Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
I never thought I would find myself so alone in appreciating Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I know that in reality people who like movies got it. Rian Johnson was trying to breathe new life into a franchise that was quickly beginning to repeat itself and live off the nostalgia of when it was better. The problem was that there had been an entire prequel trilogy by George Lucas that had, in many ways, ruined the faith of fans, and it had gone beyond nostalgia to just trying to get the feeling of the original universe to return. In some ways The Force Awakens did that, but it did rely heavily on bringing back old characters and themes.
The Last Jedi instead gave us a number of things to consider: the weight that Luke Skywalker carried on his conscience due to his failures, the idea that lineage didn't necessarily determine destiny and the fact that heroes could be fallible. We got more of a sense of how big the Galaxy was, something that Rogue One and Solo succeeded in doing and which The Mandalorian is currently making clear as well. During the original rebellion it took the destruction of Alderaan and to truly wake up much of the Galaxy to the fact they just couldn't keep their heads down and hope the Empire would leave them alone, and it becomes clear in The Last Jedi that the Resistance was an even harder sell. The New Republic never achieved the same glory as its predecessor, and the battle between the Resistance and the First Order was treated as something not worth the time of day to most planets.
Colin Trevorrow, before being fired (or leaving), had Rey and company going up against a 7000-year-old Sith Lord that would be behind the whole thing. It was largely hinted that the remainder of the Resistance was on its own and would solve the Galaxy's problems with or without everyone else behind them. It was a bleak vision but, ultimately, would lead to victory for the side of light. What we got instead was J. J. Abrams returning to direct and a completely different script that threw out almost all of Trevorrow's ideas and also sabotaged everything that had happened in The Last Jedi.
The remainder of the Resistance is sitting around on a remote forested planet while Leia (Carrie Fisher) trains Rey (Daisy Ridley) in the ways of the Jedi. The Galaxy has recently been shaken by a broadcast from Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who it turns out survived the destruction of the second Death Star and fled to the Sith homeworld of Exegol. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) follows the signal and finds the Palpatine, who offers him an undefeatable fleet of ships called the Final Order and informs Ren that he will be the new Emperor. Only thing he has to do is kill Rey.
Ren, rather than wanting to kill Rey, would prefer to turn her to the Dark Side, something that Rey is afraid may happen with or without him. However, it is important that they find Exegol, and the search is on for her, Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and BB8 to locate a Sith Wayfinder that will lead them to Exegol for a final confrontation with Palpatine and the remainder of the Empire.
One of the few good things about The Rise of Skywalker is that it doesn't have the horrible dialogue of the prequels. That makes it slightly more watchable. On the other hand, as badly written as they were, I could at least sense that George Lucas was trying for something, even if he never reaches it. It's a failure, but it's a magnificent one speckled with good parts that people like Jon Favreau and David Filoni were ahle to salvage and build a satisfying extended universe that makes up for the faults. The Rise of Skywalker, for all its visual beauty in places, is as hollow as any DC or Marvel film. It is the perfect example of bland, Disney-approved entertainment, which manages to offend everyone by attempting to offend no one.
Rian Johnson was not afraid of taking chances despite the blowback from the more toxic element of Star Wars fandom. In an industry that currently pushes inclusiveness to ridiculous levels one would have thought that the last thing J. J. Abrams would do is capitulate to the worst of the complainers, but that he does. Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) was called unattractive, fat, annoying and useless - and so was Tran herself, so much that she had to leave social media for awhile. Does Abrams and Disney throw it back in the faces of the trolls? No, they make Tico's part in The Rise of Skywalker little more than a cheerleader for Finn, and completely dump the budding romance between them. It's a glorified cameo, as if validating the worst of the fanboys and telling Tran (although she is neither), "That's what you get for being fat and unattractive." It's a message that screams louder than any of the ham-fisted attempts to push Rey as a strong, independent woman.
Speaking of Rey, part of the appeal at the end of The Last Jedi was that her parents were no one special. They sold her into semi-slavery and left, but she becomes one of the most powerful force users in the Galaxy. While the term "Mary Sue" was thrown around - largely by those who don't understand what the term means - it underscored the fact that anyone can emerge from nothing and do wonderful things. While Rey was never the most developed character, especially for someone who was supposed to be the lead protagonist over three movies, at least this gave her purpose and motivation. That is all thrown out by giving her famous parentage (no, it is not Skywalkers like everyone guessed, but it's still a cheat in the end) and, in the process, giving her no real reason to exist as an independent person. She is instead no more than a tool that has been manipulated into a situation. It doesn't help that Daisy Ridley herself seems to have given up on the character and has slipped into challenging Kristen Stewart on who can hold a blank look for the longest through a movie.
The only person we get more background on (at least where it matters) is Poe, and it is too little, too late; there was a chance of Oscar Isaac's character becoming the next Han Solo despite the mistakes he makes in The Last Jedi, but Abrams blew it. We get a new character named Zorii Bliss played by Keri Russell who, despite looking like a Power Ranger, threatens to get interesting if there had only been more time with her. Same with Jannah (Naomi Ackle), the leader of a group of First Order Stormtroopers who rebelled and then took refuge on the moon of Kif Bek, another one of the satellites of the planet Endor, particularly after her conversation with Lando Calrissean (Billy Dee Williams) at the end. Carrie Fisher's daughter Billie Lourde is given a small part, but it seems like whenever she speaks that they brought her on set for a few minutes, filmed her lines, and she went back to the set for American Horror Story. The cuts are so quick, and there is no real interaction with anyone else. Fisher of course appears through archival footage.
On the First Order side, we finally get a great villain in Allegiant General Pryde (Richard E. Grant), who should have been in the series all along to provide a Grand Moff Tarkin to Ren's low-rent Vader. Adam Driver looks like he wants to be anywhere except in this movie, particularly after any of his quirks that gave him character - largely his childish rages - is gone. Domhnall Gleason is barely there as General Hux, denied any sort of valiant end despite being one of the few officers in the First Order that had an idea of what he was doing. Ian McDiarmid chews the scenery as Palpatine, but the way he's written is just largely a repeat of The Return of the Jedi rather than adding anything useful. He, like Billy De Williams, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, are here mainly with the hope that audiences will gasp or cheer whenever they appear rather than paying attention to what little story there is.
Typically I would be defending this against some of the misconceptions - the healing power of the Force is canon before the movie. There are no "horses in space" (it's clear none of the Star Destroyers are in space at the time), but the creatures were a clever way to get around using speeders, which could have been jammed. The truth is that, even defending the points that are harped on by people who went into the movie to hate it because they were still angry about the last one, there is really no defense for the movie itself. The only part that truly stands out for me in the entire film is the depiction of waves on a low-gravity world with opposing tidal forces. When I am more interested in watching the ocean than I am the rest of the movie then any arguments against people not understanding story telling or what a plot hole actually is becomes a moot point.
Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
Time: 141 minutes
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaacs, Adam Driver, Anthony Daniels, Joonas Suotamo, Ian McDiarmid, Carrie Fisher
Director: J. J. Abrams