“The Rise of Skywalker” lets down the saga

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“The Rise of Skywalker” lets down the saga

Margaret Heffernan and Alex Holmes

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“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is a mess of a movie that can be confounding at times and lacks a compelling aesthetic. Yet despite its flaws, if you ignore the red flags pulsating from your brain with increasing regularity over the course of its runtime, it’s still, beneath the jumble of a plot, a Star Wars movie. And a fairly fun one at that.

To be fair, the odds were stacked against “Rise of Skywalker” from the beginning. It had the burden of wrapping up a nine-film saga instead of a trilogy. It was coming off the heels of “The Last Jedi,” one of the most beautiful and thematically resonant Star Wars movies ever. It was directed by J.J. Abrams instead of “The Last Jedi’s” Rian Johnson, a measurably better filmmaker (see this year’s “Knives Out” and “Looper”). 

That being said, the film has narrative faults of its own making. From the get-go, the movie throws you into the action…and it never lets up. Our heroes jump (quite literally in one lightspeed-hopping scene) from planet to planet, location to location, plot point to plot point with practically no time to breathe in between. First, they’ve got to get a thingamajig (Sith Wayfinder) from a place, then bad guys show up. Now they go to another place to find another thingamajig (dagger) and get interrupted by a different bad guy. There’s barely time for establishing shots between scenes. 

With a foreseeable plotline, the actions of the characters were never shocking. Through a constant power struggle between Kylo Ren and General Pryde, it was no surprise to the audience that General Pryde was the traitor, leaking information to the Resistance. Shortly after Chewbacca is taken by the Knights of Ren, Rey destroys a First Order transport ship using the Force when fighting Kylo Ren. She is heartbroken while believing she has just killed one of her closest friends and most lovable characters. But in following the cluttered plotline, Chewy isn’t dead. And, not to trivialize a death into a mere plot device, but Carrie Fisher’s death in 2016 was definitely not something the filmmakers were counting on. So, again, it’s no surprise when she dies halfway through the movie using the force to connect with her son Ben (Kylo Ren).  

Similarly, Kylo Ren and Rey continuously appear to be dead but are actually not. On the wreckage of the Death Star, surrounded by giant crashing waves, Rey defeated Kylo Ren in a battle, appearing that he is dead. Great! Rey has won! Yet, something moves her to use the force and restore the life within him. What?! Then again, in the Sith Lair. Kylo Ren is thrown off the platform, presumed dead. But no! somehow managing to climb a giant stone cliff, he rises from the ashes to help Rey defeat Emperor Palpatine. 

One aspect of the film that seemed sure to be a slam dunk based on the trailers was the visuals. More locations (a forest planet!), striking imagery (Rey slicing a Tie fighter almost in half), and vivid colors all appeared in the trailers. Unfortunately, the actual film is the most visually bland of the sequel trilogy. For starters, the movie never spends that much time on the planets we were promised in the teasers. The majority of the movie takes place on either a desert planet (seen that before), in space (duh), or in a dark underground lair that is literally too dark to see a thing. Did the cinematographers take notes from the last season of “Game of Thrones” or something?

There are, however, two good things that emerge from the wreckage of the film: Rey and Kylo. Both characters are the only ones that get character arcs in the movie, and thankfully, those arcs are well-traced and satisfying. Daisy Ridley as Rey gives her best performance of the trilogy, making the most of each of her wavering moments when she is unsure of her past and scared of her future. And Adam Driver as Kylo makes the best villain in Star Wars since Darth Vader (though his acting was slightly better in “The Last Jedi”). 

Ultimately though, this movie falls victim to a plot written by committee, lazy visuals, and a twist that not only works too hard to go back on the last film’s themes but also makes Rey a less empowered character. Yes, she is powerful, which is good. But this movie tells us that she’s powerful not on her own, but because of her lineage and connection to Emperor Palpatine. It’s boring, and feels like forced nostalgia. “The Rise of Skywalker” tries to do a lot of things, too many, in fact, and ends up tripping over itself while trying to wrap up the most beloved franchise on the planet. Go watch “The Mandalorian” instead.