There is a sequence in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in which hot shot pilot Poe Dameron is at the controls of the Millenium Falcon as he deftly evades enemy ships from the First Order. In order to prevent his teammates from being captured by the bad guys, Poe executes a series of hyperpace jumps and we are treated to a dazzling and fast-paced spectacle of the legendary space ship as blazes through the skies of one world after another. Poe refers to this high speed manuever as “light skipping” to his disbelieving friends.
While the so-called light skipping scene looks cool, it also serves as the perfect visual analogy for the pacing of the entire movie. Throughout the story the characters go to one place in search of something and then to another place to find something else. It seems that just about anything you could possibly need to shape the future of the galaxy such as a ritual dagger, the Sith equivalent to Google Maps or even an ancient, fallen villain are just laying about waiting to be found. We never get to spend too much time in one location nor do we see too much character development. I hope you were not expecting further exploration of the spiritual side of The Force as we saw in The Empire Strikes Back because none of that is here either.
To be fair, I do not think that The Rise of Skywalker is a bad movie. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. My issue with the film is that rapidly throws ideas on the screen but never takes an in depth look at any of them. The movie also neglects what I consider to be key elements of Star Wars such as the spiritual aspects of the Force. I would just hate to see fans go in with lofty expectations only to be let down. Expect spoilers from this point on.
It would not be much of a spoiler to say that this movie’s plot heavily revolves around Emperor Palpatine (last seen plummeting to his demise in Return of the Jedi. He somehow managed to survive – the movie does not explain how – and currently leads an existence hanging from a bunch of life support equipment. Palpatine and his followers have been spending all of these years on a hidden world quietly building a new fleet of Star Destroyers. These new ships all feature an under-belly cannon capable of destroying planets. (I guess Palpatine got tired of the good guys blowing up his Death Stars so he made a mobile fleet of planet busters).
The Emperor sends a galactic broadcast announcing his return which enrages Kylo Ren. Not wanting any competition for ruling the galaxy, he sets out to destroy Palpatine but the cunning Emperor proposes a deal and he would also like Ren to kill Rey once and for all.
For her part, Rey is undergoing Jedi training under the tutelage of Leia but she is having difficulty feeling connected with the Jedi. News of Palpatine’s return hits the Resistance and Rey decides this is the time to join Poe, Finn and Chewie on a search for the hidden world of the Sith and this brings us to one of my big problems with the film. It is literally an A-B-C treasure hunt. They need a Sith artifact which is some kind of GPS device that leads to the Sith world but first they need to find an ancient dagger. After they find the dagger our heroes need to go somewhere else so they can translate a Sith message. This is not a story of heroes reaching into themselves for the strength to conquer evil.It is connecting the dots and I find it an unsatisfying method of storytelling.
Meanwhile, Kylo Ren uses his mental link with Rey to propose a new plan – he suggests they work together to overthrow Palpatine. After some close calls and duels, both physical and mental, Kylo finally reveals the truth about Rey’s parents. As you may recall, Rey had eked out a squalid existence on Jakku waiting for her family to return and in The Last Jedi she was told that her parents sold her off as a child.
It seems that Rey’s father was the son of Emperor Palpatine and she is the Sith lord’s grandaughter. While that would explain Rey’s powerful connection to the Force, this plot point leads me to my next major issue with The Rise of Skywalker. I feel that the Star Wars universe is just too inbred. The galaxy is likely home to trillions of lives and yet their future is largely determined by the actions of two families – the Skywalkers and the Palpatines. It is time for more voices to shape the fate of the galaxy.
You won’t find much character development with the other players in this story. Finn has progressed somewhat and expresses his belief in the Force but spends most of the movie doing action figure antics. We learn that Poe was once a spice runner. Unlike Han Solo who went through an actual character arc, Poe just sort of shrugs it off and this development literally has no impact on the story. C-3PO makes a notable sacrifice but that gets reversed fairly quickly which completely robs his action of any meaning. Luke Skywalker is particularly infuriating as a Force Ghost. Criticize The Last Jedi all you like but I was intrigued by Luke’s insistence that the Force was something more than a tool to be used by Jedi and Sith. This was a step in a new direction but Abrams walks all of that back with Luke commenting that he was wrong. He gives Rey Leia’s old lightsaber and tells her to take it along with his old blade to the Sith world and confront Palpatine. We never really learn why these two sabers are so important or why they would be more effective than any other light saber. Maybe using them is a symbolic act.
The final thing that bugs me about the film would be that key elements of the plot happen offscreen. Palpatine was recovered off screen. He builds a fleet of super ships off screen. Even Lando and Chewie manage to assemble the largest fleet of ships we have ever seen in a Star Wars flick off screen. Epic tales of good and evil should not be resolved with the good guys showing up at the last possible second with magic fairy dust.
With an estimated production budget of $200 million, I would have hoped that the producers of The Rise of Skywalker would have tossed a little more cash towards the writing department.
I must admit that this movie showcases Daisy Ridley’s finest performance as Rey. She does a fine job conveying pain and fear. The rest of the cast does a fine job with their performances as well but Ridley admittedly steals the show. It is bittersweet to see the late Carrie Fisher on the big screen one final time. Billy Dee Williams remains delightful as the scoundrel Lando Calrissian.
With that said, I am bothered by the severely diminished presence of Rose Tico. I am well aware that her debut in The Last Jedi was not well liked. Hell,I did not much care for the character myself. However, actress Kelly Marie Tran was subject to abhorrent racist and mysoginistic attacks on social media and I can’t help but wonder if her reduced presence was simply giving the bigots exactly what they wanted.
Say whatever you like about how Disney has managed the Star Wars franchise but nobody can deny that they throw tons of money behind these theatrical releases. The visuals are lush and gorgeous while showcasing a staggering variety of environments. There really is not much to complain about here but don’t worry – I can find something. Abrams has an obsession with water. A good chunk of the movie shows massive ships rising out the water or Rey traversing the ocean waves in a skimmer in order to reach the ruins of the Death Star. Rey and Kylo Ren even have a duel while they are drenched. Abram’s fascination with water is beginning to rival Michael Bay’s affection for explosions. You’ll see what I mean as you watch tiny drops of water drip from Adam Driver’s rather large nose in Ultra HD resolution.
The ship battles in The Rise of Skywalker are breathtakingly gorgeous and are tightly edited. Even with so much happening on screen you will be able to keep track of the story unlike what we saw with the space battle in The Phantom Menace which was mostly ships flying around with little context.
While Star Wars movies are primarily known for fast action sequences, there are a number of scenes that take a moment to show off the beauty of this universe. At the very end of the film there is a moment when Rey basks in the sunset of Tattooine. That is a nice bookend to the moment when Luke stared off into the sunset way back in A New Hope.
If you are a fan of Disney era Star Wars films then you will probably enjoy The Rise of Skywalker. It does not reach the heights of the original films but the movie offers a better experience than the prequel trilogy.