If there’s one thing you can’t accuse Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker of, it’s a lack of Star Wars. Almost every scene of JJ Abrams’s colossally messy conclusion to this story has some sort of obvious reference to an Original Trilogy moment, hoping that the shameless pandering will allow fans to overlook lazy writing, confusing editing, and some simply shambolic plot choices. There are still some stirring moments hidden amongst the muck – Star Wars’s inherent visual majesty and wonderful music make complete failure almost impossible – but for the most part, the Skywalker Saga ends with less of a bang than a whimper.
While The Last Jedi picked up mere seconds after The Force Awakens ended, there’s a more substantial time jump here. Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe (Oscar Isaac) are now high-ranking figures in the Resistance, which is called to urgent action after conflicted villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) teams up with the presumed-dead Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) to launch a planet-destroying fleet. Setting this all up is an absolute chore, the first 20 minutes running by in a barely comprehensible mash of exposition and impatient editing. It’s far too long before we’re actually grounded in the story, which is once again very Rey-centric. Of course, this isn’t inherently a problem, but the total sidelining of Finn and Poe make their later emotional beats ineffective.
Of course, there are revelations and betrayals and everything else you might expect out of a sci-fi/fantasy finale, but only a few of them feel earned, especially as The Rise of Skywalker spends just as much time disputing The Last Jedi as it does telling its own story. New characters just make the 140 minute runtime feel even more overstuffed, though some of them are very entertaining additions, especially Richard E Grant’s lemon-sucking Imperial General and the tiny, rascally robotics expert Babu Frik.
Even outside of Abrams’s rejection of pretty much every bold, energetic story choice made by Rian Johnson in The Last Jedi, his script (co-written by Chris Terrio, the brains behind Batman v Superman) is dull. Every time you think he’s made a consequential decision (a character death here, a failed Resistance plan there), it’s walked back within five minutes by some sort of lazy handwave. Nothing that happens in this film matters until its final fifteen minutes, and while those minutes are spectacular, full of excitement, action, and swelling John Williams music, they don’t make up for the complete lack of bravery found elsewhere.
What a profoundly disappointing ending this is. The Force Awakens was propelled by nostalgic joy and The Last Jedi matched its unpredictability with witty humour and visually astonishing battles. The Rise of Skywalker is by-committee filmmaking at its dullest, even the jokes feeling robotic, and it’s such a shame that such brilliant work from every technical department is entirely let down by the story around it.