With The Rise of Skywalker, Disney knew they had to do something to recover from the debacle known as The Last Jedi. What they did was fairly predictable in that they brought back J.J. Abrams, a filmmaker known for his love of lens flare, remaking stuff and playing it safe. His job was mostly to restore the Star Wars lore and keep the fans happy. Was he able to accomplish that? Not exactly.
The Rise of Skywalker picks up about five years after the events of The Last Jedi. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) remains on his quest for power and surely expects to run into Rey (Daisy Ridley), Leia (Carrie Fisher) and The Resistance at least one more time. When that time comes, the resistance hopes to be ready for the supreme leader, but he may not be all they have to look out for if the rumors of an old antagonist returning are true.
There were quite a few complaints concerning what was done in the film before this. One of them was about the core of this new Star Wars trilogy not spending any real screentime together. The Rise of Skywalker attempts to rectify that and does a good job. Rather than give audiences anything resembling that, Rian Johnson decided to separate the trio of Rey, Finn, and Poe and have them all do separate things for no legitimate reason.
Well, Abrams decided to do the opposite by making sure the trio was together a lot more during their final run together. Not only that, but the overwhelming majority of the focus is primarily on the three lead heroes that we first met in The Force Awakens. One of the ways they did this was to drastically reduce the roles of the unnecessary characters who mostly just got in the way and added very little to what we were offered in Rian Johnson’s Star Wars movie.
These actions improved things by making what we get tighter overall. That’s most obvious in the early going as things move quite quickly. At least in terms of the action, we’re able to get into things due to a level of consistency that’s here because there aren’t as many fruitless adventures to keep up with.
Rather than asking us to follow a bunch of storylines that ultimately amount to nothing, Abrams wants us to follow one story that places the spotlight on the people who should have been at the center of everything all along. Because of this, fans will get to see at least some of what they had unceremoniously taken away from them in The Last Jedi.
The trio traveling together for most of the movie is just one thing that’s different from its predecessor. Abrams goes even further to win over the many fans who were disappointed. He makes sure to undo much of what was done by sort of retracing the steps that were taken and give meaning to most of what’s here. He doesn’t try to change everything, but he certainly does his best to alter as much as he can.
Some of this is done just to win back the fans again, but some of it is done to help tell an actual story and add more meaning and weight to Star Wars again. This shows us that there’s a chance that someone at Disney was listening to some of the valid complaints that plenty of people who watched The Last Jedi had. I guess it could also mean that Abrams didn’t like the direction Johnson took the characters in.
One change that will be welcome is a greater focus on the lightsaber duels. As you may recall, there were none in the Rian Johnson’s interpretation of Star Wars. Not only are they included this time, they’re some of the best moments of the film. I expected there to be more of this type of action, but I didn’t anticipate these scenes being as well done as they are.
Regardless of why all of these alterations occurred, you can’t ignore them even if you tried. Some of the modifications work, but some of them don’t. What works helps explain certain things and get us moving toward a path that makes more sense than anything in the previous movie. When thinking about it, there are also a few things that assist in helping answer certain questions posed in The Force Awakens.
I respect all of the effort put into this, but as you look at everything, you can say that Abrams and company went a little too far as well. As you’re watching, you may start to think they’re doing a little too much pandering. I understand you may want to win the fans that were alienated back, but some of what’s included should have been left out.
Most of the focus is on this kind of stuff as they’re clearly trying to make up for the sins of the last movie. Obviously, the third film in a trilogy should have been focused on ending a story that’s led by characters that we became connected to. Unfortunately, that may have been impossible since we’re still having trouble bonding with the people who were supposed to be at the center of everything new.
That’s mostly due to the lack of character development in the first two movies. The first movie is looking to set everything up, but the second should have been where we really got to know these guys in more detail. Instead, we got more new (and completely uninteresting) characters while we still didn’t know much about the trio we were originally asked to follow.
Because of this, most of the biggest and most dramatic moments in The Rise of Skywalker feel unearned and empty. Throughout their march forward, there’s a shallowness that resonates through it all. Some of the scenes are of good quality, but it’s usually hard to feel anything for anyone involved. That goes for everyone, but the latest trio and Kylo Ren maybe suffer the most when you think about how important they were supposed to be.
Another thing you may notice is that the characters that we see here aren’t the same people we met in The Force Awakens. They’re also not who we were reintroduced to in The Last Jedi. Yes, they have the same names and are played by the same actors, but many of them have different personalities with the exception of Rey who still leans heavily on the bland side.
If you compare someone like Finn in this film to how he’s portrayed in the other ones, he bears little resemblance to those versions. This is mostly positive, but it leads you to wonder how much better his character could have been if he wasn’t stuck being led around like a disobedient lapdog in need of training in his last outing.
The arc in the first film should have put him in a position to be as strong and as more mature as he is here. And even though he’s mostly part of a group in this movie, he’s his own person for the first time. That’s called character growth, but we couldn’t get that in The Last Jedi. Instead, we had to spend time watching him essentially go over the same exact arc that he had when he first miraculously broke his mind control.
Poe also shifts in personality a bit himself. He’s not drastically different, but he’s somewhere in between the guy we saw in the first two films. I guess you couldn’t revert completely back to the person he was in The Force Awakens, but you also didn’t want him to be the irrational hothead we were introduced to out of nowhere in The Last Jedi.
As far as Rey is concerned, she still manages to be pretty vanilla, but she’s actually more human than before. They do more in terms of her backstory to offer us more insight as to who she is. I’m not going to spoil anything obviously, but I pretty much predicted which direction they would go with this, so I wasn’t surprised by the results. Then again, that’s probably true for most people.
Kylo has also changed a bit here as well. He’s more menacing and less whiny and has more backbone this time around. Because of these changes, this was the first time in this series of movies where he actually felt like some sort of threat to someone. When looking at Rey, Kylo, and Finn, this is where all of them should have been before the final movie. Getting them there before the finale gives the filmmakers an opportunity to create those connections that are almost always vital in film.
In the end, The Rise of Skywalker isn’t anything special, but it fits in with most of the other Star Wars movies. Will that be enough for Star Wars to reestablish itself and become the monster that it was in the not so distant past? I don’t think so, but we’ll have to wait and see. Maybe Lucasfilm (along with other studios) can learn from the mistakes made during the creation of this trilogy and come up with a sound plan from the start.
Even if you’re using different writers and directors, you should have a strong idea of where you want your movie or trilogy to end even before you start writing it. That’s seen as one of the keys to screenwriting for plenty of people. Know where you want your story to end and do all you can to get there.
That works even better when you don’t bring in a director right in the middle of a trilogy and allow him or her to make drastic changes for no reason. Staying faithful to what came before you is done all the time in television, but it’s become a more frequent occurrence in film over the years thanks to the popularity of the MCU and the other shared universes that have been trying to duplicate the success seen there.
I never thought I’d be the one to say this, but it’s best to play it safe under these specific set of circumstances. With Star Wars being the kind of property it is, it should be nearly impossible for you could screw any of it up. You have an insanely large and dedicated fan base that was pretty much willing to see anything you put out for them. All you had to do was produce it, release it, and get out of the way.
From an artistic standpoint, taking the safe route might not be the best approach, but is Disney’s Star Wars really about art? Some will say that it’s about promoting certain messages, but I think most people believe it’s been about making as much money as possible. If making money was their end goal, maybe they could have just reduced the number of risks they took.
And if they wanted to try something different, they should have hired a more proven filmmaker to make the sequel to The Force Awakens. To be even safer with their risks taking ventures, they could have tried new things in the spin-offs they were pushing out there. That way, if you mess it up, people wouldn’t care as those movies were mostly supposed to be one-offs anyway from what I remember.
It would have also helped if the person they chose for the first sequel was a fan of the lore that Star Wars had built over decades. A person like that would have likely wanted to stay close to what was already established even if they tried something new. Plus, they would have likely attempted to add to what was already there instead of trying to completely erase the past that came before it.
In the end, none of that happened and Abrams tried to clean up what was left behind. I don’t think he quite achieved what he wanted to with The Rise of Skywalker, but based on what he had to work with, I think he did the best he could. I don’t know if that’s going to be good enough for the fan base, but that’s all they’re going to get.
Director: J.J. Abrams
Richard E. Grant
Kelly Marie Tran
Billy Dee Williams
Film Length: 155 minutes
Release Date: December 20, 2019
- Score - 5/105/10