The resurrection of the Star Wars saga by Disney was without a doubt one of the major cinematic events of this decade. The Force Awakens was a triumphant introduction to new characters (and re-introduction of old ones) while The Last Jedi brought the story on an unexpected path now infamous for its divisiveness.
Both films have, it seems, their own interpretation of the overall story, just like they have their own sets of fans. The Rise of Skywalker, as the closing film of the trilogy, has the task to link everything into a coherent whole and, bonus point, to try and make both sets of fans happy.
It is already a pretty difficult task, but it becomes even more tedious once you realize that this isn’t just the ending of a new trilogy, but also the ending of the entire Skywalker saga. This is the End with a capital E, the grand dramatic finish of the biggest space opera ever created.
These are a lot of weight to put on the shoulders of one man, J.J. Abrams (“The Force Awakens”, “Super 8”), who arrived on the project as damage control after the divisive Last Jedi and the apparently unsatisfactory original project by Colin Trevorrow (“Jurassic World”, “Safety Not Guaranteed”), still credited for the story with his usual co-writer Derek Connolly (“Jurassic World”, “Safety Not Guaranteed”) as well as Chris Terrio (“Argo”, “Batman v Superman”) and Abrams himself. But did Abrams managed to succeed and make a film that fulfilled all the promises he himself set up in The Force Awakens?
The answer right off the bat is: no.
The main issue comes from the very conception of the trilogy, as it is incredibly clear now that nothing had been prepared in advance. Some fans will blame Rian Johnson (“The Last Jedi”, “Knives Out”) and his Last Jedi for this, but if Disney had a very strict plan from the beginning, they plainly wouldn’t have allowed Johnson to deviate from it.
This lack of plan means that everything happening in The Rise of Skywalker feels contrived and unseeded – right from the opening crawl that drops on the viewers information that seemingly came out of nowhere.
This absence of real connective tissue between the three films (and even more so between the new trilogy and the old ones) inevitably makes the big finale an anticlimactic mess: scenes that should be powerful fall flat because nothing had been building to them, and information that should make us gasp and ask for more make us instead wonder why they would matter now.
More damning, JJ Abrams treats The Last Jedi like a burden he has to bear and wants to jettison parts of as much as he can. This will probably please the people who hated it, but no matter your feelings on this instalment this feels dishonest to the trilogy as a whole. And, inevitably, this also leads to some disastrous choices.
Nothing is reconnected per se, but major elements are changed or their importance diminished, like Rose Tico played by Kelly Marie Tran (“The Last Jedi”, “Sorry For Your Loss”) who was a new addition to the cast of characters in The Last Jedi but only appears here as what could almost be described as a cameo.
Many characters from the previous movies, old and new, also have proper cameos of their own, some more successful than others, and obviously the cast of main characters are here again.
Daisy Ridley (“Murder On The Orient Express”, “Peter Rabbit”), John Boyega (“Attack the Block”, “Pacific Rim: Uprising”) and Oscar Isaac (“Ex Machina”, “Life Itself”), respectively Rey, Finn and Poe, all reunite after spending a lot of their screen time separated in The Last Jedi. Carrie Fisher (“A New Hope”, “Empire Strikes Back”), who sadly passed away in 2016, also appears in the film thanks to the use of old footage from The Force Awakens. This is a nice homage to both her and her iconic character Leïa to have her on screen one last time, but her scenes all appear awkward as dialogues were scrappily written around her few lines.
On the dark side of the Force, Adam Driver (“Marriage Story”, “The Report”) and Domhnall Gleeson (“Ex Machina”, “Peter Rabbit”) are back as Kylo Ren and General Hux, with a new addition to the evil First Order in the form of Richard E. Grant (“Gosford Park”, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”) and his General Pryde.
Kylo Ren has the most interesting arc out of all the characters in the trilogy, and one of the most touching scene (if not the only one) of the film. It is however a shame that none of the protagonists receive that care as well. Their character development is scarce, big moments unearned, and even Rey’s story feels underwhelming in the end.
In terms of filmmaking, J.J. Abrams is as efficient as ever, but the cinematography by Dan Mindel (“The Force Awakens”, “Star Trek”) is a downgrade from The Last Jedi. New creatures and environments are all intriguing and well-made, just like the costume design, with a few exceptions (Rey returning to her three-buns hairdo and white outfit is a great example of Abrams refusing to acknowledge The Last Jedi and therefore discontinuing the trilogy – a detail, but an important one nevertheless).
The classic soundtrack by John Williams is timeless, as with every main Star Wars film, but there is so much time you can hear different versions of the Imperial March and the Force Theme before getting tired of them.
In the end, The Rise of Skywalker is a disappointing, flat film that fails its landing. But it is also a Star Wars movie directed by J.J. Abrams with a huge budget at his disposition: it looks just fine and will entertain you at least a little bit. In the grand scheme of things, it is a successful conventional blockbuster. Maybe, after all, that is what is so disappointing.