The Star Wars saga, despite its Wookie-sized footprint in our pop culture conscious, has always been a loosely strung together series of mostly forgivable plot contrivances orchestrated though (in its finest moments) stirring action-adventure set pieces featuring heroes overcoming nearly impossible odds.
The Rise of Skywalker, director/co-writer J.J. Abrams’ overly self-conscious attempt to not overtly denounce but clearly course-correct Rian Johnson’s divisive The Last Jedi continues that tradition.
Abandoning any attempts to further ‘develop’ the lead quartet of characters - Rey, Finn, Poe and Kylo Ren - besides Daisy Ridley’s Rey, the film is a breakneck series of “missions” involving the heroes locating numerous McGuffins that are the keys to numerous deus ex machinas, all of which stack on top of one another to build into a final confrontation predicated (of course) on the bad guys not accounting for a fatal vulnerability.
Abrams, of course, borrowed heavily on that premise in 2015’s The Force Awakens when he supplanted the Death Star with the Starkiller Base. In Rise, he pays homage to the original Star Wars finale, The Return of the Jedi, by making (very slight spoilers) the First Order’s latest ultimate superweapon highly dependent on an antenna.
And all that would have been fine … the necessary contrivances could have been overlooked in grand Star Wars tradition if not for the fact that the entire premise of the film is built on another too-critical-to-overlook contrivance.
The Rise of Skywalker would collapse onto itself if the return of Emperor Palpatine is not revealed by his own hand to literally everyone in the galaxy. And if you consider that a spoiler, wait until you find out that’s the first sentence of the opening crawl.
That’s right. What should have likely been a major plot point of The Rise of Skywalker (or The Last Jedi, hold that thought) is meta-revealed in written copy. And it has to be, because the finale’s whole structure goes away if he remained in hiding (as logic dictates) until the superweapon is ready.
That size plot hole is hard to forgive. And it’s seemingly a symptom of the real problem with Rise - it really does want to sort of forget The Last Jedi happened. And maybe that approach will be celebrated by critics of that film (of which I am not one) but it leads to more problems that it in turn must fix ... unsuccessfully.
Nobody gets the short end of the stick more than Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren. The plot adjustments render arguably the series most interesting character into more of a pawn than a catalyst and something of an afterthought when it’s all said and done, despite an attempt to rebuild his importance in the final act in ways that are sure to divide fans.
Rise never feels grounded. It never feels like a whole, complete movie, just a series of episodes that starts in the middle. Like Kylo, Finn and Poe are there just to be supporting characters in Rey’s journey, and attempts to give Poe a backstory and Finn some explanation for his original hero turn feel tacked on and perfunctory.
Carrie Fisher’s goodbye as Leia through unused footage from The Force Awakens feels organic enough, but understandably proves insufficient.
Abrams relies on callbacks and cameos try to instill a sense of closure and completeness, but even some of those attempts have been undermined by recent episodes of Disney+’s The Mandalorian.
While it would have been controversial, had Abrams moved forward with what was established in The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker might have had a fighting chance to give the series (though not the IP) a satisfying send-off. Abrams intentions are likely pure and driven by his sense of what a Star Wars finale should be, but by trying to rewrite the rules in the third act, fans are left with the worst of both worlds, - an attempt to be sentimental that instead looks like a lot of second guessing and a lot of overcompensation, with choices that will likely live in infamy rather than in cherished memories.