Every December for the last few years we the people have been gifted with a very merry, Star Wars-flavored treat. In 2015 it was a return to that galaxy far, far away in The Force Awakens. 2016 brought Rogue One, 2017 The Last Jedi, and 2018 Solo. And now, as the curtain falls on the decade we have been given the last large Star Wars fare: The Rise of Skywalker.
While the places where Skywalker finds success are certainly no worse than Last Jedi, these gaps are too yawning for the film to really prove itself.
In short, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, as the concluding episode of a saga that began over 40 years ago, collapses when it is most needed to stand tall.
I think it goes without saying that there are about to be some SPOILERS ahead.
So, when we last left the intrepid heroes of J. J. Abrams' new trilogy they were on the run from the specter of Imperial might in the First Order. Escaping out the back of a salt mine as Luke Skywalker sacrificed the last of his force energy to give his newfound friends time to flee, it seemed that when the dust settled Rey, Finn, Poe, and the rest would have a minute to collect themselves.
However, this proves to not be the case as they must shoot off across the galaxy to find out a Jedi Wayfinder, a supremely powerful navigating device that will take them to the Sith planet of Exegol whereupon they can then confront the resurrected Emperor Palpatine and his new fleet of Star Destroyer battleships that he has dubbed the Final Order.
After learning of her lineage in a frightful confrontation with a Kylo Ren who is returning to the light side of the Force, Rey travels to the surface of Exegol, prepared to take on her grandfather, the Emperor. In a shocking twist, the Emperor welcomes Rey's threats, striking a deal that if she kills him his spirit will come to inhabit her body, upon which she can then make the decision to stand down the Final Order fleet and save her friends…allegedly.
Rey initially accepts this bargain, only to have the ritual killing interrupted by Kylo. As he realizes that Rey and Kylo share a distinct bond in the Force, a dyad as it's described, Emperor Palpatine decides to merely kill them and take their Force juice for himself. At the last possible moment Rey and Kylo fight back, eventually vanquishing the Emperor and saving the day.
So, I obviously have several problems with this, but frankly these problems aren't necessarily new, they've been building since Force Awakens. Namely, as many critics have smartly pointed out, Rise of Skywalker seems almost as opposed to Last Jedi as can be. Clearly dissatisfied with some of the more vitriolic fan response to the preceding film, in this Abrams decides to ditch everything that former director Rian Johnson endeavored to bring to the screen, from killing pasts to Kelly Marie Tran.
Ultimately, Rise of Skywalker ignores ever trying to find its own path in exchange for yet another mad caper across a tenuously plotted treasure hunt for the wayward Wayfinders, knowledge of which is just conveniently plopped in the midst of everything to conveniently find this magic planet of Exegol and the magically alive Emperor who is using his dark magic to do bad magic things.
My criticism of Skywalker, aside from this lazy narrative, is the same as that which has followed Abrams throughout his crafting of these movies: they have no mythos. The original Star Wars trilogy worked because it made you believe in a world beyond your own that was at once wondrous and mysterious to behold. It also gave a damn about building a world and giving you more than a two-second flash in the pan, snowball's chance to get accustomed to it all.
There's a reason why in the original films George Lucas left his focus in each on no more than one or two planets: he wanted you to focus on it. To study the environment, and not be handed every factoid about the place on a silver platter. Of course, he betrayed a good many of these principles in the prequel trilogy, trying to provide cutesy political dialogues where they weren't needed.
Still, even the Lucas prequels had the idea that they were part of some larger whole, and building towards something at once decisive and epic. Abrams' films should, in theory, have the same sort of gist. I mean, they brought back one of the most sinister villains of the series, the evil Emperor! And yet, it's the static nature of Abrams' films that kill them.
There is no sense from the very outset that anything is being built. Rather, as J. J. stoops to lick the boots of fans who spent far too long spitting on Lucas' prequels, and Rian gets lost in his own philosophizing to write a technically sound film, the rest of us are caught in a perpetual cycle of good vs. bad as the Resistance wins, the First Order loses, and nothing ever changes.
While the Abrams' films didn't necessarily need all the politicking of the Lucas' ones, I would've liked to see a New Republic actually take the screen and deal with real issues. I would've liked to see Luke, Leia, and Han actually get to live their lives again beyond, "oh wow bad Force stuff." I would've liked to see SOMETHING happen, but instead what we get in the sequel trilogy is two retreads of the original trilogy from Abrams and one indie misfire from Johnson.
In short, Skywalker is stuffy, stale, and wrought with the cliched drivel that will keep 12-year-olds and 55-year-old fans with the disposition of a 12-year-old happy for being just like that thing they used know. The rest of us aren't getting any sort of treat in Star Wars this December, we're just getting left out in the cold.