Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Everything has led to this, and the time has finally come. I’m a major Star Wars fan, and have been since elementary school. However, I feel that I’ve always been critical of the series. I never look forward to watching the prequels, though I don’t turn them off at first glance and I’m not even the biggest fan of Return of the Jedi, finding it messier than the other two near-masterpieces of the original trilogy. So, I went into this film with anticipation, as well as the eyes of a jaded fan.

I know plenty of people that are huge fans of Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi are concerned with the artistic integrity being lost with this new sequel thanks to all of the toxic “fan” response. I’m not the biggest fan of The Last Jedi either. After multiple rewatches wrought with overthought thanks to all of the discourse making it a bigger deal than it ever needed to be, my best conclusion is that it’s a mess. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t, and none of it is worth getting offended about. I still like that film just fine. That being said, the concern for artistic integrity with this film boils down to two things for me. The first is that J. J. Abrams, who wrote and directed The Force Awakens and left no plans behind for the sequels, didn’t exactly return to direct The Rise of Skywalker with everything he planned to have either. The second is that the prequels were born out of George Lucas having complete creative control, so make of that what you will. I won’t criticize the film for what it isn’t, though there is certainly room for that elsewhere. I’m here to discuss what it is.

With that, the first word that I would use to describe this film is “odd”. It’s an odd movie with an odd script that never feels truly out there in terms of originality, but always feels like it’s bringing something to the table that wasn’t there before. It’s a marriage of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, and several issues arise from it trying to do so. I was frustrated with the idea of this film simply being a course correction, copied and pasted from Return of the Jedi, but this film is not that despite what advertisements may make you believe.

I’ll keep plot discussion to a minimum afterwards, but the opening scene was particularly striking to me. There is no wait for Palpatine’s glorious return as the villain, and I immediately knew where the movie would go from there. Despite that initial predictability, the movie managed to make the journey of our heroes compelling, albeit with plenty of hiccups. The first half of the film feels like an adventure, with Rey, Finn and Poe going off to find a device that will lead them to Palpatine. The chemistry between these three characters is what keeps the first half from being a complete dreadnaught, and the three of them together is something I’ve been waiting to see for the entirety of this trilogy. This first half introduces a recurring writing trick that frustrated me to no end as it kept coming back. Something very game-changing would happen, something that should shake the audience and the movie itself to the core, then be undone in minutes, either by happenstance or character interference. This continued from the first to final act, and annoyed me every time something like it occurred. Offenses of this trope became less obnoxious as the film went on, as some of the backpedaling started to feel more appropriate story wise, but it’s still a narrative tool that I could use less of. It feels like threatening the audience that loves Star Wars without ever actually taking anything from them, out of fear of giving Fandom Menace YouTube channels material to bash this movie with.

It’s safe to say that the first half of this film might be the worst stuff from this new trilogy, and the second half is the best. I know how bizarre that sounds, but the film takes a drastic shift at a point, becomes a completely different movie, and benefits from it. There’s a twenty minute chunk towards the middle that offers the most compelling emotional delivery of this trilogy, full stop. After that the film doesn’t let up one bit. It becomes what I’d call a pastiche of Return of the Jedi. A similar conflict is set up, but with different character dynamics to make it feel like something new. There’s a wonderful ticking clock element to it, where two battles have to be won and both are seemingly impossible to come out of alive. It’s visually vibrant, incredibly tense, and the character moments all add up seamlessly with this second half.

Fans of The Last Jedi will likely be disappointed with this one. I found it the most enjoyable film out of the franchise since The Empire Strikes Back. Make of that what you will, I’m a weird guy with a weird set of sensibilities. I’m sure I’ll enjoy all of the sequel trilogy more over time, but this one will continue to interest me in just how strange that it is. The final scene is also the perfect closer, bringing the Skywalker Saga to a satisfying end.

B+

B+ Review

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