In memory of Raven.
Even I didn’t expect Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker to be this bad. It is simply a terrible movie: derivative, incoherent, arbitrary, superficial, and deeply boring and uninvolving—despite, or maybe because of, the frenetic action sequences, dazzling duels, and effects so special they’ll leave carbon scoring on your eyeballs.
The Rise of Skywalker is 2 hours, 22 minutes long, which is long enough, but it feels even longer. I saw it in a half-empty theatre, and when Harrison Ford showed up on the screen, a whole row of people began streaming toward the exits. It would have been the last straw for me too, but I had my duty to you, dear reader, to sustain me.
There’s no way to “spoil” a movie this bad, thus I am going to give a running summary of the plot. So if you don’t want to hear it, now is the time to angle your deflector screens and warp on out of here, or whatever.
The Rise of Skywalker is the third installment of Disney’s Star Wars sequel trilogy. The die was cast in the first installment, The Force Awakens, directed by Jar Jar Abrams. Instead of coming up with original stories and a new cast of characters, Abrams and Disney decided to do something calculated, cynical, and easy: milk nostalgia for the original trilogy by bringing back the main cast (Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, the droids, the walking carpet) and shooting a derivative remake of the original Star Wars and parts of The Empire Strikes Back (see my review here), but this time as an inept farce. Somehow the rebellion has been defeated and a new empire has risen, turning the victory of the first trilogy into defeat and all their striving into naught. And instead of a male hero, this time we have a Mary Sue, Daisey Ridley’s Rey, who takes to the lead like a fish to a bicycle.
Since Star Wars fans are not exactly the most mature and discerning cinephiles, they squealed, grunted, and buried their noses in this slop while Disney rubbed their hands together in glee and raked in untold millions of shekels.
The second installment, The Last Jedi, directed by Rian Johnson, continued in the same vein, with point by point, sometimes shot-by-shot retreads of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. (See my review here). But this time the director’s cynicism and contempt for the story and the fans were so transparent that he provoked a rebellion.
There were many objections: Luke throws away his lightsaber, Luke dies, Leia can suddenly do Force magic, Supreme Leader Snoke is killed off, Rey’s parents are nobodies, etc. Some of these objections may be silly. (Imagine actually caring about non-entities like Snoke and Rey.) But Star Wars fans were awakening to the fact that Disney was exploiting them and holding them in contempt while taking their money.
This gave the impetus—and Gamergate provided the template—for the great Star Wars boycott of 2018 that tanked the movie Solo. (See my review here). As we shall see, The Rise of Skywalker does attempt to placate at least some of the more superficial critics of The Last Jedi.
Since Abrams and Johnson managed to remake and mock the whole original trilogy in only two films, Abrams was in an uncomfortable position in The Rise of Skywalker: he might have to actually come up with something original. Of course he tries to minimize the shock of doing something really new by bringing back the original cast some more. Luke and Han Solo are both dead, but Luke comes back as a ghost and Han as a figment of his son’s imagination. Carrie Fisher really is dead, but Abrams cleverly incorporates unused footage from the first movie. He also finds Billy Dee Williams in carbonite to reprise the role of Lando Calrissian. But the greatest surprise is that he resurrects Emperor Palpatine.
Yes, I know, the last time we saw Emperor Palpatine, he was thrown down a shaft in the second Death Star, followed by a big explosion that we interpreted as the release of malign energies when he went splat at the bottom, followed by the destruction of the whole damn Death Star, to add an even greater air of finality.
But, as in the Roadrunner cartoons, when Wile E. Coyote falls to his death through a portable hole, or blows himself up with a bomb, or gets an anvil dropped on his head, only to be magically resurrected moments later for further adventures with the bird, Palpatine is back to spare Jar Jar Abrams the necessity of coming up with a new villain after Rian Johnson casually dispensed with Snoke.
The trouble is that, for all his Gungans and Ewoks and juvenile dialogue, George Lucas’ Star Wars still had a bit more realism and existential heft and credibility than Roadrunner cartoons.
The Rise of Skywalker begins in medias res as Kylo Ren, the new Supreme Leader, battles to find a Sith McGuffin that allows him to fly to a hidden planet, where he finds Palpatine alive. (Yes, he appears to be on life support. But more than 40 years have passed.)
Still, we have questions. If Palpatine was merely injured, how exactly did his empire fall? Why didn’t he just dust off his skirts and continue the war? Why in the galaxy did he retreat to this remote, hidden planet (Mordor, or something)? Why did he set up Snoke as his cat’s paw rather than rule directly? Why did he not step forward when Snoke was killed? Why did he allow Ren to take over? How, given his exile, did he build a vast fleet of new star destroyers armed with planet killing lasers? Why was Ren searching for him? Etc. Of course none of it makes sense, which means that resurrecting Palpatine is arbitrary, dumb, and unintelligible.
Oh, and you’ll love this: the First Order was just the beginning. When Palpatine launches his new fleet, then we will have the Final Order.
Palpatine orders Ren to kill Rey because he fears her. But why is Ren now taking orders from Palpatine?
Meanwhile, Poe Dameron, Findu, and Chewbacca meet a contact who tells them of a mole in the First Order. They escape by performing as many as six impossible stunts before breakfast, jumping wildly in and out of hyperspace while the enemy fighters manage to still follow them. (So they can do that now?) Then we see Rey doing dangerous and impossible feats, training under her new Jedi master, Leia.
This too has the credibility of a Roadrunner cartoon, and it seems very silly in the universe of Star Wars, where even though there are all sorts of magic and advanced technology, there is still a sense of rules and limits, which helps the viewer suspend disbelief. Jar Jar Abrams explicitly mocks his suspension of Lucas’ rules (and our disbelief) when stormtroopers start flying. “They fly now?” asks Findu incredulously. Throughout this film, lot of us were thinking “They x now?” incredulously. But incredulity is a barrier to actually getting into the story. Which is one reason this film is so goddamn boring.
When Poe, Findu, and Chewie return to base, they bicker like children with Rey. Rey and company are as surprised as we are by Palpatine’s return, so they go to the exotic planet of Pasadena to search for a McGuffin that Rey just happens to find in one of Luke’s books. This second McGuffin will lead to the first McGuffin, which will lead to Mordor or something.
There’s no hemming and hawing and hesitation in Abrams’ script. No problems to stump the characters. No sense that military campaigns need more than just a locker-room huddle to plan. Just a series of arbitrary McGuffins to move them from one chase, space battle, monster, or sword duel to another. But somehow the movie is still 142 minutes long, and somehow it seems even longer.
On Pasadena, our heroes conveniently just bump into Lando Calrissian, who conveniently knows just where to look for the second McGuffin in the desert: the abandoned ship of a Sith assassin, which has just been sitting there for 20-odd years, untouched by the Sith, unstripped by Jawas. Hell, by all appearances, the local teens have not even “partied” in it. Conveniently, even the battery has not run down, so our heroes can escape on it later. Our heroes also find the assassin’s bones and a dagger which is inscribed with Sith “runes”—naturally the most evil people in the universe write in runes—giving the location of the McGuffin that gives the location of the Sith planet.
But, since C-3PO is programmed not to translate Sith (hate speech is barred in his terms of service), this new bit of arbitrariness requires a visit to yet another planet, Kimchee, where a tiny puppet extracts the info from 3PO’s head. This whole digression, as well as the stupid idea of inscribing what is in effect a memo on an ancient-looking dagger could have simply been avoided by putting a post-it note on the ship’s dashboard giving the McGuffin’s location, or better yet, a direct route to the Sith planet. It wouldn’t have been any dumber, and it would have streamlined the movie considerably.
Kylo Ren uses his Force bond with Rey to find her on Pasadena. He reaches out through space and time and somehow snatches her necklace off, which she just so happened to acquire on Pasadena, so Ren goes there to meet her. But if Ren can snatch a necklace off her across untold light-years, why can’t he just magically intuit her location? In fact, he does magically intuit where she is. So why not give her coordinates to his lackeys? Why does he have to use “analysis” to determine where the necklace came from? And why assume she is on the planet where the necklace is from? (Imagine if she had bought the necklace on a different planet. Girls who like to travel do that, you know.)
Ren and the First Order show up on Pasadena. Rey goes to confront him, taking down Ren’s TIE fighter with a lightsaber. But, this being a Roadrunner cartoon, he walks away from the fiery crash. The First Order capture Chewbacca and the Newmanium Falcon. Rey uses her magic powers to try to prevent the First Order transport from leaving the planet. (She can do that now.) But the transport explodes, killing Chewbacca. But don’t worry, this being a Roadrunner cartoon, we soon learn that Chewie was on a different transport.
The ancient-looking dagger contains coordinates to the Sith McGuffin on the second Death Star which was built, what, 40 years before? And wasn’t the Death Star blown to atoms anyway? Conveniently not. It crashed on “the nearby forest moon of Endor” (rinse, repeat), and although it landed in an ocean “on the nearby forest moon of Endor,” the location of the McGuffin conveniently is above the water line. Conveniently, the ominous metal doors still have electrical power as well, and they are not even locked. Rey grabs the McGuffin and has a vision of herself turned evil.
Then Ren shows up, grabs the McGuffin, and breaks it. The only way she is going to get to Mordor is with him. Then they fight. Leia uses the Force from clear across the galaxy to distract Ren (she can do that now), and Rey stabs him. Leia dies, and Rey feels so bad that she uses magic to heal Ren’s wound. (She can do that now.) Ren, who tried to kill his mother in the last movie, now feels remorse. Rey steals Ren’s ride while he is distracted by a vision of his father, Harrison Ford. Ren has blown up entire planets, but there’s still good inside him. This stupidity, at least, is Lucas’. Ren throws away his weapon. He’s going to be a good boy now.
There’s also a sequence where Findu and Poe infiltrate the First Order command ship to rescue Chewbacca, which turns out to be absurdly easy. But I don’t remember how it quite fits with the rest of the story because by this time it had become so overcomplicated that even my big brain was getting fatigued.
Also, Ren magically communicates to Rey that her parents weren’t exactly nobodies. You see, her father was Emperor Palpatine’s son, so that makes her Palpatine’s granddaughter. Yes, Palpatine now has a son. Yet that didn’t prevent Palpatine from having Rey’s parents killed for hiding her from him, because even when she was a toddler, he feared her powers and wanted her dead.
It was great drama when Darth Vader told Luke Skywalker that he was his father. But this new revelation barely attains the level of farce. (I wasn’t the only one in the theater who scoffed.) Perhaps Disney’s next Star Wars trilogy can focus on the adventures of Palpatine’s nephew’s girlfriend’s roommate.
Discovering that her grandfather is the Emperor messes with Rey’s head, so she decides to have a good cry on the planet of Achoo, where Luke hid out. When she arrives, she burns Kylo’s starship. She tries to throw her lightsaber into the fire, but the ghost of Luke Skywalker catches it and tells her that a Jedi’s weapon deserves more respect. Then he convinces her to go back to the fight.
But how? She just burned her ride. Fortunately, Luke uses magic to raise his x-wing fighter from the bottom of the ocean, where it has been for how many years? Conveniently, it is in perfect working order. Luke also gives her Leia’s lightsaber, because she’s now been retconned as a Jedi too, and in a flashback, we see that she was even better than Luke. Also, somehow the McGuffin on Ren’s ship was not consumed by flames, so Rey uses it to find Mordor where she will confront the Emperor.
When Rey arrives on Mordor, she transmits its location to the Resistance, who mobilize to attack Palpatine’s fleet. When Rey meets Palpatine, he demands that she kill him and take his place on the Iron Throne. When he dies, his spirit and the spirits of the other Sith will live on in her. (They can do that now.) Then Kylo Ren, now reverted to good boy Ben Solo, somehow shows up to help Rey. But somehow his henchmen the Knights of Ren also show up. For some reason they are now on Palpatine’s side, so he has to fight them. Too bad he threw away his weapon in a fit of pique. Rey loans him a lightsaber.
When Ben shows up, Palpatine has a change of plan. You see, Ben and Rey have so many midichlorians or something that they constitute a Force Dyad. (They have those now.) It turns out that a Force Dyad is just the thing that Palpatine needs to get off life support. So he drains them to rejuvenate himself. Then he’s back to wanting to kill Rey.
No, Palpatine is not crazy. If he were crazy, how could he negotiate such extreme mood swings?
Palpatine throws Ben down a hole, but this being a Roadrunner cartoon, he climbs back out. Palpatine attacks the Resistance fleet with Force lightning. (He can do that now.) Rey manages to drag herself back into the fight, and using both Luke and Leia’s lightsabers, she manages to kill Palpatine. Then she dies from the strain. Ben Solo then brings her back to life, whereupon she kisses him, then he dies.
Meanwhile, a diverse array of Resistance fighters destroys Palpatine’s fleet. My favorite moment is when Findu and a frizzy-haired mulatto chick lead a cavalry charge across the top of a Star Destroyer. Then we have long drawn-out scenes of celebration, including a couple of cat ladies kissing. The movie ends with Rey on Tattooine, burying Luke and Leia’s lightsabers near the house where he grew up. A passerby asks Rey’s name, and she says “Rey Skywalker.” And, in a bit of symbolism, we see the ghosts of Luke and Leia as Tattooine’s twin suns set.
Clearly when Luke prevents Rey from throwing away her lightsaber, and when we are told that Rey’s father was Palpatine’s son, Jar Jar was trying to placate some of the fan objections to The Last Jedi. Aside from the apparent lesbian cat-lady kiss—and who are we to assume their genders anyway?—Abrams actually seems to go out of his way to make this movie as inoffensive as possible. For instance, the long-feared love match between Rey and Findu never happened. Nor does the Asian chick Rose end up with Findu. Instead, the introduction of the frizzy-haired mulatto chick on Endor seems to be setting him up with a woman of his own race.
Indeed, the only demographic that gets slighted in The Rise of Skywalker are the Gungans. This movie contains all manner of humanoid and alien diversity, pretty much every species we have seen in the other films, except for the Gungans. The Gungans are conspicuous by their absence, which to my mind makes them the key to the whole damn movie. Where are the Gungans? They must be involved. And if they are not in front of the camera, they must be behind the camera. Director Jar Jar Abrams, for one. When you think about it, crypto-Gungan influence seems to be the only possible explanation for a movie this bad.
The Rise of Skywalker has really only one redeeming feature: John Williams’ lovely music, but in this case, the score does not add depth to the movie but simply highlights how shallow and dumb it is. The Rise of Skywalker isn’t Ed Wood bad or Coleman Francis bad, such that you might just succumb to the temptation to see it anyway. It is just plain bad, a painful waste of time and a cruel mockery of Lucas’ original mythos and the millions of fans who found meaning and pleasure in it. Jar Jar Abrams and Disney have killed Star Wars. Let’s hope the fans stay away in droves and kill the careers of the people responsible for this disgusting cinematic abortion.