By HEATHER TURK
Front Row Features Film Critic
Despite the prequels not being the greatest of films, I can vividly recall the moment “Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith” ended being generally upset that —at the time—I thought I had just watched the last “Star Wars” movie that would ever be made. Oddly enough, I didn’t get that same feeling after watching what’s supposedly the last film in the Skywalker saga, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” Was it because Disney, which now owns Lucasfilm, supposedly has more “Star Wars” projects in the works? No, it was because the convoluted “The Rise of Skywalker” fails to rise to the occasion of properly ending a story that began 42 years ago with “Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope” and instead chooses to pander to “Star Wars” fans who didn’t like “Star Wars: Episode VIII—The Last Jedi” because it wasn’t what they wanted to see on the big screen.
By far the worst installment of the sequel trilogy and arguably on par with the oft-panned “Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace,” “The Rise of Skywalker” is a slap in the face not only to “The Last Jedi” director Rian Johnson (“Knives Out”), but also to fans of the franchise in general. Rather than crafting a satisfying ending to the Skywalker saga, director J.J. Abrams (“Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens”)—who co-wrote the film with Chris Terrio (the god-awful “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice”—enough said), Derek Connolly (“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”) and Colin Trevorrow (“Jurassic World”)—spends 2 hours and 21 minutes trying to squeeze in everything fans have said they wanted to see in this new trilogy, regardless of whether it makes sense. Viewers will feel like Abrams and crew are literally checking things off one by one throughout the film to make viewers happy, only to alienate everyone who appreciates good storytelling in the process. Sure, there’s some fan service that made this reviewer smile, but even I have to admit that one of the final scenes in the film is so ridiculous, I almost facepalmed myself during it because I knew it really had no place in the movie and was just there for the sake of being there because the Internet wanted it.
Many scenes in “The Rise of Skywalker” will give viewers a sense of déjà vu, which is understandably because they have. Only, this time around, the characters are doing the exact opposite of what they’ve been doing in the previous two films. This begs the question: Why even watch “The Force Awakens” or “The Last Jedi” now? You know, other than the fact that they’re good movies and this one is, to use an oft-quoted piece of dialogue from the saga, “a piece of junk.”
That’s not to say the cast doesn’t do their best with the material given. The performances are far less wooden than the prequels, and the dialogue isn’t nearly as cringe-worthy as in “Star Wars: Episode II—Attack of the Clones.” Daisy Ridley is still great as the mysterious Force-sensitive scavenger, Rey, despite getting a cheesy, “I am Iron Man” moment during the film’s climax (“Avengers: Endgame” fans will know what I’m talking about); Adam Driver is still as conflicted as ever as Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han (Harrison Ford)’s son, Ben, who is now the Supreme Leader of the First Order; and there’s a cute new droid added to the mix named D-O that audiences will surely love (although not on the level of “The Mandalorian’s” The Child).
Unfortunately, D-O is really the only new character that’s given a chance to shine, and that says something since the droid’s screen time is so limited. Keri Russell (“The Americans”) shows potential as Zorii Bliss, a masked scoundrel with ties to Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac)’s past (who seems very angry throughout the movie—probably because he knows how bad it is), but her character is never really fleshed out. Still, she does more than poor Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) this time around, who might as well just be a glorified extra with a couple of lines she’s so underused.
Another character that’s grossly underused is General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), although he does get the best line in the movie. Chewbacca gets “The Rise of Skywalker’s” most emotional moment, which says a lot since there are times some pretty major characters appear to meet their demise, yet the sequences happen in such a rush viewers can’t properly process what they’ve seen to feel any emotion.
While it’s understandable how Abrams handled the Carrie Fisher situation with her untimely passing, the previously shot footage of her from “The Force Awakens” just seems awkward and forced into the film, as if the screenwriters were writing around it instead of trying to naturally add the footage into the story where they could. If this was the only problem with “The Rise of Skywalker,” it would be much easier to overlook. Instead, it’s just another example of how the film fails on so many levels.
Ultimately, everything Abrams did to get fans excited about the sequels with “The Force Awakens” he retracts with “The Rise of Skywalker.” Without spoiling much of the plot, nearly every bad story leak die-hard fans have heard over the past year or so is sadly true, and the film ends on a scene that’s supposed to be emotional but is just plain puzzling. In his quest to try to appease fans who hated “The Last Jedi,” Abrams ends up leaving viewers with more questions than answers. If ever there was a “Star Wars” movie that needed a redo, this would be it. It may not be the worst film in the saga (that honor still goes to “Attack of the Clones”), but it’s definitely the most detrimental. Luke, Leia, Han, Ben, Rey —even poor Jar Jar Binks—deserved far better than this.