My history with Star Wars dates back to elementary school when my dad set down a trio of VHS cassettes adorned with the visages of Darth Vader, an Imperial Stormtrooper and Master Yoda. His exact words escape me but the gist has never left me: “You’re going to like these.” He was right – I devoured them. Those unassuming cassettes opened up a magical world filled with space wizards, dashing scoundrels and untold adventures.
Now, forty years after the series burst into cinemas, J. J. Abrams (backed by the unparalleled might of Disney) is setting out to wrap up the saga. This is a monumental task and the finished product clearly shows that strain. To be generous the plot of The Rise of Skywalker is a mess. Most of the film plays like a video game – get X and it will lead you to Y, which will then deliver you to Z, etc. The “plot” is a series of MacGuffins to get from one action set-piece to the next with reused adages about “light” and “hope” sprinkled around any downbeats.
Your enjoyment of this film may ultimately depend on how you feel about the other two parts of this particular trilogy: J. J. Abrams’s The Force Awakens (2015) and Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi (2017). If you prefer the nostalgia and breathless pace of The Force Awakens, you will probably enjoy The Rise of Skywalker. If you were intrigued by The Last Jedi’s meditation on and subversion of the franchise’s tropes, you will not find such experimentation here. The Rise of Skywalker is ultimately a safer, more predictable beast that leans heavily into nostalgia and jettisons a lot of plot points established in both of the prior entries.
From the beginning, Star Wars has always been an action-adventure series and in that sense Abrams delivers. He knows how to film bombastic action and knows when to pepper in some humor to lighten the mood. Hand-in-hand with this, John Williams’s final Star Wars score is another work of art. The film would be lost without his blazing horns and sweeping strings. If the only criteria for a good Star Wars movie were thrills and action, this one delivers.
But… Star Wars is more than that. Sure, it’s daring escapes and space battles. But it’s also a teenager staring at the horizon and dreaming of adventure. And it’s a legacy passed from parent to child – both fictional and real-world. In that sense, The Rise of Skywalker feels a bit hollow. The plot is too convoluted to ever dwell on anything for too long. Abrams is so focused on rushing to a predictable conclusion that we lose much of the wonder that makes this series so special. Still, The Rise of Skywalker is a great time at the movies. It’s just not always a worthy conclusion of what came before – though such a conclusion may have never been possible. See the film. Take the ride. And at the end of the day, use it as excuse to think about what this series means to you.