ren’s helmet back together and did a sloppy job. Stupid monkeys.
Artificially extending the saga of the Skywalker clan is a tall order even for a slick craftsman like J.J. Abrams, a clever magpie stylist who seems to think that storytelling is just a nesting doll of mystery-box misdirections. Is Chewbacca going to die? Is C-3PO going to get his memory wiped? Sure. Maybe? You’ll see. And then you won’t care. “Give Leia my love,” says Lando Calrissian. What’s he doing here? Not much.
Emotional resonance isn’t really Abrams’s strong suit. But he does craft some fun movie moments. And, lacking the chops for actual human connection, he opts for lots of hugs. Seriously, people are constantly hugging each other. And keep hugging. The hugging in this movie could prompt a drinking contest.
Palpatine has been pulling the strings from the beginning, Rey realizes, which makes sense because Rey heard his voice in J.J. Abrams’s The Force Awakens. If anything, The Rise of Skywalker seems to be a course-correction after Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi and feels more like a direct sequel to the 2015 film than to the 2017 one. It ties up a lot of the loose ends that The Force Awakens introduced, and makes this latest trilogy actually feel more cohesive. Sorry, Rian.
Abrams knows not to bite the hand that feeds. And Disney wants to feed people Star Wars moments. So Ren chokes an imperial officer in a conference room. One of the bad guys talks to Palpatine via hologram. Rey has a lightsaber duel with Ren in the throne room of the second Death Star. Rey also uses the Jedi mind trick on a couple of dummy stormtroopers. And our new heroes sneak onto an enemy starship to rescue a prisoner, then make a breathtaking getaway on the Millennium Falcon. One of them even makes a surprise visit to Luke’s old farmstead on Tatooine, basking in its twin sunset. Because of course. Why not.
The original Star Wars was a giddy, goofy, wonderful fluke. And its successor, The Empire Strikes Back, came out in a time when sequels could aspire to The Godfather Part II instead of just Jaws 2. Now every Star Wars film must be recycled thrills with new tweaks. Lightspeed skipping! A lady lightsaber! Planet-destroying Death-Star laser cannons! At least there are no Ewoks. Oh, wait. Ewoks. I guess Jar-Jar was unavailable.