Star Wars as a mythology will never have a true endpoint. New stories set within the galaxy far, far, away will always find their way to some screen or hologram or another, and there’s comfort to be had in this seemingly endless cycle.
With The Rise of Skywalker, we now have a definitive conclusion to the latest official trilogy from the official kingmakers at Disney, who set out to construct a brand new direction for the seemingly boundless franchise. As a capper to this corner of stories, The Rise of Skywalker is an incredible finale, no question. But like its central opposing forces, it’s filled with all the bad and only most of the good there is to be found in blockbuster cinema’s most beloved — and scrutinized — canon.
The First Order is still on the rampage against the Resistance. Since the events of The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) has consolidated his power as Supreme Leader and rules with a lightsaber fist over his bumbling subordinates, including the measly General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and new baddie General Pryde (Richard E. Grant).
Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) continues her Jedi training under the guidance of General Leia (played by Carrie Fisher in a CGI posthumous role) as Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac), and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) search the galaxy in the Millennium Falcon for clues that will help them defeat the First Order once and for all, especially as an old, haunting voice terrorizes everyone using the Force.
Like the previous two numbered entries, The Rise of Skywalker borrows most of its pastiche from a previous Star Wars film, which is Return of the Jedi in this case. Rey, Finn, Poe, Chewie, BB-8, and C-3PO have finally united for an adventure of their own, and there’s no shortage of planets and fetch quests for them to endeavor as Kylo Ren stalks them at every turn. For viewers who found The Last Jedi to be too thinly plotted and keenly focused on its primary chase, The Rise of Skywalker might feel like a little too much in the opposite direction, where new locations and characters prove to be almost dizzying as we hyper-speed skip across them.
That said, director J.J. Abrams (who co-wrote the screenplay with Argo screenwriter Chris Terrio) knows how to turn confusing set pieces and contrived plot developments into entertaining fodder, as he’s displayed in The Force Awakens and the 2009 reboot Star Trek. His vision of Star Wars is bleedingly faithful to the original trilogy, usually to a fault, but his knack for pure thrill with these tropes continues to be undeniable. The Rise of Skywalker plays a numbers game, aiming to serve so many manufactured movie moments at the audience, you’re bound to love a few of them.
In The Last Jedi, certain questions from Abrams first entry were answered with storytelling purpose. The message that a Jedi can come from anywhere resonated, but Abrams and perhaps Disney apparently found reason to complicate this development with a muddled attempt at fan service, specifically by reintroducing tired retreads from Lucas’s pen, which only distract, never evolve. Too much of Rise comes off as a reaction from studio executives filtered through an agreeable filmmaker, rather than the complete thought of an originalist with something meaningful to say beyond, “welcome back to the galaxy you already know.”
The story is predictable pulp, as a result, but the film’s saving grace is Abrams’s other secret weapon: his strength of casting and character. Every hero (and villain) in Rise is given time to breathe and relish in their own universe. Small moments between characters work well to make this trilogy feel a bit more complete, even fulfilled, especially with new interactions between characters who barely came into contact before this film. The Resistance itself is still a pale husk, not a tangible force to be reckoned with, so Rise is smart to give attention to other, more memorable facets of the Star Wars universe, including practical attention to detail with every appealing nook and cranny that builds itself into this world of colorful creatures and epic warriors.
But just when the film gets wrapped up in fresh and exciting new material, it finds a way to grind the story to a halt in order to drudge up memories and hangups of the past. The Last Jedi brilliantly gave the “past” of this universe an out, but Rise effectively undoes this treatise in order to titillate the fanbase. Rather than serve as a proper sequel to The Last Jedi, this film seems to only care about resolving what you already feel about the original trilogy, leaving many of its central, lovable characters in the dust.
The Skywalker saga is now effectively over. Long live the Skywalker saga. And at the same time, the Rey story has also reached an expected conclusion, at least on the big screen. In previous Star Wars films, the galaxy has felt never-ending, where the possibilities of new planets and new worlds have been just within reach, but never fully satiating a hunger for more from its awe-struck audience. But The Rise of Skywalker is perhaps the first of these films to over-serve, to the point where this mythology somehow feels conquered, or exhausted. It’s not the moment of wonder Abrams was probably going for, but to be fair, other, more dynamic filmmakers have managed to pick up the pieces of his toy box before.