Review – Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker (Sean’s Take)


FILM REVIEWSTAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER. With Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Ian McDiarmid. Written by Chris Terrio & J.J. Abrams. Directed by J.J. Abrams. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action. 141 minutes.

There’s a story my mother loves to tell about when I was eight years old, coming home from a breathlessly anticipated outing with the neighborhood kids to see “Return of the Jedi.” Everyone else burst out of the station wagon, running around mimicking lightsaber fights and making pew-pew blaster noises while according to legend I glumly shrugged and said, “It was pretty good, I guess.” Looking back I think the then-final chapter of George Lucas’ beloved space opera was probably the first time I’d ever been disappointed in a movie, a feeling that as a “Star Wars” fan would grow to become something of a constant over the years.

J.J. Abrams’ STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER is yet another final installment of the Skywalker saga, by my count the third “last Star Wars movie” I’ve gone to see and this one’s not so much disappointing as it is actively, outright terrible. Nothing in this picture makes any sense. It’s got one of those insanely over-convoluted plots where everybody’s running to get a thing they need that tells them where to go to get some other thing they need (in this case, one of those glowing doohickeys apparently on loan from Disney’s Marvel division) and then when they get there somebody explains why what they were doing isn’t working so they have to go get something else– and it just all makes you long for clean lines, cause and effect, characters going from A to B. Like maybe, go rescue the princess from the space fortress and blow it up? Or perhaps, go to a planet full of teddy bears and turn off the deflector shield so you can blow up the replacement space fortress?

I really can’t explain what anybody was doing most of the time during “The Rise of Skywalker,” but we learn in the opening crawl that the ugly Emperor who Darth Vader threw down a hole in the Death Star right before it exploded 36 years and seven “Star Wars” movies ago is somehow still alive and well and also secretly responsible for the events of the previous two sequels. He instructs Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren to go kill Daisy Ridley’s fetching Jedi-in-training Rey, but the Emperor doesn’t really want him to kill her and anyway Kylo’s had kind of a crush on Rey ever since she slashed his face with a lightsaber a couple movies ago so this all gets pretty complicated, if not particularly edifying.

Meanwhile, what’s left of the Rebel Alliance (or the Resistance, as they’re now called) learns of an even bigger, crazier threat to the fate of the universe than anything they faced in the last two movies, so there’s a lot of running around and forced conviviality between Ridley’s Rey, John Boyega’s Finn and Oscar Isaac’s Poe. The screenplay constantly makes a huge deal about what close friends these three have become over the course of all their exciting adventures together even though two of them didn’t meet until the final scene of the previous picture.

Competing for screen time are our old pals C-3P0, R2-D2, BB-8 and even Billy Dee Williams’ Lando Calrissian is back for this round. There are also several deeply unsettling scenes featuring the late Carrie Fisher, creepily cobbled together with digital trickery and unused footage from the earlier films. (Remember in “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” when Carl Reiner edited Steve Martin into scenes from old Humphrey Bogart and Jimmy Cagney movies? It’s something like that, only less convincing.) It grossed me out, to be honest, cutting and pasting lines Fisher delivered out of context and slapping them into scenes written years after her death. It feels to me like a violation of her integrity as an actress, inventing in the editing room a performance she never would have delivered in such a flat, disjointed fashion. (The eyelines don’t even match.)

As we’re watching a J.J. Abrams movie, all of this happens in an incredible hurry. The first hour of “The Rise of Skywalker” feels like it’s being played on fast-forward, our characters racing from planet to planet so quickly while randomly running into old friends so often that this galaxy far, far away feels smaller than the suburb I grew up in. Abrams can’t even be bothered with establishing shots, slamming you from one scene to the next in medium close-up medias res. The film boasts some fine production design and never once slows down for long enough to let you look at it. A lightsaber battle on a sea of roaring waves is the lone moment of visual grandeur, and even that’s cut far too quickly to appreciate the choreography.

The elephant in the room here is that they accidentally made a real movie last time. Say what you will about Rian Johnson’s “The Last Jedi” – and if you spend any time online you know people haven’t shut up about it for the past two years – the movie took some big swings at challenging a viewer’s preconceptions and the subtext carried with it a sharp level of autocritique with regard to “the sacred Jedi texts,” et al. I think it’s a great work of popular art and one of the few franchise blockbusters worth taking seriously. So of course J.J. Abrams was brought back on board to make sure nothing like that ever happens again.

Just as Abrams’ “The Force Awakens” was a beat-for-beat remake of the 1977 “Star Wars” (we refuse to call it “A New Hope” in this household), “The Rise of Skywalker” eventually settles into such a “Return of the Jedi” redux it might as well end with cheap firecrackers and “Yub Nub,” plus the the added insult of walking back or outright erasing pretty much everything fanboys found threatening about Johnson’s film.

There’s a palpable petulance with which Abrams brings back that stupid “Spaceballs” helmet Kylo Ren smashed in his first scene of “The Last Jedi,” and the film’s dismissive sidelining of Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico feels particularly egregious given the way racist hordes of young male “fans” chased her off social media. Worst is that Abrams fatally undoes Johnson’s most promising revelation regarding Rey’s parentage, negating his idea that the Force belongs to everyone and not just semi-incestuous members of dynastic bloodlines. Alas we’re back to the monomyth again and old, tiresome prophecies about chosen ones who will bring balance and everyone in this entire universe is fucking related.

“The Last Jedi” tried to open up the world a little bit. However you may feel about the casino sequence – and I go back and forth on it—Johnson was at least trying to show us something new instead of just slavishly reenacting your favorite scenes from a movie you loved when you were a little kid. Following “The Last Jedi” by bringing back the Emperor is like when Sylvester Stallone looked at the miracle Ryan Coogler made with “Creed” and said, “Yo, let’s do it again with Dolph Lundgren!”

“The Rise of Skywalker” is a work of creative stasis and profoundly limited imagination. Eight-year-old future critics will probably spend the holidays smiling weakly and telling their moms “it was pretty good, I guess,” while the rest of us consider that it might finally be time to put away these childish things.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 1.5 out of 5.Over the past twenty years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, Nashville Scene and RogerEbert.com. He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

About Sean Burns

Sean Burns is a Staff Writer at WBUR's The ARTery. His reviews, interviews and essays have also appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, Time Out New York, Philadelphia City Paper and RogerEbert.com. He stashes them all at www.splicedpersonality.com

14 thoughts on “Review – Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker (Sean’s Take)

  1. Why repeat the lie that the “fans” chased Kelly Marie Tran off social media? Where is the evidence for that she was bullied? Did you verify your sources? Can you cite anything or anyone who did this? Re: Last Jedi, my attempting to make the Force available to everyone (which by the way was already somewhat there in the Clone Wars and Empire Strikes Back) but ignore George Lucas’ original trilogy and prequels that the Force run strong in certain families, Rian Johnson undermines the mythology and lore of the Star Wars universe. The Last Jedi also rehashed many elements from previous Star Wars films like Empire Strikes Back. The Rise of Skywalker fails on many points which I would agree with you on. However it seems your expectations and disappointments are that it undid any ‘advancement’ the Last Jedi made to the Star Wars story. Isn’t this what fans felt (though their expectations and disappointments were different – for not understanding, respecting the Star Wars universe, regressing and degrading the character arcs and development of the original characters, blatant plagiarism of ideas from the previous Star Wars, little to no development of new characters, contrived plots, etc.) There was no fan service in this film. It was desecration. In the end Anakin is not the chosen one to bring balance to the Force, to destroy the Sith but Rey. Should not be called Rise of Skywalker but Rise of Palpatine.

  2. I have to refute your one part of the review that says Rian Johnson made a ‘real movie’ with the Last Jedi. What he did was cancel all the questions asked in the Force Awakens and left the audience with no reason to go back and see the finale of the new trilogy due to apathy. I understand that fans were expecting monumental twists like the Empire Strikes Back and he subverted that notion. But what he actually did was butcher a Space Opera under the guise of the auteur rather than expand the universe.

    Wanna learn about Snoke? Nup, let’s give him no payoff and kill him. Rey’s background? Meh, let’s surprise the fans with no history. Romance? Let’s introduce a character nobody knows and make an awkward relationship with her and Finn as they travel to a casino. Luke, the main protagonist of the most beloved trilogy? Kill him via meditation after he whines the whole movie. “Good luck with the third film whoever is taking over from me.”

    A lot of critics like to state how revolutionary this movie was in the lexicon of the Star Wars franchise. But Johnson did it for the sake of saying he was the first to crush the ‘hero’s journey’ rather than the mindset needed of making an enjoyable Star Wars film that would lead to an anticipated finale and conclusion. Instead JJ Abrams was left to pick up the pieces of the now ‘defunct’ story and create a trilogy in the space of one film. That’s not something to be proud of when you’re adding to the Star Wars canon. Critics need to get off their high horse and stop trying to demand high art from something that started off as a Space serial. It’s melodrama set in a galaxy far, far away. Not an essay on cinematic tropes that need to be disbanded for the sake of showing everyone how much of an ‘artist’ you are.

    1. Thank god someone gets it. Thanks Frank. Rian ruined the franchise. It drives me crazy that some of these moronic reviewers believe that “taking chances” always equates to “good art.” No. He made about 8 terrible choices in an effort to impress Kathleen Kennedy and get his own trilogy. And all 8 of them sucked.

  3. I’ve been reading Sean’s reviews for a long time, and about 90% of the time, he carries his reviews with the same amount of smugness as his picture. I roll my eyes, and move on typically. But this time, I decided to say something. JJ is notorious for starting movies well and ending them poorly. But he turned chicken sh!+ into chicken salad with this movie. The Last Jedi was a god-awful attempt to subvert expectations by using identity politics and anti-war profiteering sentiments to pander to the “woke” Internet. The fact that JJ gave that movie a huge middle finger and spent an hour undoing things was welcomed. I don’t go to a galaxy far, far away to watch Earth politics. He took the storylines that Rian decided end (all of them), and do what he could. And save the breakneck pacing, and overstuffing of plot, he made the best movie an actual Star Wars fan could have asked for. And before you gave me crap about that statement, I’ll be the first to remind you that I don’t care about the collective masses having to enjoy the movie. These movies are made for their fan bases. James Bond fans shouldn’t be catered to when making a Harry Potter movie and vice versa. Not mention the fact that the female reboot movement has proven that people don’t go see movies just cause they see people they recognize on screen. They go see movies they find interesting, and/or have an inner fandom with. All I can hope is that these awful reviews do exactly what they did for Joker. Drive the masses to the theaters, and find their place on the good side of history.

  4. Ah, I wish I didn’t agree with your entire review but sadly I do. Your point about this movie dismissing the really intriguing and novel ideas/developments from The Last Jedi (Rey being her own person not beholden to any lineage, which was of course a perfect contrast for Kylo Ren’s struggle) was one of my deepest frustrations as well. I felt like I was being punished for having enjoyed Ep VIII.

    I was too naiive, I guess – I was so excited to see how those ideas from The Last Jedi would be expanded on and brought to conclusion that I had really been looking forward to this movie – I fully wanted and expected to like it. But the choice to be beholden to lore and fanservice rather than doing something interesting with these characters I guess shouldn’t have come as such a surprise.

    If they really do let Rian Johnson go ahead and write/direct a new trilogy, I’ll probably go see that, but at this point I don’t have a lot of faith left in the rest of the Star Wars storytelling machine if this is where we end up – a hopeless finale that leaves our main character in the same way she started, alone in the desert.

    1. Agreed. Too many fans see lore as unchangeable and “sacred” when it’s just an accumulation of characters and setting interacting over time in the fictional setup. Proper storytelling (if the story moves forward with new installments) should keep it dynamic, like science, not something like the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Mahabharata.

    2. And The Last Jedi felt like it punished people for enjoying The Force Awakens. That’s the basic problem with this trilogy: Kathleen Kennedy let two filmmakers with diametrically opposed visions handle the story. It’s ridiculous.

  5. I did not grow up watching the Star Wars movies. I’ve watched all of the new films however to me The Last Jedi stood out to me as THE BEST ONE. This Skywalker one seemed more childish and the characters didn’t seem like they were in a land far away..it felt like we were watching them on a studio lot. The acting was good it was just the storyline didn’t blow me away like The Last Jedi did. Anywho just an avid movie watcher and thought some points in your review were spot on.

  6. Perfectly agree with a lot of your points. A lot of fans blindly misunderstand the “force is strong with my family” line of Luke from ROTJ as “this is the only way for a force sensitive to come about”, which is sad and funny at the same time, considering George Lucas in the prequels built a whole roster of Jedi without delineating their bloodlines just to underline the mistake of taking Luke’s line literally. In fact, Luke in ROTJ was describing being force sensitive in HIS (and Leia’s) case, not dialogue expositing how force sensitivity for EVERYONE happens. Except a lot of fans who take main character dialogue as factual exposition happened…and that’s where the seeds of TLJ whining sprouted. With TROS I did like the Ben and Rey parts, even though the Rey Palpatine “twist” is pointless since the essence transfer plot device would still work if she wasn’t related to Sheev as long as she was a force vergence (like Anakin). Those parts being noticeably better than the flat recycling that was the rest of the movie owes more to Daisy and Adam’s chemistry more than anything. And yes, TLJ was a real movie. This was a fanservice mess, except for the Rey / Ben parts.

  7. “ But the choice to be beholden to lore and fanservice rather than doing something interesting with these characters I guess shouldn’t have come as such a surprise.”

    I’m sorry, Carolyn, that movies that are made in universes tend to follow the lore of those universes. I, for one, am personally offended that the Enterprise wasn’t captained by a sand worm from Dune while iron man flies around engineering talking to that robot from “flight of the navigator”.

    good /= ignoring world creation, and the sooner people get over the idea that being edgy for the sake of politics isn’t actually being edgy at all, the better

  8. So, basically you enjoy A New Hope–oh wait, you don’t call it that–and Empire Strikes Back. You’re not a Star Wars fan, you just like a couple of the movies from the series. And are parroting every other critic who just looooooved The Last Jedi and now hate Rise of Skywalker for…being having more of a continuity with 7 of the 8 previous films? Don’t misunderstand, I lived TLJ. It was beautifully shot, and it took a lot of chances, some of which worked better than others. But the fact is, JJ Abrams was given some threadbare scraps to work with, and managed to turn the series finale into an exciting and satisfying conclusion to this saga. Was there similar beats to previous stories? YES!! Lucas himself said that these films we’re supposed to be operatic, with certain themes and ideas reprising themselves throughout. Your cynical dismissal, also parroting the critical party line of TROS, shows how little you understand these films in the first place.

  9. Dear Sean
    Your review was enjoyable, if maybe it didn’t search for sufficient positive points about SW IX.

    I also enjoyed the comments on your review. It’s really fantastic people can still have rigorous movie discussions.

    That The Last Jedi “annihilated” a couple of intrinsic details is more forgivable than bringing back Palpatine (sp?) (ah, who cares). Old mate J.J. must have been either too busy or too starved of creative juices to come up with something better. It wouldn’t have been too hard.

    I for one prefer my McDiarmids to be butlerish and working for Chips O’Toole.

    Nevertheless, I enjoyed SW IX. It was good spectacle. And Lando.

    Again, thanks for the engaging review.

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