"Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" Review
When Kathleen Kennedy called J.J. Abrams sometime around 2013 to ask him to take the reigns to the first installment of a new trilogy set in the canon, Skywalker-filled universe of Star Wars, the successful director-producer-writer, known for his work on Lost, Super 8, Star Trek and Cloverfield refused. “It was too close to something that I cared too much about. I didn't want to leave not liking it anymore, ” Abrams confirmed in an interview with The New York Times.
But Kennedy insisted on meeting him in person. He agreed. Kennedy knew Abrams was gonna be convinced.
The Force Awakens would be released two years later and would be a massive worldwide success. Using Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) as a Mcguffin and showing iconic characters like Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), C3-PO (Anthony Daniels) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) alongside newcomers characters like renegade stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), rebel pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), strong-with-the-force scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), dark side emo boy Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the adorable new round android BB -8, the film effectively opened a new trilogy in the Skywalker saga, repeating much of the structure of A New Hope almost to the detail.
The most groundbreaking aspect of The Force Awakens was to have placed a woman not only as of the lead (Leia, everyone?) but as the absolute displayer of the Jedi power. It was a refreshing twist, especially when we all already had crazy theories about how Finn was some kind of Mace Windu's nephew or something.
Before the premiere of The Force Awakens, Kennedy approached J.J. Abrams again with another proposal: to take care of the complete trilogy. Abrams, about to die of a heart attack and anxiety, flatly refused. Kennedy then had to modify her strategy: she decided to give relative freedom to a different artist for each installment of the trilogy.
Thus, Rian Johnson (Looper, Breaking Bad) would be in charge of Episode VIII and Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed, Jurassic World) would do the same for Episode IX.
Rian Johnson took care of his part of the contract greatly. The Last Jedi was released in 2017 and polarized the entire fanbase, which partly shows that Johnson took some risks (and was allowed to do so). Johnson's greatest contribution was to have used Rey's incredible power and Luke Skywalker's reluctant attitude to convey a revolutionary message: The Force belongs to everyone and there is no need to have an extraordinary lineage to show a great control over it. The movie even ended with a small slave boy using the force.
The purists who wanted Rey to be revealed as a Kenobi or a neglected Skywalker hated The Last Jedi's proposal to reveal that her parents were no one. Johnson also surprisingly eliminated big bad Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) without answering a single question about his background. Johnson, more artist than complacent showrunner, focused more on the paradox of the arrogance of the Jedi and their monopoly of the Force and on developing their two main characters (because certainly, it must be said, the entire subplot is terribly futile and unnecessary) and telling a story about failure, that in crafting moments that made moviegoers scream with excitement at the theater.
The responsibility to close the saga was Trevorrow's, by far the most shallow and untalented of the three directors. And apparently, Kennedy realized that. Something happened. Suddenly, Trevorrow was out of the project, although Lucasfilm insists that everything happened in an "amicable" way.
And while Rian Johnson is still connected to Lucasfilm, possibly developing another future, non-Skywalker trilogy, he was busy making the excellent Knives Out and Episode IX already had an immovable release date, so Kennedy was in a bind.
So, she managed to convince J.J. Abrams to return to culminate the trilogy. “Am I a moron to tempt fate a second time?” Abrams asked himself when deciding to co-write (together with Chris Terrio, of Argo's fame) and direct the latest installment, officially titled The Rise of Skywalker.
The first impressions of The Rise of Skywalker were that it leaned too much on “fan service”. As if that were some negative.
I have never understood that. Are those people against being happy and getting what they want as a fan of intellectual property? Criticize "fan service" is absurd and even paradoxical: "Fan service" is an absolute part of the Star Wars DNA since practically The Empire Strikes Back (hell, that's why Boba Fett it’s a thing). Only A New Hope was groundbreaking, as evidently being the first one. And even then, you can make the case it was a "fan service" for all 70s sci-fi lovers (it was.)
The Rise of Skywalker was the culmination of 40 years, 9 movies, three trilogies and dozens of iconic characters. Obviously, it had to seek fan satisfaction. The time for risky experiments, in a billionaire blockbuster behemoth, was over. This was the endgame, and the happy ending with all the loose tied was a must.
However, The Rise of Skywalker does have other, really serious, problems that will end up, no doubt, staining its place in the legacy of the Lucasfilm universe.
The first thing to say is that J.J. Abrams was foolish by limiting the running time to 142 minutes. This is the movie with the most information ever narrated in this universe, and at least an extra half hour was needed to manage the information delicately.
Instead, The Rise of Skywalker looks frantic all the time, and not in a good way. J.J. Abrams' direction is ugly. Nasty. Hurried. Most of the time, J.J. Abrams looks more focused on delivering information than telling a story. The scenes go one after the other, like marking a checklist, with medium or closed shots that aren't memorable, that accumulate and accumulate until, from time to time, some beautiful shots takes us out of the feeling of normality and reminds us that we are actually watching an epic sci-fi saga.
Unfortunately, there is not much solemnity in The Rise of Skywalker. J.J. Abrams looks nervous and anxious to meet the requirements, instead of taking the time required to narrate everything with more taste. In that sense, it's undeniable how a superior artist Rian Johnson is.
All that is due to the biggest problem of The Rise of Skywalker: J.J. Abrams' dedicated, passive-aggressive struggle with the course the story had taken under Rian Johnson. Kathleen Kennedy doesn't look at all in control. Perhaps without new options after Trevorrow's departure, the producer seems to have given Abrams full freedom to "correct" what Johnson did with what the story he started.
A decision that, cannot be said enough, was J.J. Abrams'. He was the one who refused to assume the complete trilogy. Abrams' insecurity was what forced Kennedy to find another talented director. Johnson did what he was instructed to do, and he did it honoring the franchise while also having an absolute personality and desire to refresh the universe.
J.J. Abrams seems to have started this whole process with a list of the things he would have done differently in The Last Jedi, so he could start "correcting" them in The Rise of Skywalker.
This is how, out of nowhere, Emperor Palpatine is suddenly back, in the form of a zombie revived by “his followers” (whoever those hundreds of hooded figures are, that apparently recovered his body at the end of The Return of the Jedi), revealing also that Supreme Leader Snoke was a kind of empty organic puppet cloned and controlled by Palpatine from his cable-filled lair. This is how the democratization of the Force is forgotten with the reveal that Rey is a Palpatine, which makes the dynastic bloodlines fundamental to being a "chosen" Jedi, once again. Rose ends up relegated to a practically cameo role and her love story with Finn is completely ignored. Even Luke, in the form of a force ghost, admits to having been "wrong" with his hermit attitude, even though that behavior is practically a trademark of ALL the most important Jedis (let's never forget that Yoda lost a fight with Palpatine and instead of retreating with Obi-Wann, who singlehandedly had defeated Vader, decided to AUTOMATICALLY exile himself forever.)
What's your rating for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker?
Abrams' tantrum is so staggering, that he even "repairs" Kylo Ren's mask, destroyed in The Last Jedi, only to end up destroying it a couple of scenes later. That is, even in Johnson's decisions with which he agreed, Abrams needed to "correct" and put his own version on it.
All this, obviously, shows in the final product. And regardless of which vision was most appropriate for the universe, Abrams' ego is the one who assumes full prominence, and, in consequence, nothing looks in harmony. A true artist would have better sailed those narrative waters of what evidently had already become a collaborative effort, instead of trying to impose his only vision on really absurd and childish levels.
Of course, J.J. isn't a complete failure. He manages to show off his skill in some sequences. The beginning of The Rise of Skywalker has a horror movie aura that we have never seen before. The final scene has enough poetic and artistic charge to make us forget a lot of its failures and go “welp, that's nice."
Another positive aspect of The Rise of Skywalker is that, finally, Poe Dameron feels like a protagonist. It's the first time in the trilogy that he feels like a character worthy of embodying his own spinoff. His brief backstory as a smuggler and his old love story with the enigmatic Zorri Bliss (Keri Russell) is one of the few refreshing details of the film.
Kylo Ren / Ben Solo's story arc is perhaps the best and most complete of the trilogy, which is not saying much. Adam Driver does his best with the material they gave him, including an absurd “valiant prince” outfit he uses in the last act of the movie so that we have no doubt that he is on his way to redeem himself.
“Ending a story is tough,” commented J.J. Abrams. And in the case of a story as larger than life as that of the Skywalkers in Star Wars, it was perhaps an impossible task.
The Rise of Skywalker will be forever highly imperfect, but it's certainly a closure. The one we have. Perhaps Abrams' ego and its stain on the culmination of this story is a perfect meta-comment on the unconstructive power of the ego and on not assuming our responsibilities.
We don't know. Time heals everything. Hell, even Jar Jar Binks is having his own trivia show on Disney Plus.
What is clear, and that speaks volumes about the convening power of the saga, is that I cannot wait for the next trilogy, probably in about 10 years, led by Rey Skywalker and her yellow saber.
No matter how much the injured egos of the failed humans behind the fiction tried, we will always want something new in this wonderful universe created by George Lucas.
And now, with your permission, I'm going to watch the final episode of the first season of The Mandalorian. That baby Yoda is not going to save himself.