Nearly every movie features a scene that exemplifies the entire film. In Star Wars Episode IX The Rise Of Skywalker, this defining sequence happens early. Picture this: the setting is a beautiful lush jungle planet and the main subject is the beloved Jedi Rey (Daisy Ridley). She’s peacefully meditating and tuning her spirit to the mythical power known as The Force. The scene is calm and serene until Rey interjects: “I’m not feeling it.” In an instant, she ceases touching The Force and hurdles headlong into a Jedi training course, leaving the underdeveloped scene to collapse behind her as she enters a new scene prematurely. Unfortunately when it comes to The Rise Of Skywalker, Rey isn’t the only one who isn’t “feeling it.”
Star Wars The Rise Of Skywalker is an exercise of unforced frustration. I overall enjoyed The Sequel trilogy (especially the previous Star Wars Episode VIII The Last Jedi), and I tried to will myself into liking The Rise Of Skywalker. Afterall, no critic actively desires to dislike a movie, and I would’ve loved nothing more than to heap praise upon The Rise Of Skywalker, claiming that it ended the sequel trilogy satisfactorily. Sadly if I did this, I would be lying; the film is a mixed bag.
Star Wars The Rise Of Skywalker is a mixture of soaring highs and abysmal lows. While JJ Abrams film is a solidly enjoyable action blockbuster, the latest installment never becomes more than the sum of its overbearing parts. To whit, The Rise Of Skywalker features the return of our lovable heroes like the stormtrooper-turned-rebel Finn (Jon Boyega), hotshot pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and the aforementioned Jedi Rey and contains a fun energetic call to adventure, but the film never elevated itself like The Last Jedi did to be anything more than a 2 and a half hour escape at the cinema.
The cumbersome story is at the root of The Rise Of Skywalker’s cinematic woes. The plot follows Rey, Finn, and Poe as they attempt to find a plot macguffin that will lead them to an uncharted planet where Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) and an Empire era army of stormtroopers can be resurrected. Making matters worse, the peculiarly sexy Sith Lord Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and his First Order fleet have already found this planet. From there, the emperor commanded the young hot and bothered Ren to kill Rey in order to become the new Emperor.
All this plot occurs within The Rise Of Skywalker’s opening minutes despite being so much to digest. The Emperor is back? There’s a secret imperial armada? What’s so important about Rey from nowhere?
These questions come from out of left field and are introduced so quickly that the audience doesn’t have much time to settle into the story. In fact, the entirety of The Rise Of Skywalker feels rushed. Potentially good scenes like when the temper tantrum prone Kylo Ren addresses the First Order’s leadership are undercooked and quickly cut right as the sequence became interesting, dashed in favor of a new action set piece, dialogue quip, or nauseatingly unearned fan service. By the end, I desired to grab the film by its scruff and demand that it slow down from its light speed pace, especially in moments where the editing is choppy and the story beats defied my normally generous suspension of disbelief.
Star Wars The Rise Of Skywalker’s pacing and editing issues become insurmountable in the third act. While the first two acts are solidly fun sci fi action fare, the film can’t overcome its main spoilerific plot contrivance involving the Emperor. This is a problem because the Emperor dominates The Rise Of Skywalker’s climax, and even though his voice sounds awesome as it reverberates through the movie theater subwoofers, Shiv’s plot line is pure cheese. Every moment the emperor is on screen feels like an exercise of indulgence. McDiarmid’s hammy performance is at best fan service via Return Of the Jedi references, and at worst, a repudiation of the artistically superior Star Wars The Last Jedi. The latter is particularly irritating.
Walking back The Last Jedi’s more exciting plot developments was always going to be a tough sell. As someone who adores director Rian Johnson’s Star Wars The Last Jedi on par with The Empire Strikes Back, I found Star Wars The Rise Of Skywalker to be an alienating film due to how its big reveal retreats from and undermines The Last Jedi, especially in the third act. While infuriating moments like the screen time minimization Of Kelly Marie Tran in the first two acts were few and far between, The Rise Of Skywalker’s conclusion featuring numerous retcons and plot reversals, many of which involve the hammy Palpatine, are inescapable. As a result, The Rise Of Skywalker and the sequel trilogy ends with an R2-D2 style whimper rather than a bang.
And that’s the rub. By the end, I was wondering if the sequel trilogy served a creative and thematic purpose beyond making Disney a boatload of cash. The creative vision between Abrams and Johnson is so jumbled that it’s actually a miracle that even two of these movies were good, and due to The Rise Of Skywalker being a cinematic blunder, I’m left trying to figure out what the point was. The Rise Of Skywalker may feature the same characters we love and thrilling action setpieces, but when it comes to being a great film that pushes the conventions of what a Star Wars movie can possibly be, the JJ Abrams film is a disappointing dud that makes the rest of the sequel trilogy feel aimless. The Force just isn’t with The Rise Of Skywalker.