By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – December 18, 2019)
It’s got to be tough to take the single most successful film franchise in history, spawning countless spinoffs, both live action and animated, zillions of licensing dollars, video games, and everything else under the sun, and somehow continue to try and recapture what made the first two in particular so special over 40 years ago. In 2015, JJ Abrams pulled it off, ALMOST (like really really close), with The Force Awakens. We know how it went for Rian Johnson, and now Abrams returns to helm the final installment, which arrives on Friday amidst all the hype you’d expect, which creates sellouts, but also often creates expectations.
The Rise of Skywalker is not a bad movie, but it wasn’t a mind blowing, paradigm shifting movie either. It will likely satisfy the baseline, but it’s not going to exceed your hopes, more likely it will disappoint them to some degree. As visually spectacular as it is, with performances that certainly have grown over the years, particularly a more confident turn from John Boyega, the story itself is a bit constricted at times and at other times almost amorphous, and while it’s by no means confusing at any point, it’s almost too stock for its own good in spots. Those sentences read as contradictory, and that’s where I am with the movie. I’m not sure if it was too simple or too basic, but it wasn’t by any metric groundbreaking.
The open and conclusion are both logical enough and there is a surprise or two along the way, but nothing that should leave you entirely breathless, particularly if you’ve read too much in the run-up to the release or if you’ve used your brain over the past year or so and thought it through. I enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker, I wasn’t bored with The Rise of Skywalker, but I also was never taken into light speed like I kept waiting for…and that left me a little underwhelmed. I kept waiting for it to jump into that mode, but it never got there. It was content to be good, not great, and that’s my simple review.
It’s…it’s okay, it’s not even close to spectacular.
You know how you felt watching Endgame the first time, that you were watching something absolutely epic in every way? Abrams could not duplicate that feat this time around, and when you’re ranking Star Wars films, placing this one in the bottom third is probably accurate. My top four, including the side stories, would go Empire, A New Hope, The Force Awakens, and as inessential as it is, Rogue One is a pretty great movie.
The question you don’t need to ask is whether or not you’re watching a story centered on Rey… or Kylo Ren, because the answer is “yes.” This movie is dominated and controlled by Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver, and that’s not a bad thing, especially in the case of Driver, who is moving onto awards list for Marriage Story and is on the verge of being one of the more sought after talents in Hollywood. I was more intrigued to see the maturation and story arc hit its apex for him than for her, although her story provided the movie’s biggest narrative push.
Maybe the biggest problem for The Rise of Skywalker is in finding a way to make it unpredictable without making the wrong decisions simply for shock value. To strike that balance, it has to be parceled out carefully, and in some respects, Abrams and Chris Terrio’s screenplay succeeded. However, the script was simplistic, without much meat on the bone, and it wasn’t engaging. This was surface level stuff wrapped up in some mind games with the characters on screen. For it to be the end of the Skywalker saga, a nine episode story spanning decades of filmmaking, the task to finish that last chapter in triumphant fashion simply might have been too great.
Plus, it wants you to love it. You can tell in its energy and its “stay on course, don’t even think of trying anything unique” execution, and that’s a shame. The reaction to The Last Jedi scared them to death.
I’m not sure what I was anticipating or expecting, but I largely felt like I got it. When it came to a close though, I walked out of the theater and realized that was a decent movie, a fun few hours, but ultimately a forgettable experience. That can’t be the goal, and perhaps I’m the only reviewer that feels that way, but for all the loud noises and bright lights, it was dull and subdued in terms of what it delivered. It was more fun just to be in the world we know and love, seeing people for the final time, than it was actually seeing the end of the story, because it was not all that interesting in and of itself.
The final “battle” or sequence, in particular, left a lot to be desired, although it started with a lot of promise. Once it ended, it was more, “Oh, that’s it, we’re done here” than something you realized you’d never forget. That’s the lasting impression of The Rise of Skywalker…
…that it really didn’t leave much of one with me.
Again, it was pretty good, but that’s about all I can say. I saw another film the day I reviewed Star Wars, and I enjoyed that one far more. There wasn’t much WRONG with this movie, but there also weren’t any real risks, and as the credits rolled, the first thought I had was I’ve enjoyed The Mandalorian far more this fall, and it was a lot more fun to watch. The Rise of Skywalker became a slog in its middle stages, as there’s only so much Rey and Kylo Ren brooding that I can take before I need a breather.
The story wrapped up in a relatively satisfying fashion, and it’s definitely a treat to watch from a technical standpoint, although there are a few rough sections of CGI to be found. Questions that needed answers basically got those answers and the Star Wars universe, moving forward to whatever comes next, can rest easy as it relates to Skywalker making sense. It did the bare minimum and avoided pushing the envelope in any direction, which may end up being its greatest sin.
I’m unsure whether the story of Rey and Kylo Ren and Finn and Poe is going to be remembered with fondness, but at least we got one spectacular movie out of it, a second that divided the fans (I liked it, though I have never rewatched it), and a third that was average at best. The trailer didn’t show ALL of the movie’s high points of course, and luckily, it gave nothing away that takes place. There’s emotion and there’s a twist here and there that hopefully will at least catch your kids off guard. They should enjoy it. You might. I kind of, sometimes did, but I can’t give it anything higher than a C/C-. It wasn’t a disaster, but I hoped for far more.
It fell short of anything better than “okay” or maybe even “decent” when viewed as a whole.
And I don’t think I have any overwhelming desire to see it again. Which I hate, but there’s plenty of other Star Wars stuff I will treasure forever. The Rise of Skywalker… falls… to the one and done pile, at least for now. I will be curious what you guys think when you see it for yourselves.