When credits rolled on Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, there was one question I simply could not shake: “what the shit was that?” It was shortly followed by “why did they do that?” and “why would they do that?” For those who want to avoid spoilers, here’s my spoiler-free review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a bloated mess that caps the Skywalker saga disastrously. It’s not even a fascinating trainwreck. It just sucks.
If The Force Awakens remade A New Hope, and The Last Jedi set out to do its own thing with mixed results, then Rise of Skywalker is a desperate attempt to rewrite the themes of The Last Jedi so we can go back to plundering the grave of the storyline of the original Star Wars trilogy. Literally pulled from the grave, Carrie Fisher’s green screened lines are replayed in strange contexts that make it extremely obvious that they’re chopping up whatever footage they have left to give her a significant role almost three years since she died. Also literally pulled from the grave, Emperor Palpatine! Oh boy, he survived a drop down a massive hole and an entire deathstar explosion and he’s back in Warhammer 40K form. And hey, remember when Darth Vader realized the error of his ways and turned against Emperor Palpatine? Kylo Ren gets a new coat of light side paint three-quarters into this movie, and it also takes his death at the end of a lightsaber battle to save him. Did you want planetary destruction? Because we’ve resurrected the deathstar in the form of a fleet of Final Order Star Destroyers, all of which are armed with planet-destroying lasers! And surprise, they have a single point of weakness that the scrappy Resistance will capitalize on! Rise is everything you’ve already seen before, and some nonsense.
Speaking of nonsense, let’s talk about Rey. Surprise. TFA gave us a mystery. Who is Rey? Surely, she’s someone special considering this is a Star Wars movie and she’s a scrappy person sensitive to the force on a desert planet. TLJ solves this mystery in an unexpected way: Rey is no one. Her parents are nobody. They sold her off for money. But Rise has to rewrite everything TLJ did, so now Rey is Palpatine’s granddaughter. What. How was this necessary? It’s change for change’s sake. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, and it didn’t add anything to the stakes. They tease that Rey has some darkness in her, but they tease that with every force user in the series. That’s the thing about all force users, they could be good or bad at the flip of a switch. It’s a senseless change that only serves to resurrect a dead threat and wave around some of that Good Old Star Wars.
And then we get to Poe. Poe, who spends the vast majority of the new trilogy making the wrong decisions and fucking things up. He can fly a spaceship, but he shouldn’t be trusted with anything else. When Leia dies, she leaves Poe in charge. What. Poe? Poe?! What did he do to earn that? He then proceeded to gamble the Resistance against the Final Order in the same way it was gambled at the end of TLJ, except this time, for no explainable reason, other people came to help. Poe led the Resistance to their death.
Finally we get to the mountain of silly scenes that aren’t played for humor. The Knights of Ren are shown on screen and completely meaningless and die just as meaninglessly. I guess that mystery wasn’t worth expanding on. Super Palpatine starts shooting lightning out of his fingers into the sky like he’s fucking Shazam, except Shazam has the brain of a tween and not an immortal space emperor. There are constant turns in plot that make you completely numb by the end of it. Rey is no one, Rey is the most important person. The gang finds a Sith dagger that will lead them to the Sith wayfinder, oops now it’s gone. Chewie is dead, Chewie is alive. Hux is a mole who can help stop Ren, Hux is dead and can’t do anything. Rey has the Sith wayfinder (another meaningless MacGuffin), the Sith wayfinder is destroyed. Ren is dead, Ren is alive. Rey’s going to kill Palpatine, nah nevermind, he’ll suck the life out of her and Ren and become the super emperor. Ren is dead again, Ren is alive. Rey is dead, Rey is alive, Ren is dead for real. Everything is meaningless because any meaning to it is just going to flip around on you. This isn’t intricate plotting, it’s exposing how low stakes this conflict actually is.
When Disney bought Lucasfilm and Star Wars, it created an opportunity. Disney has demonstrated that they can create a Marvel universe, loosely link the movies together, and make something greater than its pieces, with all the intricacies it entailed. I expected them to do the same with Star Wars. It’s just three movies. But even discarding the Expanded Universe, it’s clear that they went into this with no plan. The Force Awakens aped A New Hope so hard that it’s essentially the same movie. The Last Jedi didn’t please everyone, but at least it tried some new ideas. And now we have this overstuffed, nostalgia-poisoned capper that truly exposes the sham. I don’t expect high art out of Star Wars. I expect some semblance of competent story telling, and I didn’t get it. I’m glad this trilogy is over. I hope Disney can find more success in individual Star Wars universe films (mixed bag so far) and TV shows (hey that The Mandalorian is good, right?). But I don’t want a new trilogy and won’t again for a while. I’m not saying this stuff is easy, but it shouldn’t have failed this badly.