After half a decade of Star Wars madness, we come to the end of a new trilogy. Much like the previous third trilogy entries of the saga, The Rise of Skywalker aims for a conclusion that is big and epic but also somewhat predictable, bundled with surprises and twists that feel all too familiar and somewhat par for the course. The result is a film so frantic in its attempt to hit all the Star Wars beats and wrap up those lofty thematic elements that it kinda loses sight of the grander appeal.
Director J.J. Abrams returns to direct the final entry and, in the same way he spends much time setting up franchises, he blows through nearly the entire first act introducing us to so much. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is still coming to terms with his past and what he desires for the future, unearthing a few more discoveries in his troubled fury for power. Rey (Daisy Ridley) is in a similar spot, also making some big discoveries and still torn about her place in the world. Their dynamic is certainly an interesting one but once their common ground is reached amid a new threat, the fates seem mostly sealed about where they’ll end up by the climactic finale.
This isn’t to say that her noble companions of Poe (Oscar Isacc) and Finn (John Boyega) are entirely forced out of the picture. Instead of just being given subplots to muck around with until they all meet up later for the obligatory post-battle hug fest, they’re given a little more history and a connection to their own pasts. And yet, within a film that reserves a hefty chunk to the driest of exposition and MacGuffin-hunting babble, they never quite feel whole, lacking in both intrigue and character chemistry. So instead of just finding missions for these supporting characters to busy themselves with to build character while Rey goes on her Jedi adventure, they’re paired up with babysitters/possible love interests.
This isn’t to say that Rey’s conflict with Kylo isn’t intriguing and doesn’t contain some fantastical allure. There are a few thematic elements that, if not fully explored, are at the very least intriguing. There’s a great prospect in how Rey seems to be trying to find some means of using the Force more for good than merely how to destroy the First Order. After all, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) was able to accomplish just that in the previous picture. There are some unique aspects brought up about how the mysterious Force functions and what exactly the likes of Rey and Kylo are capable of as the new generation. Every scene they occupy is great drama, though their moments seem few and far between for being the most present in any of the previous Star Wars pictures.
I hate to use the term safe to describe the nostalgic dabbling of the movie but it comes off as much within such a crowded film. Billy Dee Williams returns to the role of Lando but he has so little to do than smile and be amazed he’s in another Star Wars picture. There are numerous references and callbacks to the original saga, as well as the new one, that are so forced into the picture with nothing interesting to extract from such additions. Remember Maz (Lupita Nyong’o) and how she seemed to have such interesting connections to Jedi and code-crackers, as well as a thing for Chewy? Watch now as she merely narrates what General Leia (Carrie Fisher) does with her remaining Force powers. There are even some cameos one would not expect but their minimal usage feels sadly expected.
And, yeah, there’s a big battle of starships to close out the picture with a few nice touches, including alien horses rushing across the surface of a Star Destroyer. But haven’t we come to expect this kinda showdown from the franchise? Hasn’t every third entry of the trilogy come standard with a huge battle of a ridiculous amount of spaceships zooming around and blowing each other up? Take note of how the new and improved First Order armada appears not bunched up but in a strict and sterile formation. There’s something about that perfectly aligned grouping that comes off more clinical than intimidating, even with the setting on a dark planet with constant lightning.
I can’t say I didn’t enjoy parts of The Rise of Skywalker, considering it was refreshing to finally see Rey, Poe, and Finn all together, even if they’re too busy rushing into the next mission than showing affection for one another. But so much of this story feels drowned in so much MacGuffin hunting and Jedi lore babble to explain nearly everything it not only lacks a punch for its greater themes about fighting for the future, it seems to forget so much that built up to this moment. Most of its time seems to be posing too many new questions and providing answers to previous questions in the trilogy that I honestly didn’t need to be answered. Considering how Rian Johnson’s previous film aimed to make a point of learning from the past while still letting it go, this film merely snugs safely back into its nostalgic cocoon of familiar things rather than familiar sensations. If The Last Jedi was the biggest cage-rattler of the new trilogy, The Rise of Skywalker is the timidest, finding the safer route for the fans rather than the bolder path they deserve.