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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Review

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker - Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley

RATING:
(2 STARS)

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the fifth Star Wars film in as many years, arrived in theaters before Christmas more with a sense of exhausted obligation than breathless anticipation. It wasn’t just that we’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time in this world lately. The discourse around these films has become toxic over the last two years – since Star Wars: The Last Jedi put the franchise in a snow globe and shook it – and it would take a really deft hand to put this saga to bed on a good note for everyone.

So how does this Star Wars triology end? Not with a bang, but with a whimper.

The film, directed by J.J. Abrams, opens with a truly baffling opening crawl wherein we’re told “The dead speak!” As Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) later tells us, “Somehow Palpatine is back,” which is about as specific as anyone ever gets about this baffling turn of events, but the old man (Ian McDiarmid) is here and he wants to do … something?

Rey (Daisy Ridley) also wants to do … something. At first, she wants to finish her Jedi training with Leia (Carrie Fisher), but upon the Palpatine news reaching Resistance camp, she joins Poe, Finn (John Boyega), and some other old friends (BUT DEFINITELY NO ROSE!) on a mission to track down a secret Sith knife that needs to be secretly translated from Sith before they can find a secret glowy Sith triangle that might then lead them to Palpatine’s secret base. Or something.

Judging the film in a vacuum is tough. As a space adventure on multiple planets with laser artillery, I found it to be a passable diversion. Like, I didn’t fall asleep watching it. I think I only checked my phone twice. But there’s no reason to judge “Star Wars: Episode IX” in a vacuum. It’s the final moment – the ninth episode, if you will – in a giant story that’s been with us for 42 years (according to a not-so-subtle Easter egg on Pasana). And in that respect, it’s a total bummer.

The Rise of Skywalker is the film equivalent of a person who always needs the last word, and that makes sense to an extent because it is the last film in the series, but the way it goes about it is insulting and almost nasty, and it’s so insistent on getting it, that it even undercuts itself at times. There are two moments when the film looks like it’s going to do something daring and touching, but it’s not ten minutes before someone figures out that there’s a thing that will undo it and make everyone happy again. Yay!

The film’s conceptual faults rub off on its cast. Ridley, Boyega, and Isaac were all very appealing in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi when they had great material to chew on. Here, they mostly grated on me. Adam Driver makes it out mostly unscathed, and everyone else is fairly forgettable. (I would have enjoyed more time with Keri Russell’s Zorii Bliss and her delightful friend, Babu Frik.)

I’m not sure where Star Wars goes from here. Disney had a lot of intangible success on its streaming service with The Mandalorian, a mostly disconnected television series, but what’s coming next is more time with Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor from Rogue One, as well as an Obi-Wan Kenobi series with Ewan McGregor.

I don’t want Star Wars to go away, but I’m so ready for these relic characters and scenarios to be put out of their misery. (Did you know The Rise of Skywalker has ANOTHER iteration of the Death Star?) It won’t happen, but I’d love if Disney let the franchise collect dust for a few years so that when it comes back, we have that sense of excitement that accompanied The Force Awakens. And whatever is next on the big screen, it really ought to, to borrow a phrase from a great film and filmmaker, let the past die. For everyone’s sake.

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