The last time J.J. Abrams came near a Star Wars movie it was to kickstart a new trilogy with The Force Awakens, which was both celebrated as a return to cosmetic and structural form after George Lucas’ truly inspired but often bizarre prequel series. It was also labelled a rehash of the initial 1977 blockbuster by its detractors, and not without cause. Now Abrams returns to the franchise to cap it off with The Rise of Skywalker, and he’d better prepare himself for the argument that this is an even more shameless and overstuffed rehash, this time of 1983’s original trilogy-ending Return of the Jedi.
Sometimes wildly bloated and other times strangely rushed, with poignant moments awkwardly bumping up against outright eyerolls.
The famous opening crawl announces “The dead speak!”, and we find the plucky Resistance attempting to crackdown the whereabouts of an old enemy once thought permanently defeated (and in an irony that absolutely must be deliberate, Carrie Fisher, who passed away before filming, has also been resurrected here via previously unused footage). What follows is an often rollicking but just as frequently repetitive bounce from one planet to another in search of yet another intergalactic macguffin, with each new location offering up its own opportunities for nostalgia and fan-service. Look, there’s that old character! Hey, this speeder chase is like that speeder chase! And so forth. Much as in The Force Awakens, what works so well here is look and feel: in design, in basic structure, in humor, in moments of real emotional power and even in half-assed callbacks. But like Return of the Jedi, this is sometimes wildly bloated and other times strangely rushed, with poignant moments awkwardly bumping up against outright eyerolls, and too-pat resolutions sitting alongside unnecessary and overdetermined narrative arcs.
Worse, Skywalker, uh, walks back some of the more ambitious subtextual ideas from Rian Johnson’s divisive middle installment The Last Jedi, as well as sidelining some of its interesting original characters. Whether that’s a deliberate sop to angry (and in many cases actively bigoted) fans or merely Abrams’ preference for hitting simple visceral and emotional targets is up for debate (though it often feels like a little of both). Ultimately, satisfying or not, it may be for the best that this core now-nine-film saga is allegedly at an end. Many a Star Wars fan over the last 40-plus years has spent as much time being frustrated and dissatisfied as they have being awed and thrilled and moved, and in true fashion this last blast provides both experiences. The dead really can speak sometimes, and here they’re saying that a little can feel like a lot, and maybe a lot is too much of what you never really needed.