JJ Abrams was 11 years old when Star Wars: A New Hope hit theaters. Imagine if you could go back in time and tell that 11 year old, “Hey kid. That movie you just saw that is going to change a lot of movies for a lot of years is one day going to be in your hands to close.” That is a lot of emotional and cinematic weight to put on a person, much less a real fan of a series or genre.
And yet, after starting the last part of the trilogy with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, JJ Abrams and all assembled again to close out what is now being commonly referred to as the Skywalker Saga in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. But does the film manage to stick the landing?
If we should have learned anything as nerds over the last few years it is this: Love what you love but don’t try to poison what others love either. To put it another way, “Don’t try and yuck someone else’s yum.” And, sadly, that sentiment has to be talked about when you talk about Star Wars specifically, because the film in-between the two Abrams directed pieces, Star Wars: The Last Jedi created a staggering amount of toxic fan behavior.
And that isn’t saying people wrote bad reviews of the movie. That is fair game, a welcome challenge, if you have fair criticism of the film. If only we could all be as gracious as the director of The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson, who has taken criticism graciously and wished people the best. That graciousness in the face of things like death threats and more on both him and his cast is far more than we deserve.
All of which has to factor in to what I am writing today about the latest installment of the Star Wars franchise: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Already, there have been some extremely harsh words written about this movie. And on some level, the criticisms of it are true. The one key point is that this film feels the weight of being a closing chapter and someone clearly had a checklist of things that they had to cram into the movie, either to appease the aforementioned toxic fans or for merchandise sales.
On it being a closing chapter, Abrams should have realized what is true and set himself free. When some Disney executive thinks that they can squeeze out just a little more money from the nostalgia bank that is the Skywalker tale, they will do it. And that isn’t a judgement of whether they should or not. Now, it is probably 10-20 years from now but the key thing should have been “Let’s finish the story.”
Ultimately, that is what feels lacking the most: The pure line of a story through this last trilogy. Johnson famously didn’t speak much with Abrams about his second chapter, especially as Abrams was not the original planned director for the closing saga with The Rise of Skywalker.
But you wish they had. Maybe they would have influenced each other in better ways so that the end chapter doesn’t have so much that feels like it is built to undo The Last Jedi, which to me is the second best Star Wars film behind Empire Strikes Back. Instead, you just get a rush of story that streams to a conclusion that leaves you at the end going “Well, I mean, I guess that is an ending.”
Which isn’t to say it isn’t fun to ride some of that stream. There are some great and fun moments in The Rise of Skywalker as well as some visual set pieces. The fight that is featured in the trailers near the ocean is really breathtaking. There are some decent scenes of chemistry. They introduce a few new characters that, at least by the end, are somewhat interesting. (Though how you cast someone who is famous in part for her iconic hair and then never show it is beyond me.) But, those moments are weighed down by the clear “Cram it all in” checklist.
This part is a little spoiler-y but it has to be to make a point. “Let’s add a new, smaller droid if we can JJ, because it will help merchandise sales. And if you can kind of make it look like the Pixar logo, that will help when they take over animation duties.” I am going to leave it at that for now but especially as the film rushes to a close, there are several “Oh, of course, we need to check-in on that.” moments. For some fans, that will be great! For others, it will just be disappointment that more wasn’t done with this story and this movie than was done for other movies in the past.
All of which is to say, I don’t want to yuck your yum when it comes to The Rise of Skywalker. Regardless, you should go see this in the theaters, as it is the close of an amazing 9 film series, which has had great moments and less than great ones. While I will wish for a better closing chapter than we got, I don’t want to discourage and dishearten those who like or even love this film. This time, the Force just wasn’t as strong with me, so it gets 6 out of 10 Nerds.