Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Let me start this review by saying if you’re looking for a totally unbiased opinion, look elsewhere. This is a review from a fan of the Star Wars franchise, for all its faults (Of which there are nigh limitless). Not to mention that last night was also the night that my fiance put a ring on the third finger of my left hand. So needless to say, there’s a lot of good memories and emotions associated with this movie. But let’s dive in to some spoiler free thoughts on Episode 9.
The problem with no solution
The Rise of Skywalker is the quintessential fan movie. It doesn’t surprise me to see this reflected in the reviews of the film. Critics are pretty mixed, while audience reviews are overwhelmingly positive. Director J.J. Abrams was posed a question with no good solution. “How do you create a movie that concludes a story that began in 1977?” The target demo of A New Hope is now over 60 years old, and the teenagers of today don’t identify with the same themes that they did in the late 70’s.
The solution, at least to Abrams, is to play up the nostalgia of the original trilogy with reverence while keeping the younger cast as the de facto heroes. And this is what Rise of Skywalker does well. It is not afraid to call back to iconic moments of the original trilogy, but also keeps the focus on the new generation.
When The Force Awakens dropped, many people complained that it was just A New Hope all over again. Then when The Last Jedi came out, people complained that “it wasn’t Star Wars.” Whatever that means. This movie does seem to strike a better balance between things we’re familiar with and things we haven’t seen before.
Rey’s journey in this film is one of the more in depth looks we’ve gotten into the training of a Jedi, and the perils of the dark side. Think about that. The entire prequel trilogy was devoted to that exact theme with Anakin, and this one movie showed it better than we ever got in those films.
It’s not all perfect
Now, all this isn’t to say I don’t have any complaints. I have two major issues with the film I’d like to address. The first is that the movie is painfully on the nose sometimes. Abrams would do well to remember that not every viewer is an idiot. We don’t need the themes spelled out for us all the time. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say the line “they’re just… people” was an AWFUL line. Yes JJ, we got it.
Second, the movie feels more like a standalone film than the conclusion of a trilogy. I know The Last Jedi took the film in a different direction than what Abrams imagined in The Force Awakens. However, rather than try to work with what had been provided in the film before, this movie too often just says “to hell with it” and does its own thing.
Now the problem with all of this is it screws up how the narrative is told. Since the film isn’t really answering the questions set up in the The Last Jedi, we get a lot of “here’s a problem” immediately followed by “here’s a solution.” Our heroes are presented with a problem, go to a planet, have a cool action scene, joke with C-3PO, and then go to the next problem. Instead, they should be tackling the problems left behind in the last film.
Sins of the past
To be honest, this issue isn’t entirely on Abrams. It’s also a failing of The Last Jedi. I really enjoyed episode 8, but if there’s one thing it didn’t do, it was set up some short term problems to be solved in the next movie. Look at Empire Strikes Back. Of course the movie leaves us with major problems like the inevitable showdown with Luke and Vader or the Rebellion vs the Empire. However, it also gave a short-term problem in saving Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt. So when Return of the Jedi comes along, they can just start the movie on Tatooine with the group saving Han. No explanation needed.
Meanwhile, The Last Jedi ended with “there’s about 8 people left in the rebellion and also Rey’s a Jedi now.” There’s not a good short-term theme to explore in the beginning of Rise of Skywalker, so Abrams is forced to come up with one. In retrospect, having Abrams direct all three movies probably would have created a better overall product.
The end of the Skywalker saga
It would be very difficult to go into all the reasons I did like the movie without getting into spoilery specifics, so I’ll just outline a couple major things I enjoyed. First, this does feel like a good ending to the Skywalker saga. It completes the story in a satisfying way, and doesn’t sequel bait. Is there a possibility of us seeing more from our heroes? Sure, but it could also end there and you’d feel good about it.
Second, and this goes back to what I said at the beginning, it’s a fan movie. Abrams took his responsibility of ending the Skywalker Saga seriously, and his desire to make three generations of fans feel good about the films comes through clearly in this movie. There was something for just about everyone in Episode IX. Whether you’re a fringe fan who just catches the main movies or a Star Wars geek like me who consumes anything and everything, no matter how awful.
There will be those out there who wish he’d taken a more bold stance or challenged the audience more. I understand that point of view, because it’s exactly what I loved about The Last Jedi. But I would not have loved it if Episode IX did that. I feel like that would have been a selfish desire of a segment of the audience.
It can’t be over-stated enough that the responsibility of this movie was to close out a story that began 42 years ago, with fans who are now in retirement. This movie feels like it’s for everyone because it is. That’s what is so simultaneously wonderful and frustrating about this fandom. It’s massive and encompasses just about everybody.
In many ways, the fandom mirrors the issues the Republic Senate faced in the prequels. The republic is so large and in such vastly different circumstances that no one can get exactly what they want. And so they resort to squabbling and debating the right way to do things while evil takes control…. holy hell, was George Lucas actually a genius?! (No.)
Playful and slightly alarming comparisons to the real world that we live in today aside, The Rise of Skywalker is the Star Wars movie we need right now. It answers many of the questions we had lingering and closes out the story. However, more importantly it inspires hours of conversation in the parking lot, gives enough controversy for the hardcore fans to say they hate it, allows self-important critics to say it wasn’t bold enough, lets fanboys and girls geek out, and inspires a whole new generation of fans to sit in their backyard trying to lift a rock with the force. No matter how you enjoy Star Wars, this movie has something for you.
I want to thank you for taking the time to read this, but I also want you to realize that it doesn’t matter. I don’t think there’s any other franchise where reviews matter so little. If you take nothing else away from this, let the one thing be that you can only judge The Rise of Skywalker for yourself. It’s a personal experience, and nothing that I or anyone else writes should affect how you feel about it. So go enjoy the movie, and may the force be with you.