Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker Review

Tonight we attended the first showing of Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise Of Skywalker and boy do I have some thoughts. My TL;DR non-spoiler review is that the film isn’t terrible but it’s very disappointing. It was mostly a OK film but then a couple of key decisions ruined it for me. In hindsight, they should have stopped after Episode VIII.

Now for my full review. WARNING: THERE BE SPOILERS BELOW!
THE GOOD
  • This film looks beautiful! Many of the set pieces are spectacular and everything down to the details of individual ships is really well crafted.
  • The score is, of course, outstanding. John Williams really showed up for the final film in the saga.
  • Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley once again acted their faces off. Well done, everyone, but especially them.
  • They did a decent job weaving Leia into the narrative. It was always going to be a tall order to include Leia’s character after Carrie Fisher died – and you can definitely tell that something is “off” in most of the Leia scenes – but I thought they did about as well as one could.
  • Several of the plot points have major potential. Leia’s death, all of the ships showing up to save the Resistance, and Rey’s adoption of the Skywalker name could be very effective if well executed.
THE BAD
  • Unfortunately those plot points are not well executed; they wind up half baked. The ships showing up just in the nick of time, for example, could have been tremendously emotionally powerful in the same way that British private citizens mobilizing ships to evacuate troops from Dunkirk during World War II was very moving. Instead, however, the arrival of the new ships is cheaply glossed over and then quickly abandoned to bounce around to other action sequences.
  • The arrival of these allies combined with a one-on-one fight with a superpowered villain that requires the hero’s mortal sacrifice feels very Avengers: End Game. It even has the same villain-says-taunt-then-hero-responds-with-slightly-tweaked-version-of-same-taunt-as-retort climax. Yawn.
  • The pacing was very uneven. It starts off cramming lots of plot and exposition down the viewer’s throat, jumping from one thing to another to another without giving much time for anything to land. Then it slows way down, then speeds back up. It has the feel of something that was made by committee. They had way too much footage so had to chop out a bunch of stuff in order to reduce the runtime. As such, it just feels like several setpieces strung together by a [very thin] narrative thread.
  • The exposition necessary to connect this jumble of setpieces together is very clunky and, at times, so eye rolling as to pull me out of the movie. Maz stating to the audience that Leia knows what she has to do and is about to give up her life to reach out to Ben is just . . . the worst. Come on, JJ, show don’t tell!
  • The multiple writers and directors attached to this project have resulted in the film being something of a Frankenstein’s monster. JJ’s first Star Wars film, Episode VII, felt much more confidently directed. He had a much more coherent vision, tone, and style in that film than he did in this mish-mash.
  • In fact, the made-by-committee feel is a problem at an even higher level. For a film that is supposed to be the culmination of a trilogy – and even of a nine-film series – this feels much more haphazard. It feels like this film was thrown together trying to wrap up story lines rather than being the end result of a flowing, well thought out road map.
  • The action was underwhelming. It seemed to be more interested in style than substance. Good action tells a story through fight (or flight) choreography but this seemed more interested in lots of jump cuts and strobe lights. That’s disappointing from a series that has generally done very well in this regard.
  • Many of the plot points come from the prequel films or the Star Wars Legends (née Expanded Universe) books. With some few exceptions, these are not the strongest sources for material, often bordering on fanfiction quality. As an example, I don’t really care about the concept of the Sith. It wasn’t in the original trilogy and didn’t make Star Wars the icon it became. That said, exploring the more mystical aspect of the Sith could have been interesting – and this film flirted with it via Palpatine’s acolytes and ritual, but didn’t really deliver.
  • Most of the plot twists were super obvious from a mile out.
  • I didn’t really buy Kylo’s turn back to the light side of the Force; he just kind of flipped a switch. Similarly Rey struggles in the beginning with connecting to her jedi predecessors but then magically achieves this feat during the climax – not because she underwent a journey and transformed but just because . . . plot. In both cases these scenes are very well acted; it’s the script that doesn’t earn the transformation.
  • Hayden Christensen gets a brief voice over toward the end of the film. Boo!
  • Frankly, large swaths of the film are pretty boring and I find my mind wandering.
  • So much unnecessary fan service / easter eggs. Please just tell me an interesting story with compelling characters and stop winking at me!

THE UGLY

  • Bringing Palpatine back was a mistake. He had a good death and we all moved on from him decades ago. He just makes the entire movie feel less serious, almost comical. I would generally prefer not to bring villains back as it reduces the stakes and shrinks the universe. An unhinged Kylo without any father figure to check him would have been a great villain. That said, if you absolutely have to bring back some villain, why not one who had a dissatisfactory death and about whom people would like to learn more? Snoke coming back would make just as much sense as Palpatine and would feel much less goofy. 
  • Retconning Rey to be Palpatine’s granddaughter was really dumb. I loved that Rey was nobody and I think that really is appropriate for the Star Wars mythology: anyone can be a hero, not just purebloods of the Force aristocracy. The reveal was just so hamfisted too, like something on cheap daytime trash TV: “We’ll reveal who the father is after this commercial break!” I literally facepalmed in the theater.
  • I facepalmed too when Rey and Kylo kissed right before he died. Rey was built up during the previous two films to be such a strong female character and I loved that she didn’t have to have a love interest for validation. I understand the “I would love Ben” arc they were going for here but I just didn’t buy it given their infrequent and usually contentious interactions. I thought it cheapened Rey’s arc and I thought Rogue One handled this much better by just having their leads hug at the end.
  • Maybe the worst part of the previous two points is that I suspect they are the result of caving to fan whining. Some fans vocally wanted Rey’s parents to be a thing. Some fans vocally wanted to ship Reylo. In a film that was already brimming with fan service, it was very disappointing to see huge plot/character points be determined by an angry mob. The good news is that fan edits will only need to cut ~10 seconds of total screen time to negate both of those points!
UPDATE: I have seen it a second time and was a little more positive. Unless my opinion changes a great deal, though, I think I am as done with this episode as I am with the prequels. From now on, Star Wars will be Episodes IV – VIII, essentially the story of Luke Skywalker, with some other amazing characters thrown in. And frankly, that’s more than enough.

Published by Bryan Guido Hassin

These are the musings of a global cleantech entrepreneur. This blog began as a way to document my experience during the IMD MBA in Switzerland and now is the place where I publish eclectic thoughts on business, politics, fitness, entertainment, travel, wine, sports, and . . . whatever else is top of mind.

One thought on “Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker Review

  1. In my head I started making a list of plot points that Rise of Skywalker introduced and never paid off:1. What was Finn going to say to Rey?2. The Millennium Falcon landing gear didn't work on the Endor moon. Why? So what?3. Why did Finn chase after Rey to the Death Star wreckage? What was the point? To have him yell her name from afar?4. Why did they bother introducing a single point of failure navigation antenna for the final battle? It was inconsequential to the climax.5. Lando's \”Let's find out\” conversation with Jannah at the end seems so weird and out of place.Bonus: super clunky retcons of Last Jedi:1. \”That Holdo maneuver was a one in a million shot!\” Was it really? Aiming a ship in the general vicinity of a massive capital ship and flying at it at top speed? Seems more like hitting water while falling out of a boat.Chekhov's gun

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