Star Wars, The Rise of Skywalker review: Palp Fiction

Foreword:

Back in 2012, in a move I like to call the “Star Wars-aw pact,” Disney purchased Lucasfilms. That, combined with their 2009 acquisition of Marvel, their 2017 ‘merger’ with Fox, and their new expansion into streaming, solidifies their role as our media overlords. Not wanting to go against the establishment, my original instinct was to give this movie a perfect score, along with some description that they could throw on the blu-ray cover, like “courageous,” or “bold,” or “definitely not the worst Star Wars movie.” But I have journalistic integrity, and Disney still hasn’t paid me shit (couldn’t even get an invite to the premiere smh) so as revenge, I’m gonna talk about this movie like I would normally.

You know what they say— the higher they rise, the harder they Skywalker.

 

Premise

 

Were you confused by The Last Jedi? Were your expectations subverted too hard? Were ‘Ruin’ Johnson’s SJW politics too much for you to handle? Fear not, because nothing in that movie mattered. Like, at all. Now shut up and watch space kino.

 

Plot

 

Summary

 

This movie’s first half hour is so rushed and incoherent it makes Cats look like a Sheldon Axler textbook. The film starts with Kylo Ren killing a bunch of guys, then opening a box to get a magic-8 pyramid. He goes over to another planet, where he descends into a big lair to find Emperor Palpatine, being kept alive by a series of tubes. Palpatine explains that he had been the various voices Ren heard throughout his life (including Snoke), and refers to himself as Kylo’s ‘pen-palpatine,’ before turning to the camera and laughing for four consecutive minutes. Palpatine instructs Kylo to kill Rey and gifts him a giant fleet of ships, firepower meant to establish what he refers to as the “Final Order” (except there had only been one Order up to this point, so I guess it’s only really the Second Order? Whatever). 

 

On the Millenium Falcon, Poe, Finn, and Chewie get ambushed by a fleet of First Order ships. They hyperjump to like 18 different planets before making it out safely. 

 

On a jungle planet, Rey does some cool parkour while Leia watches and claps. Rey gets ForceTimed by Kylo, who tells her that Palpatine exists and he’s coming to find her. Rey takes Poe, Finn, Chewbacca, and droids to Burning Man, where they meet Lando for five seconds. 

While getting chased down by Storm Troopers, Rey finds the ship she was looking for. The squad ends up in quicksand, which deposits them into an underground system of caverns. They find a cool knife, Rey heals a snake, and they make it to the ship.

 

Kylo Ren shows up and drives his space-flying thingy at Rey really fast. She does a sick backflip over it, then cuts off his spoiler with her lightstick. Kylo, mad about his insurance premiums, exits the vehicle and stares Rey down. During the showdown, Chewie gets captured somehow. Rey, seeing the ship carrying Chewie fly away, uses her force powers to hold it back. She ends up accidentally taking down the ship with force lightning, while Kylo jacks off, watching her from a distance. 

 

Poe decides they need tech support, and they go to find his old IT guy on a different planet. [Guy] hacks into C-3PO’s memory, allowing them to translate the writing on the knife they found. The First Order ship shows up, and Rey senses that Chewie is alive (somehow) on board. They sneak onto the ship; Rey goes off to Kylo’s layer, while the rest of them get captured. Poe and Finn are about to be executed by firing squad, but General Hux betrays the First Order, allowing them to escape. Kylo tells Rey that Palpatine is her grandfather, prompting her to run away and leave with her friends. 

 

Rey finds the remnants of the original Death Star, and goes on board to find Palpatine’s coordinates. Ren shows up and the two have a long fight— Kylo attains the upper hand, but gets distracted by a call from his mom. Rey takes the opportunity to stab him in the chest, which also somehow kills Leia, but then uses force powers to revive him (but not Leia, she’s still dead). Rey leaves, while Kylo looks sad (and is also jacking off). 

 

Rey comes to Luke’s planet, where she attempts to enter retirement. Ghost Luke tells her that Jedi social security has been cut, and that she has to keep working. She takes Luke’s X-Wing to Palpatine’s layer, where he greets her warmly (or as warmly as an evil, decaying corpse can). He asks her to euthanize him and take on the spirits of the various Sith lords herself. Kylo Ren shows up, and the two attempt to fight Palpatine together.

 

Meanwhile, Resistance fighters show up to destroy Palpatine’s fleet. They manage to knock out a few ships, but take heavy casualties. Just as the last remnants of the Resistance are about to be destroyed, Lando-recruited reinforcements appear and even the fight. In his lair, Palpatine sucks the life force from Rey and Kylo, becoming extremely powerful in the process. Palpatine uses force lightning to disable all of the resistance ships, which begin going down. 

 

Rey uses her lightsabers to reflect Palpatine’s force lightning, killing him. This knocks her out, but Kylo Ren shows up, offering his own life force to revive her. The two kiss for five seconds, and Kylo vanishes into the ether. The resistance celebrates a successful victory over the First Order, while Rey goes off to Tatooine to get her adoption papers signed by Luke and Leia’s ghosts. The newly formed space government institutes Jedi universal basic income, and everyone lives happily ever after. 

 

Comments

 

This movie’s narrative feels like a video game. Every scene that isn’t 5 seconds long has the same exact structure:

 

  • A character comes to some new environment (per establishing shot). 
  • They enter the place, and need to find their way to a thing
  • They find the thing that they’re looking for, right as enemies show up
  • They defeat the enemies and go on to the next place (sometimes there’s a boss fight!)

 

Even the exposition feels like it’s being done in cutscenes. This movie barely has a plot— it trades narrative development for setpieces. Even the few minor events are just continuations or resolutions to subplots that were set up in previous movies. The couple of new characters that are introduced show up out of nowhere, help the protagonists achieve a task, and then disappear, only to show up again in the climax. 

 

This movie also kind of proves that Disney lost its ability to innovate. They’re so creatively bankrupt that they literally reused the same villain from the last two Star Wars trilogies. The Palpatine clone thing also raises a bunch of dumb questions about the chronology of the series, which I guess Disney probably doesn’t care about given the unilateral dismissal of the Star Wars expanded universe. Then again, I guess I don’t really care either. 

 

Themes (or lack thereof)

 

Going back to my review of The Last Jedi for a moment: while I didn’t love the movie (I mean, it is still Star Wars), my biggest gripes had to do with all the undeveloped potential. For its several questionable narrative choices, TLJ offered glimpses of some of the most unique themes in any Star Wars movie. And while the film itself didn’t carry much of that to fruition, it at least set up the potential for some interesting directions to take the sequel. 

 

And then JJ Abrams came back.

 

The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t just efface the conceptual ventures of its predecessor— it eradicates hope of Star Wars having any depth. Nothing changes, no one learns anything, no progress is made. The closest thing this movie has to character development is fan service, and even Kylo’s resolution to help Rey is functionally just OT plagiarism, combined with the implicit fear of being a disappointment to his ghost father. I don’t care if Rey converted him to the light side through demonstrations of compassion, I don’t care if the two were ‘actually in love,’ neither of those things adds anything new to Star Wars

 

The essential, immutable balance between the Sith and Jedi? Fuck it, just kill Palpatine. Luke’s disillusionment with the Jedi cause and retreat to isolation? Nope, he was wrong. Look at him use the force again!!!

 

The only things this movie even attempts to revise are the actual uses of the Force, which aren’t even that creative. I guess Palpatine does lightning, but bigger? And Rey can heal people sometimes? And they can jump really high? Speaking of Force users… 

 

Characters

 

Remember when The Force Awakens came out, and everyone was like “oh Rey is obviously Luke’s daughter,” and then The Last Jedi came out, and Rian Johnson was like “nah”? Remember how the idea of force sensitivity being genetic was questioned in that one scene where the kid telekinetically picks up a broom? Remember when, for the first time since the midichlorians bullshit, Star Wars actually tried to do something interesting with the genealogy of the Force? 

 

Get fucked, idiots, Rey is Palpatine’s granddaughter. 

 

In addition to this having really questionable repercussions for the Star Wars canon (Palpatine got sum fuk) this basically perpetuates one of the series’ biggest narrative flaws: everyone important is related to each other. Even free from the clutches of George Lucas, Disney still can’t seem to write a protagonist with no relation to established characters. Not only does this mean the franchise has almost zero potential for growth, it makes the whole thing feel incredibly small.

 

I guess it is sort of implied that Finn and some of the other stormtroopers are force sensitive, meaning that (hypothetically), Disney could make some Star Wars spinoff story with any number of characters. The problem is, between the new trilogy, the two spin-off movies, and even their stupid TV shows (yes, I watched some of the Mandalorian) they don’t seem to have any interest in doing so.

 

This movie, and by extension, the two preceding entries in the trilogy, are essentially just poor imitations of the original films, with little added. Even the new characters, independent of the Skywalker and Palpatine dynasties, do basically nothing. The way Star Wars is set up, it seems the only individuals capable of accomplishing anything are Force users. Everyone else is just along for the ride.

 

I can’t give any more granular attention to characters because of how rushed this movie is. Most of the screen time is devoted to action, and all the slower sequences are just comprised of Rey, Kylo and Palpatine. Hux gets shot almost immediately, C-3PO gets his memory wiped (and then restored later), Finn is just there to pine after Rey. I guess we learn that Poe had an ex-girlfriend and dealt drugs, neither of which is surprising or interesting. Rose, despite being a pretty good character, just straight-up gets written out of the movie. We don’t even get to see the fucking Force ghosts that guide Rey in her fight against Palpatine. 

 

So I guess what I’m saying is… Disney should put more Force diversity in their space adventure flicks.

 

Cinematography

 

This movie, particularly the first half, had some of the most frenetic editing I’ve seen in a blockbuster of this caliber. There were so many goddamn cuts. For some reason, they were either unwilling or unable to use one shot for more than a few seconds before switching to something else. There was one point where Rey is talking to Poe, and there’s like a shot-reverse-shot that’s interspersed with a wide two-shot and another lower angle and also like a medium shot off to the side? There was somewhere on the order of a dozen cuts, and this was all for maybe a two minute scene. I guess they just hired the world’s most indecisive DP? Man had more cameras set up than the government of [country I cannot name for fear of losing foreign box office revenue].

 

For all the material they shot for The Rise of Skywalker, it seemed much of went unused, old Carrie Fisher footage taking its place. I’m not entirely sure why they decided to write her into this movie so heavily, when it meant having to edit around constrained footage with tons of continuity errors, but I guess Disney’s response to tragically early deaths of actors is exploiting their likeness for profit. And don’t hit me back with the “it was a tribute in her honor!!!!” when Leia spends half the movie as a corpse under a blanket tucked to the side of the frame. 

 

Sound

 

John Williams good. That’s all, thank you.

 

Conclusion

 

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker might not be the worst movie that Disney put out in the past few years, but it’s certainly one of the dumbest. This is anodyne filmmaking at its worst: appeasing critics of even the most minute revisions while providing nothing of substance or value. Even on the spectrum of schlock this movie fails to deliver coherent action or the bare minimum of plot. Its only redeeming quality as a Star Wars film is that it’s (hopefully) the last one. 

 

(I was gonna write a conclusion that wasn’t so mean, but then I remembered Palpatine telling me to “do it.” Thanks P-dog) 

 

Good for: A now-vindicated Rian Johnson (and everyone involved in making the The Last Jedi)

 

Bad for: Rian Johnson (and everyone involved in making the The Last Jedi), who still got too much hate

 

3.3/8

 

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