Once the opening crawl of Star Wars: Episode 9 – The Rise of Skywalker begins with “The dead speak”, what has been speculated becomes true. There was no plan for this new trilogy, the first under the control of Disney after the acquisition of Lucasfilm. Spanning several decades starting in the 1970’s the saga does what it can under the tremendous expectation to land the falcon cleanly while providing all of the thrills that have come to be expected. But in the saga’s episodic 9th chapter, a clean landing is just out of reach as conclusions go – the landing gear is busted and instead of a smooth journey, the ride has been more turbulent than satisfactory.
What I mean by the sequel trilogy having no plan compared to the original and prequel trilogies is this: Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) has somehow survived the fallout of Return of the Jedi when the second Death Star blew up over the forest moon of Endor. How he survived after Darth Vader threw him over a railing while succumbing to a lightning strike is one thing but adding him into the final chapter that’s supposed to wrap all 3 trilogies with no prior involvement or mention adds to the frustration. Early on after Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) finds Palpatine’s location on the planet Exegol by way of a Sith wayfinder, Palpatine confesses that he has been pulling the strings all along.
From Snoke to Kylo’s turn to the dark side to Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) existence, it’s been Palpatine as the puppet master – building the Sith back up to control the galaxy once again under the guise called the ‘Final Order’. After The Last Jedi and the risks that Rian Johnson took with the franchise, The Rise of Skywalker plays it safe with a predictable finish, devoting most of the 142 minute runtime to cheap fan service and shallow character development.
Written by Chris Terrio and J. J. Abrams, the latter returning to the directors seat, the writing duo add a lot of uninspired empty calories to their script, providing nothing new or significant to the mythology that George Lucas once created. Corners are cut, plot points that were started in The Force Awakens are given easy outs and character developments and relationships that had promise are abandoned. As Star Wars goes, TROS feels disjointed from the moment the crawl ends and we’re once again dropped into the vacuum of space.
After Palpatine makes his presence known to the galaxy, its once again up to the resistance who have barely limped away after the events of The Last Jedi from the First Order to stop the reemergence of the Sith. To get there, Terrio and Abrams use many of the same plot devices that we’ve seen before. Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), and Chewy (Joonas Suotamo) are on a mission to retrieve stolen plans of Palpatine’s mission. From there, the resistance led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher through repurposed footage) set out to find a second wayfinder to stop the former emperor from gaining control back of the galaxy, stopping once and for all.
You know, for a second time. An explosion of a small moon and being dropped thousands of feet wasn’t enough.
For the first time in the sequel trilogy, the 3 new protagonist leads are on screen together, carrying out their mission, and in true Star Wars fashion, failing as they go. Together, the trio of Isaac, Boyega, and Ridley have the same dynamic and chemistry as Ford, Hamill, and Fisher, without the burden of a romantic element involved. Ridley continues to be the emotional heart and soul of the trilogy while Isaac and Boyega are sparingly given their moments to breathe new life into the dying rebellion.
All it takes is a little hope. Rebellions are built on hope and throughout, Poe and Finn never lose the hope that the galaxy is listening to their message and fight for freedom.
As the story gets its legs underneath it, you can feel the creative struggle from too many cooks in the kitchen. What Rian Johnson accomplishes with his episode is swiftly undone by Terrio and Abrams. Characters that had major roles in the rebellion are shifted to the background while new and old faces are brought in, not adding much to the overall story. Specifically, what Johnson does with Rey is immediately erased – it was better off when Rey was just a nobody with unnamed parents. The switch to make her a Palpatine is unearned and subsequently her new name she gives herself after the galaxy is saved for good winds up being a disappointment.
Among the disorder that is the screenplay, the action, more specifically the lightsaber sequences build all of the necessary tension that the franchise has always gotten right. Never has the fight for freedom of oppression and tyranny against the emperor has been so vital to the survival of the galaxy. Ridley is unrelenting and ferocious with that laser sword Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) left for her. Opposite her is the physically imposing Adam Driver – the two are choreographed like a dance – every swing or attack with the saber more crucial than the last. Rey has come a long way since we first met her scavenging on Jakku to taking on the supreme leader one on one and holding her own. The force is strong with Rey.
Cinematographer Dan Mindel puts the camera up close between Kylo and Rey during their various duels with their final coming on a destroyed piece of death star recapturing the adrenaline, tension and magic the throne room fight in The Last Jedi delivered on. You can feel the struggle between good and evil and the conflict within both of them to pick a side. That’s why the jedi order failed – closing off all feelings, acting in self-defense, never opening up to the possibility of being vulnerable. The jedi had to be destroyed so a new order can be built off of the past.
Visually, TROS dazzles with its seemingly infinite amount of special effects but its overly relied upon creating a suspension of disbelief in connection with a messy script. Bright reds, deep blue’s take over among the muted colors of planet atmospheres. The battles in space are full blown spectacle, creating an urgency to stop the final order once and for all. Flying from the POV of an x-wing cockpit has never looked cooler with Poe stepping into a role within the rebellion he earned through hard knocks.
Though it may have deviated from the path with no set plan in place to drive the story from point A to B, the sequel trilogy ushers in a new generation of Star Wars. Finally the galaxy can get a touch more expansive and move away from the self-contained narrative that revolves around the name ‘Skywalker’ (please no more sand based planets). Overall, the sequel trilogy can best be described as divisive – with a promising albeit derivative beginning in The Force Awakens, it’s the imaginative Last Jedi that really pushes the boundaries, fully delivering on the potential of Star Wars while TROS caps things off as an aimless tonal effects heavy mess.
Story By: Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow, Chris Terrio & J. J. Abrams
Screenplay By: Chris Terrio & J. J. Abrams
Directed By: J. J. Abrams
Music By: John Williams
Cinematography: Dan Mindel
Starring: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Ian McDiarmid, Billy Dee Williams, Kelly Marie Tran, Joonas Suotamo
Where to Watch: Disney Plus
Edited By: Maryann Brandon, Stefan Grube
Release Date: December 20, 2019
Running Time: 2 Hours 22 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 52%
Based On: Star Wars by George Lucas