“I got a bad feeling about this …”
Yes, that fan service line reappears in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” The ninth and final film in the space saga teems with Easter eggs, shout outs and other franchise-friendly nods.
Director J.J. Abrams’ film also feels rushed and yet far too long, complex without the nuance that accompanies the word.
Saddest of all? Several key plot devices are so clunky audiences may laugh out loud as a result. This critic sure did.
Is this any way to cap the biggest pop culture franchise of the modern era? Where do we send the apology cards to “The Last Jedi?”
The opening text crawl warns of an old foe’s return. Yes, Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) may have plummeted down an endless void in “Return of the Jedi,” but he never really went away.
Now, the microscopic remains of the Resistance must scramble, fast, before he can turn the First Order into the Final Order. Nice wordplay, gang!
That means Daisy Ridley’s Rey puts her Jedi training on hold to rejoin the fight. The same goes for Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac), together again after “The Last Jedi” kept them apart for so very long.
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Part of “Skywalker’s” mission is to correct the mistakes that made “The Last Jedi” as controversial as a Supreme Court nominee.
Toward that end, it’s good to see the new “Star Wars” trio front and center. Too bad the new cast additions offer so little to challenge or engage them. Keri Russell plays a mystery woman from Poe’s past, but her face is mostly hidden and she’s gone before their chemistry can make a cameo.
The late Carrie Fisher appears as General Leia Organa one last time. Her arc is understandably abrupt, given her death predated “The Last Jedi’s” release. That doesn’t explain why Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico gets so little attention.
Perhaps Team Star Wars heard from fans (or Russian trolls, tee hee!) who felt she added little to the previous installment. Another clue the powers that be learned from franchise naysayers? “Rise of Skywalker” lacks the woke posturing of its predecessor.
Gone, like a dead Jedi under a blanket!
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While “The Last Jedi” trafficked in faux girl power shtick and an income inequality detour, “Skywalker” keeps the focus on entertainment. Deeply flawed and occasionally silly entertainment, but let’s give credit where it’s due.
On that front, Billy Dee Williams delivers some old school charm as Lando Calrissian. Those expecting him to play a major role in the story haven’t watched the most recent films in the canon.
One actor emerges from the franchise wreckage, the one who technically matters most.
The film depends entirely on Rey’s heroism, her inner strength. The petite actress stands tall, time after time, even if Abrams can’t give her one dazzling action sequence to call her own. There’s plenty to complain about the new, Lucas-free trilogy, but casting Ridley, Boyega and Isaac proved undeniably shrewd.
It’s still alarming that no film corralled Isaac’s scene swiping potential, illuminated in the otherwise awful “Suburbicon.”
And let’s talk about the film’s plot twists and story devices. Remember, this isn’t a dashed off episode of a streaming series. This is Disney … and “Star Wars” … and a property designed to make north of $1 billion at the box office.
One plot device in particular is absurd at first, and grows sillier as the story progresses. A serious twist, one that gives the Resistance a rare advantage, is beyond loopy. The character in question defends the reveal with a single line, another sign the script (by multiple scribes) wasn’t give a thorough scrubbing.
The film briefly comes to life when our heroes assemble underground in the first hour. Their bickering is suddenly sharp, suggesting the exposition heavy start will give away to something more organic and raw.
Not a chance.
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It’s worth comparing “Return of the Jedi,” which capped the original trilogy, with “The Rise of Skywalker.” The former spent less time developing characters because the first two films did the job so efficiently. Here, we see variations of Rey, Finn and Poe hugging, or bonding, or otherwise tapping a sense of nostalgia that never materialized in the first place.
Far better is a character arc that impacts C-3P0. Series mainstay Anthony Daniels milks it just right, giving “Skywalker” a solid running gag.
Most of the laugh lines are dead on arrival.
Otherwise, we’re rushing from one glossy set piece to the next, the connective tissue as thin as Rey’s linen garb. Through it all one chronic complaint endures. Why doesn’t Rey use the Force more often when she and her friends are in harm’s way?
The film invents a new Jedi power you just know will reappear at the right time later on.
Adam Driver remains a rising star with plenty of presence. His lanky frame and shaggy ‘do don’t hurt either element here. Still, his dastardly Kylo Ren never coalesces in the new trilogy.
He was the petulant powerhouse in “The Force Awakens,” a twist on Darth Vader’s composed threat. He morphed during “The Last Jedi,” sharing a curious bond with Rey (arguably “The Last Jedi’s” most intriguing development).
That connection continues here, but it adds another head-scratching plot hole that can’t be fully shared here without spoilers.
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Abrams successfully brought the franchise back from a deep sleep with 2015’s “The Force Awakens,” in no small part thanks to Harrison Ford’s triumphant return. Yes, Abrams had plenty of franchise boxes to check off in “Awakens,” but it felt like he saw it as a privilege to do so.
“The Rise of Skywalker,” by stark comparison, plays out like an assignment he couldn’t wait to get off his plate.
Perhaps Rian Johnson’s “Last Jedi” painted Abrams into an impossible corner. No matter. A franchise with as many glorious highs as “Star Wars” deserves a far better finale than this.
HiT or Miss: We regret to inform you that the mighty “Star Wars” saga ends with an embarrassing whimper courtesy of “The Rise of Skywalker.”