“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” review: The Fall of a Franchise

My dad took me to a little theater in Westbrook, Connecticut in 1977 to see Star Wars. My parents were not movie people, and I always had to beg them to take me. The near hour-long drive to any movie theater provided a serious obstacle. But take me he did.

Even at ten I was already a big Star Trek fan, and loved all things sci-fi, but that galaxy far, far away sure crystallized the big screen’s ability to create something close to pure joy. Empire followed three years later, and Jedi three years after that. Near as I can tell, The Rise of Skywalker is the twelfth part of the theatrical Star Wars picture shows. George Lucas produced seven of them over 31 years (The original trilogy, the prequel trilogy and the animated Clone Wars,) and Disney has created five in the last seven years (the final Skywalker trilogy, Rogue One and Solo.)

If truth be told, the Star Wars phenomenon can really be boiled down to one movie. In my opinion, The Empire Strikes Back made cinema history because it was the first sequel to not only match the original, but improve upon it. It gave us fully realized characters, an expanded universe that all fit together, a hero’s journey, and raised the stakes … in fact it made me feel like there were real stakes … life and death hung in the balance. If Empire had been bad, then George Lucas in all likelihood would have been written off as a one-hit-wonder. These two movies together are responsible for the next 42 years of cultural hope and wonder. 

But the movies are almost beside the point … George Lucas’ real contribution to cinema is technological, and Star Wars was simply the vehicle for him to experiment. We got a completely new way to experience movies in the form of surround sound out of Star Wars in 1977, and it is doubtful he ever would have made the prequels at all if he wasn’t inventing along the way. Digital filmmaking — the way most movies are made today — grew very directly from the prequels.

All this to say, there were simultaneously doubtful souls, and very high hopes when Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012. The doubters cried “corporate money grubbing” and the hopeful wished for movies that would make them feel like they did all the way back in 1977 and 1980. Alas, the doubtful souls seem to be mostly right. In my mind Disney has only taken a chance on one of these films, and the rest vary in quality widely. These movies … with the notable exception of The Last Jedi … seem rushed and devoid of creativity, recycling the past in hopes that our nostalgia high will be so great that we won’t notice we’ve seen it all before.

Many fans are simply happy to have more Star Wars, and they will take it any way they can, and who am I to deny the people the simple pleasures of a new Star Wars film. In many ways, I’m kinda one of those people. I saw Force Awakens three times in theaters, and The Last Jedi four. I love Rogue One, and to me Solo has been the only out-and-out clunker … up till Rise of Skywalker

But before I tell you why this movie makes me so sad, and why it is a terrible movie, let me first lead with the positive … things I like about Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker:

  • Interesting new force powers
  • The lightsaber duel on the water
  • Kylo’s helmet (this is awesome)
  • The worlds … they look fully realized and awesome
  • A cameo that some others don’t like
  • C3PO finally gets a real part in a movie again
  • Richard E. Grant
  • The set pieces … J.J. Abrams isn’t a great filmmaker, but he is great at action

Now onto the not so great: This film moves at a breakneck pace, and we get no less than nine separate adventures in this one film. All kinds of characters are introduced, seemingly with the dual purposes of providing a few lines of exposition, and selling toys. Everything Rey, Finn and Poe do in the film could be a great series of stories. But instead we get a bunch of half-baked ideas put on screen to remind us we are watching Star Wars. In the originals, Geroge Lucas referenced Kurisowa, movie serials like Flash Gordon, westerns, and classic literature. Rise of Skywalker references only Star Wars. Solo did this a lot also. These films think they are so clever by showing us things we have already seen. 

The movie takes on a treasure hunt narrative.  Our beloved Rey, Finn and Poe hopscotch around the galaxy going to this place to find a clue, and then to that place to unlock the clue, and then to the next place to get the next key, etc. etc. And they do all this adventuring with out Rose (introduced in The Last Jedi.)  Disney has done the actress (Kelly Marie Tran) and the character so dirty … sidelined and ignored with a few lines of dialogue. Corporate pandering to what was arguably a racist, sexist backlash to her character by a vocal minority of toxic fans. 

And of course, Carrie Fisher has died, so instead of finding an elegant way to move on, director Abrams decided to shoehorn her into the film with some unused footage from 2015’s The Force Awakens. I get it … the franchise was dealt a bad hand. This would have been Leia’s film. I am sad we will never get that film, but to me jamming her into a nonsensical montage doesn’t do the character or the actress justice. 

I could go on and on with all the things that do not work in this film. Suffice it to say that art has been sacrificed for deadlines and money. This film looks down on the fans of Star Wars, assuming all we want is a recycled nostalgic past with some fancy new special effects. 

“Let the past die. Kill it if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you are meant to be.”  — Kylo Ren in The Last Jedi. Maybe Disney should take some advice from this Sith Lord.

I give Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker 6 dead emperors out of 10 fallen death stars.


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