Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

“This will be the final word in the story of Skywalker.”

Justin’s rating: It’s basically Fanservice: The Movie

Justin’s review: There needs to be a succinct phrase for the phenomenon of how you can go to a movie theater and get swept up in the joy and fun of a movie, but the second you get in your car, your brain starts analyzing it and you see all of the holes and faults it contained. Because that is 100% Rise of Skywalker right there. It’s a breezy enough Star Wars outing if you’re able to really shut off the analytical voice in your head to enjoy the spectacle, but it certainly does not stand up to any sort of scrutiny. It doesn’t make sense the way it really needs to be making sense for the final film of this nine-movie saga.

After the gloriously beautiful mess of The Last Jedi, Rise of Skywalker finds itself trying to stick the landing while not upsetting as many people as possible. Because a coherent and well-thought-out narrative is not an option at this point, J.J. Abrams decided to go with “spectacle” and “fanservice” to try to please people on the surface and keep them from dwelling too much on what they’re seeing. It’s a magic show, essentially, where slight-of-hand illusions are intentionally distracting you from blurting out loud, “This is a load of hogwash!”

And, let’s be honest, hogwash this is. Exciting hogwash, mind you, full of pretty pigs pulling out all the stops to reference every single Star Wars thing ever made, done, filmed, or said. But the core is just some black, oily water that holds no substance.

Rise of Skywalker sees the Resistance as still holding on, somehow, while the Emperor Palpatine somehow comes back from his ignoble death in Return of the Jedi. It doesn’t make any sense, but the visuals are striking and the Emperor is back, and… you see? Illusion. Rey and Poe and Finn go on some sort of scavenger hunt to find something they really need to defeat him, and Kylo Ren goes on a now-standard path to redemption. I barely have the heart to try to summarize this film because describing the hogwash only makes me more frustrated with it.

What’s perhaps the most frustrating is that Rise is never really daring with its choices. It makes you think that Chewie and Threepio might be dead, but… nah, they’re OK. It doesn’t settle with The Last Jedi’s interpretation that Rey is basically a nobody, instead foisting upon her an unwanted identity so that she has some sort of blood connection with the overall series. It teases that she might go dark side, but nope, she’s light through-and-through. If the bad guys have an inexplicably large fleet of starships crewed by who-knows-what, the good guys only have to pop out into the galaxy for about five seconds before returning with a massive civilian fleet of their own.

Spectacle! Quips! Lightsabers! Ignore the man behind the curtain!

Still, there is plenty to like here, and I’m not being sarcastic. This is a fun group of heroes that have captured that same sort of dynamic that we loved in Han, Leia, and Luke, and I would gladly buy a ticket to see them romping around the galaxy to do whatever. But the promise we had of this group being something greater and legendary finally dissolves into nothing in this final chapter, because once again, J.J. is all about the setup and not the payoff. He was a terrible choice to step in as a replacement director, and I’m kind of done with being counted among his fans.

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