In 1995, Nirvana’s Dave Grohl hired William Goldsmith as the drummer for his new band, The Foo Fighters. After spending endless hours and numerous takes recording their second album, “The Color and the Shape,” Grohl, being a drummer himself and dissatisfied with Goldsmith’s work, deleted all his parts and re-recorded (nearly) the entire album, playing all the drums himself. “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” appears to have been made in a similar fashion.
Though Disney initially offered J.J. Abrams the opportunity to direct the new trilogy, he declined, only agreeing to take the reigns on the first of three planned movies. The second film, “The Last Jedi,” went to director Rian Johnson, who, with a different vision in mind, took the story in a new direction, sweeping aside a bevy of plot points initially set up by Abrams. For this final chapter, “The Rise of Skywalker,” Abrams returned as director and spent the film undoing and deleting most of Johnson’s work, while also trying to tie up as many loose ends as possible and finish the trilogy. (It’s a surprise he didn’t manage to change the title of the film to Star Wars: The Revenge of J.J. Abrams.)
As a result, “Rise of Skywalker” has far too many plot holes, inconsistencies and contradictions to meticulously lay out. So, I’ll tackle my biggest gripes with the film instead.
[Note: If you haven’t seen “The Rise of Skywalker” yet, read ahead at you own peril. Spoilers abound!]
J.J. Abrams Never Fully Commits to Any One Idea
Can you imagine an alternative ending to James Cameron’s “Titanic,” in which, mere minutes after you realize Jack died, he suddenly resurfaced riding a dolphin? This must have been a dream for Abrams because every time a major character met their demise, they somehow returned. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) alone dies three times in this movie.
In one of the film’s highpoints, Rey (Daisy Ridley) discovers she can shoot Force lightning from her hands as she tries to stop a First Order ship that arrested Chewbacca. As her lightning obliterates the ship, she stands stupefied, unable to move under the weight of guilt at the thought of her own, uncontrollable powers killing her furry comrade. This emotional apex only lasts for a few moments, however, before the reveal that Chewy is alive and well on a different ship.
Further toying with our patience, in another seminal moment, Rey and the Resistance need to retrieve a vital memory from C3PO, which would, as a result, wipe his entire existing memory, effectively killing him (a preferable alternative to sitting through this film). Guess what happens after the emotional build-up and culminating memory-wipe? His memory is just restored.
Although the story comes close to evoking genuine emotion, it always falls short because it never fully commits to any one idea. It sporadically jumps from almost killing off one character to another until you can’t take anything seriously anymore.
The best and easily most interesting character of the new trilogy is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). He is the only one with any sort of a progressing and unpredictable story arch throughout all three films. Revealed early on to be the offspring of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Leia (Carrie Fischer), Kylo Ren struggles throughout the “Rise of Skywalker,” juggling his ambition and lust for power with his affection for Rey and knowledge that the blood of the Skywalker lineage courses through his veins.
While Kylo Ren tried coming to terms with his roots, Rey, who was revealed to be the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine, was trying to eschew and diverge from her own. This duality could have resulted in a deep and introspective trilogy. Unfortunately, it fell victim to poor execution, as Rey’s backstory was only revealed at the end of the film leaving no time to further develop this concept.
Poe (Oscar Isaacs) and Finn (John Boyega), Han Solo’s effective successors in the Star Wars saga, had roughly the same character depth, complexity, and growth as the steel structural frame of the Millennium Falcon. Superbly cast, but criminally underdeveloped, the entirety of their contribution to the films (and largely the last one) is sauntering around Rey, from scene to scene.
Abrams’ recasting of Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) was a particularly criticized mark of “Rise of Skywalker.” Rian Johnson added her to the franchise – likely as a response to calls for greater cast diversity – but to her detriment, gave her a side-story that had nothing to do with the main plot of the film. In “Rise of Skywalker” – likely as a response to criticism that the character was a superfluous casting addendum – J.J. Abrams essentially wrote her out, but not exactly. She was there, throughout the entire film, with a tepid five lines, sparingly spaced out in scant moments. If Abrams didn’t want Rose, an already established character, to have a role in “Rise of Skywalker,” he could have at least thought up a clever way to write her out or, alternatively, given her an actual, compelling storyline.
Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in “The Last Jedi” was a recluse, found on a remote planet where he’d retired his lightsaber to drown himself in a sea of his own depression after his star pupil, Ben Solo (Kylo Ren), turned to the Dark Side. Here, in “Rise of Skywalker,” Rey tried to follow suit when she thought her Force powers killed Chewbacca. As she tried to discard her lightsaber, a magic Force hand of Luke Skywalker appeared out of nowhere, literally catching the lightsaber and chiding her crass disregard for the Jedi relic. Remember when, in the previous film, Luke chucked away his lightsaber like it was some chicken wing bone he’d finished gnawing the meat off of? Now, admitting he was wildly wrong to do this same thing in the previous film, Luke undercut his entire story arc.
The Interpersonal Relationships and Love Interests. So. Many.
The interpersonal relationships throughout this movie range from the bizarre to the confusing to the unnecessary. J.J. Abrams must have taken Solomon Burke’s “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” to heart, as virtually each character on screen expresses romantic affection for another. There is Rose’s ongoing interest in Finn (ever since that awkward kiss at the end of the last film,) Finn’s interest in Rey, Poe’s sexual tension with Rey, and Finn’s affection for a brand new character who appeared out of nowhere, unexplained, from Poe’s past, as well as the ongoing tension between Kylo Ren and Rey. Is this still Star Wars or “The Bachelor in Space”?
The original trilogy had the romantic fancies (and nearly everything else) correct. You didn’t need to dissect some dizzying, convoluted map of “who likes whom?” There was just one: the unkempt, cavalier outlaw Han Solo, and the classy, high society Princess Leia. That’s it! As their characters developed, the tension intensified, culminating in their eventual marriage. In “Rise of Skywalker,” all affections either fizzled out or were left loose.
Though I’m no expert in all the vagaries of the Force, I think it’s reasonable to suggest that by the most basic of rules in filmmaking, Abrams shouldn’t have gone about adding and removing new abilities to the Force on a lark every time it fit his plot.
In “Rise of Skywalker,” Rey can, without any conceivable explanation, heal someone with a 3-inch diameter exit wound through their torso from a laser sword. Now, forgive me for nitpicking, but remember when, in “The Phantom Menace,” Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) was killed with a lightsaber wound? Too bad that Obi-Wan didn’t have Rey’s healing powers.
Not only are these new Force powers born without explanation, but they are also, when convenient for the plot, aloof. In one scene, we see Rey using the Force to stop a spaceship in the air and blow it up – mid-flight; later in the film, Rey somehow can’t even cross a rapid river without a raft!
As another example, when chased by Stormtroopers on speeder bikes, Rey – who in a previous scene was, with the Force, using her lightsaber like a boomerang – is powerless to do anything but blindly fire her blaster in their general direction.
These ninja Force features aren’t exclusive to Rey. Emperor Palpatine is, in one scene, able to use his Force lightning powers to take out an entire freaking armada of spaceships. In the next scene, the Emperor’s same Force lightning is just effortlessly deflected by Rey’s deft lightsaber.
With “The Rise of Skywalker,” J.J. Abrams tried to give the people what they wanted. He tried to rewrite many of Rian Johnson’s ideas and address the surfeit of issues fans raised with “The Last Jedi,” while also wrapping up the story. He also tried to fit in all the elements of the Star Wars aesthetic that shaped our imaginative childhoods: outer-space dogfights, speeder bike chases, and lightsaber duels galore. This resulted in a muddled collage of ideas, one glued haphazardly over the other. In the end, the film failed to present a cohesive storyline. “The Rise of Skywalker,” like the rest of this trilogy, is ravenously bereft of emotion and a unified vision.
Whereas under the tutelage of Dave Grohl, the Foo Fighter’s “The Color and the Shape” reflected the vision of one artist, Disney’s Star Wars Trilogy is a fragmented, incoherent mess of conflicting visions in the tug-of-war between directors J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson.