(Please note that this review is not spoiler-free as I had to go into detail to explain why I felt the way I felt.)
Nostalgia is probably the biggest thing in cinema and television right now. With all the reboots and sequels, the idea of nostalgia drives a lot of the film that we get. Sometimes it works, others not so much. But more then none, it creates a product that feels like something we have seen before. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker feels like that, a product that was created simply to cater to the fans that felt betrayed by the previous instalment. Rise of Skywalker isn’t a bad movie per se, but when placed right after what I considered to be one of the best Star Wars movie ever, then it feels jarring and is not a satisfying end to a saga that spanned 40 years.
When I reviewed The Last Jedi, I said that it was like throwing away the rule book and writing a new one. It was refreshing and instead of trying to remake the original trilogy, but it also divided the fans that had made that saga so popular. When J.J. Abrams was announced to return to the series, I was a skeptic of that decision. Abrams is a great director but he also is great at catering to the audience. Just look at what he did with the reboot of Star Trek or even what he did with The Force Awakens. When The Force Awakens came out, most of us loved it but it was also clear that it banked a lot on the nostalgia we had for the series and was kind of a remake of the original movie. But it worked and so we loved it, then came The Last Jedi and it decided to change the game. It wasn’t just about the Skywalker anymore, it gave the power back to everyone, gave hope back. It was a movie that felt like a breath of fresh air, change that could lead to something new. And then Rise of Skywalker happened.
Here’s the thing, I wanted to like The Rise of Skywalker. This series has meant everything to me for so long, but even with all my heart, I couldn’t get past the problems of this movie. There’s a problem when you get different creatives to build a trilogy instead of having it planned out from the beginning. And don’t tell me J.J had planned this from the beginning, I don’t believe it because it makes no sense. The way this movie is constructed is to appease fan and it’s so clear. Now, to be able to explain more, I have to go into some spoilers so please stop reading here until you come back from watching the film.
Let’s start with one of my biggest problem with this film. The return of Palpatine. Palpatine was an okay villain when it came to the original trilogy, he never was Darth Vader level but he also wasn’t one where everyone noted as their favourite. His motives made sense somewhat and his plan was solid. Then came the prequel where everything went off the rail. Palpatine was reinvented to be able to explain the mess that was those movies. His arc didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things because of his plan made no sense. When it was revealed he was coming back for this installment I had mixed feelings. Excited to see why but also a bit scared of which version we would get. We got the prequel one. His return makes no sense. He is there to simply override everything The Last Jedi did. To replace Snoke instead of simply having Kylo being the villain. Instead, Palpatine becomes the overall villain of the series once again. His revealed to be behind Snoke and Kylo doesn’t work, it just retcons the whole movie and makes it once again that his power of seeing the future is simply used to create an explanation for a plot hole. It’s sad because while Kylo’s arc is the only thing that really works in this film, it could have been done without the addition of Palpatine.
There is also the fact that Palpatine’s return comes with also the destruction of Rey’s story. Rey’s arc was always about her not being alone. Her fighting to find her family and realizing that she could form her own. When it was revealed in the previous film that she was no one, an uproar appeared and people got mad that she wasn’t the child of someone we knew already. But her being no one was not only fresh but it also made sense with her character. Her being no one meant that her parents simply abandoned her for no reason unlike what she always thought. It was a character arc that I was excited to witness. Her arc juxtaposed with Kylo would have been interesting to see. Instead, The Rise of Skywalker decides to change everything by making her the grandchild of the other villain of the story, Palpatine. Not only does it destroy her entire arc that we had been building towards too but it also gives her the same story as Kylo and denies her a shinning moment that could have been interesting. I’m not mad that by the end she decides to take the name Skywalker, I’m mad that instead of going with the family she has been established for her, she goes back to being alone.
But Rey’s character isn’t the only one that is treated as an afterthought. A simple mean to cater to the fan outcry. Kylo Ren becomes nothing more than an exposition machine. Poe and Finn never get an arc that they deserve. And then there is poor Rose. Rose who so many hated for no reason, driving the actress Kelly-Marie Tran off the internet with their racist and sexist comment. All of a sudden, a character that had been introduced to be important to the series, the first woman of color lead of the series becomes nothing and almost disappears from the movie. They go on an adventure, well not Rose she’s staying behind for no reason. Truly only Kylo gets his character arc that had been established since the beginning completed but even then it gets rushed and ends with a predictable ending.
I wanted to love this film. I wanted to cry when I saw Carrie Fisher one more time on screen, I wanted to scream of happiness when Lando showed up again, I wanted to applaud at the end, I wanted to walk away happier than ever. But that never happened. Instead, I walked away disappointed and wishing that Disney and J.J hadn’t caved and listened to the fan outcry. As an audience, you want to be challenged and surprised. Never did that film made me feel that. Instead, I witness a movie that simply made me bored and wishing I was watching another film instead. It’s sad for me to be saying that has a Star Wars fan but it’s my simple truth.
The new trilogy ends the same way it started: by banking on nostalgia and not taking risks. Except for this time, it doesn’t work because The Last Jedi gave us a taste of what change meant and how we could get there. Instead, we are left with a messy film with no idea of what it is and an unsatisfying end to a saga that has spanned decades.