‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’: The Real Reason Why the Trilogy’s Final Chapter Is Also Its Worst
The Star Wars saga has ended, and depending on whom you ask, that might actually be a relief. Director J.J. Abrams has brought the nine-part Skywalker story to a close with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. While audience scores indicate fans’ satisfaction with the film, critics are less forgiving than they are.
Of course, the sequel trilogy has been fraught with criticism from the beginning. Fans accused Abrams’ own The Force Awakens of hewing too closely to A New Hope, while Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi divided fans by taking the complete opposite approach. Therein lies the biggest reason why The Rise of Skywalker falls short of both its predecessors.
Why this ‘Star Wars’ trilogy is different
What began as a single adventure in 1977 has grown from one trilogy into three. Together, this “trilogy of Star Wars trilogies” covers three generations of the Skywalker family. The original films followed Luke and Leia, and the prequels centered on their father, Anakin.
But the sequels aren’t only burdened with the story of Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo, Anakin’s grandson. This trilogy is tasked with unifying the very different themes, tones, and aesthetics of everything that’s come before. In particular, The Rise of Skywalker needs to serve as a grand finale to the entire Skywalker legacy.
Up until this point, audiences have been as frustrated as they are invested in the “galaxy far, far away.” So many mysteries and unanswered questions need to get addressed in The Rise of Skywalker. And while we knew the movie wouldn’t get to everything, it still needs to deliver a satisfying sense of closure.
How ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ struggles
Unfortunately, The Rise of Skywalker is handicapped before the opening crawl even kicks in. The 2016 passing of Carrie Fisher, of course, drastically affected the film’s production. That required some creative rejiggering of Leia’s storyline, which barely works in the context of this last film.
However, this isn’t its biggest problem. Rather than serving the dual masters of concluding its own three-film narrative and ending the nine-episode saga, The Rise of Skywalker is distracted by trying to reconcile the previous two films. Never has the lack of a big-picture plan for this sequel trilogy been more apparent.
Because The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi were such polar opposites, The Rise of Skywalker is too busy trying to split the difference between them. Abrams’ film is the Star Wars equivalent of a harried child trying to mediate an argument between two antagonistic parents. Sure, maybe they’ll reach a compromise, but in the end, it might not be the result either party really wanted.
To that end, The Rise of Skywalker is powerless to organically build off of its predecessors and create its own story. The result is a troubling identity crisis that — despite pleasing most audiences — shoehorns in new developments in an often-sloppy attempt to accomplish a largely impossible task.
The saga and its fans need to move on
The behind-the-scenes drama — including the “creative differences” that saw Jurassic World‘s Colin Trevorrow leave Episode IX late in the game — created a rough start. But the shaky foundation left by the previous two installments limits just how good The Rise of Skywalker could be.
While the film doesn’t technically undo the progression The Last Jedi attempted to put in motion, it does take a step back toward the nostalgia-tinged focus of The Force Awakens. This itself is enough to leave The Rise of Skywalker scrambling for a narrative point of view. The film doesn’t fall flat, but neither does it lead Star Wars into the soaring finale it deserves.
Thankfully, The Rise of Skywalker does give the series a neat breaking point. Disney and Lucasfilm aren’t just going to let the cash cow that is Star Wars fade away. We already have The Mandalorian and a few other Disney+ shows on the way. But let’s hope Star Wars films can take an extended breather to recalibrate and then kickstart something unlike anything we’ve ever seen.