Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker — the ninth and final chapter of the newly dubbed Skywalker Saga — is a huge nostalgia trip, for better and for worse. Returning characters, music cues and visual callbacks will put smiles on the faces of the legions of Star Wars fans who have grown up with the franchise. Unfortunately, The Rise of Skywalker’s plot clings too much to the past, retreading old ground in ways that are safe at best and anticlimactic at worst. The Rise of Skywalker is a serviceable ending to one of the most iconic movie sagas of all time that had the potential to be great.
A year removed from the previous film, The Last Jedi, the Rebels continue to defend themselves against the newly formed First Order. Since General Snoke’s death, Sith Lord Palpatine has come back from the dead to reclaim his throne and attempt to wipe out the Jedi once and for all. Resident Sith, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), continues to be conflicted about his place within the order of The Force. Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) is still training her Jedi powers while Commander Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) attempt to find a way to the Sith homeworld in order to bring the fight to them.
Star Wars has been at the center of a nerd-rage controversy ever since the release of The Last Jedi, which took the Star Wars in a similar direction to the second film, 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back. Writer-director Rian Johnson attempted to introduce new characters and concepts and preach a message of progress toward an unfamiliar but exciting future. It was bold enough to kill off Luke Skywalker and establish that Rey was not his relative, but the daughter of unnamed scavengers. It was time for the past to stay in the past while we explore the rest of the galaxy.
It’s hard to look at The Rise of Skywalker as little more than a two-and-a-half-hour retcon of the loudest criticisms fans had for the previous film.
Star Wars fans didn’t like these changes very much. The response was deafening and has remained a hot topic in the almost two years since The Last Jedi’s release. On top of this, Rise writer-director J.J. Abrams is looking to tie up the loose ends left from his work on trilogy starter The Force Awakens. It’s hard to look at The Rise of Skywalker as little more than a two-and-a-half-hour retcon of the loudest criticisms fans had for the previous film.
As a result, the nostalgia utilized in Rise comes across as unimaginative. Plot points not involving fetch quests for different trinkets exist in favor of the nostalgic callbacks, instead of the other way around. Interesting characters, particularly Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose, are sidelined in favor of yet another battle with yet another incarnation of Emperor Palpatine.
When the movie ended, I was left with a resounding feeling of “…that was it?” In a universe as huge as the Star Wars universe is, things shouldn’t still feel this small nine movies later.
The plot may feel bogged down with story points, but Rise is still an entertaining blockbuster. Lightsaber battles and aerial dogfights around planet-size laser guns look beautiful. The cast is great, particularly John Boyega’s unflinchingly heroic Finn and Daisy Ridley’s nuanced portrayal of Rey. Billy Dee Williams’ return as Lando Calrissian is a nice surprise slightly flattened by his lack of screen time. Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia Organa is given a proper goodbye, literally and figuratively, following the actress’s passing three years ago.
The Rise of Skywalker is an ending for Star Wars in more ways than one. It’s the end of the Skywalker story and the end of the mainline Star Wars universe, but it isn’t exactly the most satisfying ending I could’ve hoped for. Its action is thrilling but its story is stifled, its characters compelling but unallowed to venture into the world without a Skywalker, Vader or Palpatine name tag. The Rise of Skywalker is done in by its own familiarity.