To receive a phone call from Lucasfilm about directing an entry in the Star Wars franchise, one of the most lucrative in history, seems like quite a nerve-wracking occasion. One particular person went through this twice, J.J. Abrams.
No matter one’s opinions regarding this newest trilogy of space escapades, it’s safe to say most agree that Abrams must have been under quite a bit of stress (maybe even more so than George Lucas watching a rough cut of The Phantom Menace), especially considering Disney’s track record with Star Wars directors and their “creative differences.” And on top of this, time and time again, fans of the 42-year-old series can’t seem to make up their minds. One minute the films are too much like the originals, the next minute they tarnished the legacy built by George Lucas. In recent years there’s even been a mind-boggling outpouring of support for the prequels. Ten years ago George Lucas was a hack who lost touch and found himself forced to sell off his brainchild to a massive corporate conglomerate. Now he’s a modern auteur and his prequel trilogy is supposedly secret genius.
Thus, it becomes increasingly clear why much of the latest film, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, is spent groveling to legions of Star Wars fans. In fact, if a report were to come out that this film was in fact a fan fiction all along, it probably wouldn’t surprise many. Four writers had their hands on this script at one point or another, including Colin Trevorrow, the original director of episode IX before The Last Jedi. This fact is fairly obvious in the finished product, one which feels as disjointed as Star Wars gets, aside of course from the prequels.
While many may have heard the film is overflowing with fan service, this statement is simply not true. The problem with The Rise of Skywalker is that the fan service it does have, which is still a good amount, feels less than rewarding. No precedent is set in the previous films for a majority of the reveals in this one, leading to these supposed key moments falling completely flat.
On top of this, for some reason the writers felt it was a good decision to introduce two brand new characters in the finale of the saga. Time which could have been spent on already established underdeveloped characters is instead spent trying to garner emotional investment in two brand new faces, two faces audiences are likely to never see again (unless of course Disney milks this franchise for another thirty years which would not be the most unbelievable scenario). Even beloved members of the franchise are treated rather poorly, excluding C-3PO of all characters. It appears Disney waited until the last film in their trilogy before doing the droid justice, as C-3PO is one of the most consistently entertaining parts of the latest film. However, amidst the dumpster fire of character treatment that is The Rise of Skywalker, there is a ray of hope. As Yoda would say, “there is another.”
Kylo Ren is the backbone of this trilogy. The dark side force user and son of Han Solo is one of the few consistently great aspects between episodes VII, VIII, and IX. With Adam Driver in the role, one of the greatest actors of this generation manages to put practically the entire cast to shame. His arc is one of the few truly rewarding moments in the film, as it appears this is the one story thread every writer in this sequel trilogy could agree on (for the most part). While Rian Johnson’s interpretation in episode VIII appeared to be leading in a different direction, Abrams’ course-correcting choice is not the most implausible. It isn’t as rewarding as fans may hope, but at least it doesn’t feel like a deliberate middle finger to Rian Johnson.
Yet much of the rest of the film feels just like that. It appears in the mad rush to undercut The Last Jedi, the writers completely forgot that just because a reveal is what the fans were hoping for, doesn’t mean it makes sense in the story. A trilogy is meant to work as a whole, yet this collection does anything but. While The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi boast some of the greatest artistic flourishes in franchise, The Rise of Skywalker abandons nearly all artistry. The Last Jedi may have been one of the most grand yet personal blockbusters of the decade, but Abrams seems to have tried his hardest to make the latest film as corporate as possible. Maybe executives stepped in, maybe J.J. was shaking in boots at the sight of angry Twitter fans. Either way, in an effort to please every fan (which is a preposterous idea), the final film in the saga managed to make choices which could very well alienate its entire audience. It’s hard to say right now, but knowing Star Wars fans, this film could most definitely be the target of hatred and social media slaughter for years to come.
The film isn’t without its positives though, as John Williams’ score is once again fantastic, as it’s probably the only consistently competent part of the Star Wars saga. In addition The Rise of Skywalker is one of the most visually splendid of the series, from the very first frame to the very last. If nothing else, this is one of the most technically impressive films in the series audiences have received.
In the end, Star Wars isn’t over. Maybe the core Skywalker saga is, but its legacy will live on forever. Fans can only hope it isn’t remembered for the qualities of its last film. A visual feast with very little substance, a scattershot experience of the most delightful of highs and the most disappointing of lows. Well actually, that’s probably exactly what Star Wars will be remembered for. The Rise of Skywalker may be a disappointing end to the saga, but fans will most likely find enough enjoyment out of this messy but admirable conclusion.