It goes without saying this review will be spoiler-free, but in order to do a proper review, I will indeed be talking about basic plot details. If you don’t want to know anything about this film in advance, I would recommend you see the film first and then come back to this review.
After the fantastic ride that was “The Force Awakens” and the unpredictable, masterful “The Last Jedi”, this latest trilogy in the Skywalker saga has come to a close. With all the goodwill leading up to the release of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” it brings me no pleasure to report that this is a disappointingly uneven journey that lacks the saga’s expected spark.
The basic plot is quite thin, but boils down to essentially this; Rey (Daisy Ridley), Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), Chewie (Joonas Suotamo), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and BB-8 are on a journey to retrieve an artifact that may hold the secret to destroying The First Order, run by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and may also involve the evil — and thought to be dead — Emperor Palpatine.
Returning to the Director’s chair is JJ Abrams. Abrams, known for his visual flair and old-school stylings, delivers a well-paced journey that doesn’t feel like 141 minutes, but ultimately suffers from a lack of cohesive vision. The script, co-written by Abrams and Chris Terrio, is void of any imagination. The plot is an endless series of hunting down a MacGuffin, finding it, then moving on to the next MacGuffin, finding it and repeat. This is lazy storytelling with no intrigue.
What’s all the more disappointing about “The Rise of Skywalker” is just how soulless it is. Whether you liked or disliked “The Force Awakens” or “The Last Jedi”, you can’t argue those films aren’t made with passion and creativity. Here, it seems Abrams is bored and consistently directs on autopilot with an occasion exception. Save for an intense duel on the waterfront, none of the action scenes are very memorable or thrilling. Abrams is clearly going for big, epic scale, but only manages to pull of the big.
The characters this time around are shockingly thin. So many characters are given little to nothing to do. New characters played by Keri Russell, Richard E. Grant and Naomi Ackie are left stranded with thin development and serve merely as figures to progress the plot forward. Even returning characters are relatively lost. Finn no longer has a purpose or identity after “The Force Awakens”, Poe is consistently one-note and even Billy Dee Williams, reprising his role as Lando Calrissian, has absolutely no purpose here and only shows up to further pluck at the nostalgic heartstrings of the fans. The only characters with some sort of an arc are Rey and Kylo. Ridley and Driver continue to be the stand-outs, but the acting is unsurprisingly great across the board. Although, I won’t share any details about the late, Carrie Fisher’s role in this, I will say her story line is given a respectable end.
Clearly affected by the divisive audience reaction to “The Last Jedi”, Abrams and co-writer Terrio, do their best to appease fans, but in the end it only makes “Rise of Skywalker” feel incredibly safe and generic. Every potential bold choice is almost immediately sidestepped, opting to take the safe route. The new character revelations and third act plot developments are simply brainless. The climactic showdown features many attempts at some sort of thematic potency, but there’s not much weight to be felt because everything just feels rushed. There’s a concerning lack of urgency needed for such a grand finale. The stakes are never felt and there is very little sense of finality here. Running at 141 minutes, “Rise of Skywalker” may have benefited from another 15 or 20 minutes.
The only time “Rise of Skywalker” succeeds in reaching for your heart — apart from the final scene — is in the moments spent with characters from the original trilogy, however, those moments are few and far between.
On its own merit, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is an underdeveloped, safe and pedestrian Sci-Fi adventure. When thinking of it in terms as the finale to one of the largest, most epic onscreen sagas ever told, it’s a crushing disappointment.