Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker picks up where 2017’s The Last Jedi left off. The Resistance is struggling in their war against the First Order, and things are about to get worse. Thanks to the trailers, it’s no spoiler to say that Emperor Palpatine has returned to crush the resistance and end the Jedi for good this time. His plot has ramifications for the entire galaxy, but most importantly to us viewers, will change the lives of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) forever.
I’m going to keep this review spoiler free. Sometime within the next week, myself, Alex and several of High Contrast’s contributors will be posting a spoiler filled discussion of The Rise of Skywalker. For now, I’ll provide my reaction to the film while discussing it in a general, spoiler free manner.
I’ll start with the return of Palpatine. It’s fun to see this baddie return, but on the drive home I realized the film never actually discusses how he came back. This didn’t occur to me immediately while watching the film, probably because I am familiar enough with the expanded universe (not to mention the fact that this guy had access to cloning technology) that I just must’ve unconsciously filled in the blanks in my mind enough that the absence of this detail in the script didn’t jump out at me right away. But now that I’m thinking about it, it’s really an odd and dumb error. I hope maybe I just missed something. Maybe a bit of dialogue was muffled by the kid next to me who kept loudly playing with his straw and shaking his popcorn. But if that detail really didn’t make it into the script, well that’s the first of many problems with this film. It’s something I’m going to watch and listen carefully for when I partake in a second viewing.
The Rise of Skywalker, in my view, is nowhere near as bad as some of the hyperbole online has made it seem. Once again, Twitter is full of people saying that this is the worst Star Wars yet and a total undermining of the entire saga. I’m numb to that shit by this point. It has been the reaction to every Star Wars film that has come out in my life. True, many of them have been bad, but only one can be the worst and in my opinion, it’s not this one.
My problems with the film are almost entirely concentrated in the first act. The first 40 to 50 minutes of this movie are a hectic, convoluted mess. The pacing is too fast. Entire missions go by in two to three minutes. There were countless instances of characters getting from one place to another so quickly that I kept trying to make sense of how they got where they were. Because of this hectic pacing, many of the action sequences that should be thrilling and emotionally devastating don’t work. The viewer isn’t given enough time to process the situation. There are also some new characters that are introduced too quickly and conflicts that are never resolved. There’s an encounter involving Poe (Oscar Isaac) and a new character named Zorri (Keri Russell) where the dynamic between the two starts off one way and just switches, abruptly, with no little explanation or transition. That’s unfortunate, because Zorri had the potential to be an interesting character but is ultimately under utilized and developed.
What really contributes to all these pacing and character issues is the plot contrivance that makes up the first act. I won’t say what it is, other than the characters are searching for a certain object. The object ultimately has little impact on the second half of the film. It comes off as a lazy way for screenwriters J.J. Abrams (also directing here, in case you don’t already know) and Chris Terrio to ensure that all the characters keep crossing paths. I wish the first act had been less plot heavy and more focused on the central conflict. The dynamic that exists between Kylo and Rey is the best part of this film, and when it’s in focus, I found the story satisfying.
I felt like the movie improved drastically in its second half. When the script focuses on Kylo, Rey and Palpatine, as well as wrapping up Leia’s arc and the impact it has on Poe, I think Abrams and Terrio did a great job. For all that has been and will continue to be said about Johnson’s contribution to the trilogy versus Abram’s approach, I think Abrams certainly built on the foundation Johnson created in The Last Jedi far more than the internet has been giving him credit for.
I’m really tired of this Johnson versus Abrams feud among the fans. In my view, they both made choices with this franchise that I liked and they both did things I strongly disagreed with. Like Johnson did last time around, Abrams uses this episode to add on to the potential that the force has. There are acts we witness in the last half of this film that will certainly be controversial to some fans and that I am eager to discuss when our spoiler discussion happens. Most of them worked for me though and I can see how they tie back to earlier films, mostly in ways that I found to be fitting. I look forward to arguing my case, but I also know that many won’t agree with me and that’s fine. Because a film is divisive doesn’t automatically make it bad, and because a fan disagrees with my view or your view doesn’t automatically make them wrong.
My opinion on this film will probably go through some evolution as time goes by. My thoughts on most other Star Wars films have changed over time too. Some held up better than I expected and others lost their appeal quickly. What I can give you now is my initial reaction, which is that The Rise of Skywalker is my least favorite episode of the sequel trilogy. It has a clunky first act and also suffers at times from feeling like a Return of the Jedi retread. That said, I enjoyed a lot about the last hour and don’t share the hate some fans have for this episode and this trilogy.