The ninth and final chapter in the Skywalker Saga of the beloved Star Wars franchise, Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker is an enjoyable enough experience, yet ultimately collapses as it tries to be too much movie for one movie to handle. RoS wants to be the third and final film in this new sequel trilogy started in 2015 with The Force Awakens, the last chapter in the story of the Skywalker family and their Jedi lineage, and – perhaps most maddening – a remedial course for 2017’s polarizing entry, The Last Jedi.
The performances of the actors are absolutely the high point of the movie. As homeschooled Jedi wunderkind Rey, Daisy Ridley turns in a great performance, balancing her burgeoning powers with her crippling insecurity about her lack of a family. Ridley never wastes a moment to show Rey processing multiple emotions at once: sometimes one undercutting the other and other times both at the same time.
As stormtrooper defector, Finn and swashbuckling pilot Poe Dameron, John Boyegp and Oscar Isaac are effortlessly charming and charismatic. Isaac in particular crackles with a prickly sarcasm that draws from the sacred Han Solo wellspring without feeling like a copy-paste (his weary bickering with C-3PO, in particular, exude “tired dad on a road trip gone wrong” energy that amuses every time.) Boyega, while impossible to not love as a performer, struggles the most with characterizing Finn’s motivations, but none of that blame I put on him. As mentioned above, Last Jedi never knew what to do with Boyega’s Finn, which is a shame because Boyega shows us glimpses of what he could have been. As basically a child soldier turned resistance everyman, Finn’s everyman pluck serves as a great contrast to the talented, driven Rey (Force prodigy) and Poe (ace pilot).
Rounding out the core cast is Adam Driver as the tortured Skywalker scion Kylo Ren/Ben Solo. Driver has always been a hugely enjoyable presence in these films for me, and Rise of Skywalker is a great showcase for the dueling, conflicted nature of a young man torn apart by the legacy of both sides of his family bloodline. Driver makes a meal out of his screen time, showing us Ren’s petulant anxiety poisoning him from within, while also granting us a glimpse of the true Ben Solo, a charming, daring, good-hearted person who wears the veneer of a flippant rogue (like father, like son.)
Visually, this film is remarkable. No surprise there, but several space fights and aerial maneuvers left me breathless (one Force related feat, in particular, made my jaw legitimately drop.) Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker tickles that Star Wars urger of showing us new planets and alien cultures, however we’re in such a hurry to tick all the story boxes the film sets out to tic, I feel we never spend enough time to really explore the new worlds, as we got to with previous Star Wars worlds like Cloud City or Endor or the Mos Eisley cantina.
Going forward with the Star Wars franchise, I hope there is more of a uniform voice about what the overarching story is going to be. I like the idea of different directors taking on different entries in the trilogy/series, but this Abrams/Johnson/Abrams two-step aggravated me as a story consumer because it juts felt like a tug of war (“no, no, no, THIS is what we’re trying to say about Star Wars!”) I want a commitment, one way or the other.
Are you going to play it safer and just tell a fun, by the numbers Star Wars adventure for a new generation of kiddos to fall in love with? Great! Adult fans like us who grew up with these films will sit back and enjoy with this new cadre of younglings. Or are you going to tap into the well of deconstruction, analyzing and self-criticizing elements of Star Wars fandom that should be dissected and may be left behind, as Last Jedi attempted to do? I’m down for that too!
My lesson would be, you can’t do both at once.