THIS IS A SPOILER REVIEW
Let’s admit it. Disney is brilliant. Diabolically so, but still. The grand introduction of their new streaming service came in the form of The Mandalorian, a space opera styled both narratively and visually with the simplicity of a classic western. It gave us a stoic, Eastwoodesque anti-hero and Baby Yoda, a character that is arguably the most marketable creation yet to come from the franchise.
Meanwhile, over on their Star Wars movie lot, they had devolving hack JJ Abrams grinding out the finale to a beloved franchise with an unnerving frenzy clearly meant to distract from the script’s lack of imagination, joy, art, love – you name it. You have to assume this is a calculated strategy: to send out the old Star Wars in as uninspired a way as possible, so we’re even hungrier for something fresh on Disney+.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opens with scenes so blatantly designed to sell theme park rides that it taints everything to come. I get that Galaxy’s Edge is a flop, but using the swan song of a series that built the sci-fi fantasy genre to boost park attendance is callous and disrespectful as hell.
We hyper-jump back and forth from the Millennium Falcon hyper-jumping and tilt-a-whirling through space obstacles to Rey zipping and light-sabering her way through training course obstacles. Everyone crashes together and immediately starts riffing so fast and furious that nothing lands. Nothing from the entire opening ever lands, which is a warning for what’s to come.
It seems Emperor Palpatine has survived being tossed into space from the second Death Star in Episode VI. Considering that from its beginning Star Wars made the Sith one-dimensionally villainous, there’s no sense of heightened threat to this return. He still plans to obliterate planets and gain ultimate power, and he’s not even doing so in gold lamee and cool special-effect rotting skin like Snoke, so tell us again why you’re interesting, Emperor?
Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is there with him, and then not in the rest of the movie nearly enough. So we’re left to get our good acting and hot man-ness from Oscar Isaac’s Poe.
Next we’re at the rebel base, and one of the Hobbits from Lord of the Rings begged to be on set, so there he is. Due to toxic fans, Finn’s Asian lady sidekick/fake love interest has been sidelined, so our band of heroes is now Rey, Poe, Finn, Chewy and C3PO. They have to find a map to where Palpatine is so Rey can kill him. First stop: Burning Man!
Only this movie wishes it had the imagination of Burning Man. The planet Pissona, named for what Abrams is doing to this franchise, is meant to feel like a walk through a third-world market – the beings look like either shrimp or pigs and there’s lots of colored powder being tossed about, which was popular in stock photography what, 5 years ago? Lando Kalrissian joins them, some National Treasure-level clue-finding business happens, and Kylo Ren steals Rey’s mala beads in one of their psychic tete-a-tetes. He doesn’t wear them, because you don’t wear mala beads over a black turtleneck unless you’re going to your aunt’s friend’s art show at an organic café in Sonoma.
They escape Pissona ona ship that we know is old because it has…cobwebs! The art department is just doing such a crack job on this $300-million-dollar film!
The next clue is on a planet named something like Kathy Najimi, and they used the set of the town in The Hobbit that the dragon attacks, so maybe that’s why the Hobbit’s around, even though he’s not in this sequence. But Keri Russell is, and we get our hopes up that she’ll bring her spark to this worn-out team. Alas, Poe pissed her off in the past by running away before they had sex (Disney is trying to act all cagey about Poe’s sexuality, but they don’t have the stomach for the ruse, as we’ll see at the end), so she’s a no-go.
Our Keri-less team sneaks onto a Star Destroyer to get the captured Millennium Falcon back, and there we get the only truly fresh element in this whole movie – a Storm Trooper actually lands a shot! Poe gets wounded with absolutely no consequence to himself or the proceedings.
Rey sneaks into Kylo’s chambers – where there is no bed, so don’t get your hopes up – and sees her past. Her mother was Villanelle from Killing Eve! And again we are teased with an actress who could have made things interesting but is only stunt casting.
My vibrating phone wakes me up in time to see that the sniveling ginger Empire lackey from the first two films in this final trilogy is a spy for the rebels, but he’s only helping them because he’s jealous of Kylo. How’s that for a compelling narrative arc? After helping our heroes escape, he pulls the ole “shoot me in the arm so it doesn’t look suspicious” move, but his superior Richard E Grant has seen all the movies that this happens in so shoots the ginger for real. Don’t worry, he comes back to life in the sure-to-be-dismal Peter Rabbit sequel.
Where are we now? On a storm-tossed planet where we meet Finn’s new fake love interest who rides a horse that the art department glued a Halloween mask to so it can be an alien horse. The map to Palpatine is in the wreckage of the Death Star out in the stormy sea so Rey catamarans over to get it. Adam Driver is waiting, and he continues to press for a relationship, which, come on Rey, you can change him! Isn’t that 6-foot, heaven-inches of broad-shouldered brooding worth it? No, says Rey, and they fight. Leia sacrifices herself from light-years away to force-distract her son so Rey can kill him. Yes, both Leia and Kylo are now dead! Get those last two berths in the Solo family crypt ready. We must be nearing the end.
But wait! Rey seems to have heeded my advice and force-heals Kylo, an act of kindness that exorcizes evil Kylo Ren from gentle Ben Solo. To make sure this sticks, Han appears – but he doesn’t glow blue because only Jedi ghosts do that – and he and his now good son repeat their climactic scene from Episode VII, word for word, only this time instead of sabering the life out of his dad, Kylo-now-Ben tosses his cool cruciform lightsaber into the sea, where it gets lodged in a turtle’s throat, and now we’ve got Greta Thunburg to answer to, never mind Palpatine. Nice Ben does not do for my pants what Mean Kylo did, so for me the trilogy ends here.
We still have to rid the galaxy of Palpatine, though, so off Rey goes. Oh, PS, we found out in the last sequence that she is actually Palpatine’s granddaughter, a fan theory we saw coming from 200 parceps away. Again, any effort to make this final SW surprising or original is non-existent.
Does she kill him? Of course. Does she do so in any kind of inspired or clever way, like, for instance, how Kylo dispatched Snope? Of course not.
I’ve always felt the most valuable asset of this trilogy has been Adam Driver. The only resonant image we walk away with from this final movie in our beloved series is Driver’s face as he gives his life to save Rey. The scene throws back to Ben’s grandfather Darth Vader’s sacrifice to save Luke, and Driver is an actor with the caliber to convey his character’s entire storyline – in essence the series’ entire storyline – through a silent glance. After everyone else spent this trilogy running around spitting out hacky lines, Driver closes all nine Star Wars by closing his eyes.
We do get one last nod to something we’ve been teased with through the VII-IX trilogy. Because Disney can’t bring itself to have Poe and Finn show that their love is more than platonic, the film shows two female rebels kissing during the celebration, then cuts immediately to Finn and Poe spotting each other and running madly into an embrace.
It’s an ending Major Pete might be comfortable with, but for fans looking forward to a kiss-off we’ve been waiting so long for, all we get is a cold shower.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is now in theaters nationally.
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