Movie Review: Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker | Buzz Blog

Movie Review: Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker 

J.J. Abrams delivers a sloppy conclusion that tries to please everyone.

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Realistically speaking, here is what J.J. Abrams was being asked to do with Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker: find a resolution to 40 years of the Skywalker family saga; leave options for ongoing continuations of the franchise; appease the whiners who couldn’t abide what Rian Johnson did to their beloved characters in The Last Jedi; deal with the constant online chatter about who should or shouldn’t be redeemed, and who should or shouldn’t hook up with whom; pick up the pieces of an episode he wasn’t originally scheduled to direct; find a way to deal with the tragic passing of Carrie Fisher so that Princess Leia can get the same fitting exit already afforded to Han Solo and Luke Skywalker; juggle all of this trilogy’s new characters in a way that feels satisfying; and oh yeah, hopefully, make an actual movie that’s actually good, and not just a brand deposit that spends 2-1/2 hours dry-humping the leg of the series’ fans like a needy puppy.

Had Abrams managed to stick the landing, it might have ranked among the most impressive tricks in the history of franchise movie-making. But that would have required him to make choices, to be discriminate in terms of what storytelling elements were important, and which ones were simply handouts to the faithful. It would have required him to think first about making a cohesive, stands-on-its-own-merits movie. Given the slavish devotion Abrams demonstrated four years ago with The Force Awakens, perhaps it was foolish to think that was ever going to happen.

So where The Force Awakens showed him evoking 1977’s Star Wars at every opportunity, now he’s doing a trilogy wrap-up, which means evoking 1983’s Return of the Jedi at every turn. As has already been widely publicized in trailers and other marketing materials, there is the possibility that Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) has returned from his apparent death. That would make him a threat not just to the few remaining Resistance fighters—Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and company—but also to the power of the First Order’s new Supreme Leader, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). And for the next 150 minutes, everyone is either trying to find the Emperor, decide if they want to side with the Emperor, or hoping to kill (re-kill?) the Emperor.

The set pieces subsequently involve a lot of our heroes racing around trying to find a Very Important Object, or even, in the MacGuffin equivalent of Russian nesting dolls, trying to find the Very Important Object that will help them find another Very Important Object. Those set pieces are often energetically staged—Abrams has certainly figured out how to choreograph action on a large scale—but there’s a lot of water-treading going on, considering how many threads we’re expecting to see tied up by the time the credits roll.

It’s even more baffling, then, that Abrams tries to shoehorn in a few new characters in an attempt to beef up the backstories of his central trio. Poe runs into Zorii (Keri Russell), an old running buddy/possible romantic interest; Finn meets Jannah (Naomi Ackie), a fellow conscientious-objector deserter from the First Order troops. There’s nothing wrong with these new additions—indeed, the Poe/Zorii subplot offers a sublime wordless sequence—except that they emphasize how frantically Rise of Skywalker seems to be moving to squeeze in everything that has to happen, including that aforementioned fond farewell to Fisher, afforded by footage shot for the previous films before her death.
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But the elephant-in-the-Throne-Room problem with The Rise of Skywalker is that it’s not so much Abrams’ attempt at wrapping up Star Wars’ Skywalker saga as it is his cover-band attempt to play all of the hits, specifically the hits from Return of the Jedi. It would have been obvious even without the return of Billy Dee Williams’ Lando Calrissian that dozens of key moments echo similar beats from the last time we saw a character taunted by the Emperor to embrace the Dark Side, while outmatched rebels overhead face almost certain doom. The Last Jedi divided fans because it broke with the idea of destiny, and placed characters in the position of challenging their preconceptions to make hard choices. The Rise of Skywalker simply puts those characters through the motions of character arcs we’ve seen before, meaning that we all get a comforting pat on the head without any surprises. It’s a story that’s frantic, frustrating and, most disappointingly, absolutely conventional in every possible way.

J.J. Abrams put himself in a position where a million voices were crying out, telling him what this movie needed to do, and needed to be. His mistake was listening to all of them.
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