There is something completely understandable and, to an extent, forgivable about the slapdash, lumpy, and largely hollow pieces that shape the narrative of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. There is a distinct feeling, present from the opening scene of The Rise of Skywalker, that J.J. Abrams started this race a lap behind (Abrams was brought on late to the film after Disney parted ways with Colin Trevorrow).
It is a feeling that some higher power, whether it be Abrams or Kathleen Kennedy or whoever, decided to right a ship that had veered away from the mainstream. Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi received a divisive response. The Rise of Skywalker, as such, has a distinct absence of The Last Jedi. Much of the film reads more like a sequel to Abrams The Force Awakens than a third in the trilogy.
For some, this will bring a sigh of relief, as The Rise of Skywalker is not trying, in any order, to challenge franchise traditions or complicate the Skywalker narrative. The film aims to please. For what it’s worth, those emotional appeals to franchise fans are not where the films problems stem. The cast—Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver specifically—sells these moments quite effectively.
However, the narrative linkages which propel these characters to these moments are haphazard and tenuous, and the pace at which the film moves disallows intended emotional moments from holding much weight. The script, which changed hands at least once in the development process, moves rapidly in such a way that the guise of excitement hangs on every scene transition. There is a breathless scurry from beginning to end where characters begin or end most scenes running toward or away from something.
And The Rise of Skywalker is exciting in fits and bursts. Action sequences break out early and often. Most of these sequences are dynamic and visually engaging, if not choppily edited. And the score flourishes again and again, enticing the audience to sit on the edges of their seats.
But this excitement comes off as a thinly veiled illusion, like the curtain hiding the Wizard’s true form in The Wizard of Oz. While the action brings the allure of non-stop, climactic spectacle, the narrative becomes victim to what seems to be rushed destination storytelling. This is to say that the plot moves as a means to an end. The characters sometimes literally stumble upon or fall into the next plot point, and the shoddy connections between plot beats are hidden by the cat-and-mouse chase which drives the whole film.
What comes out of this is a series of scenes that feel randomly strung together as a contrivance to reach the climax—a climax which is, for the most part, staged rather clunky. It is not truly random, but it feels so far from a place of cohesion that some choices feel like studio mandates shoe-horned in wherever possible. Worse still, the narrative and pacing issues occasionally combine to create incoherence. The most baffling instance is when one character, at a crucial point, appears to teleport locations. The resolution of this appears to be an intended reveal, but the film moves so rapidly that it is impossible to truly appreciate the feint.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is by no means an unwatchable film. It is no more rapid and incoherent than Michael Bay’s latest, 6 Underground. There is something to hold onto here, especially if you have been a fan of the new Star Wars trilogy. The climax of this trilogy has emotional resonance. Not to mention that the normative Star Wars staples, embedded in the sound design and score of this franchise, are Pavlovian in their satisfaction. But it is hard to ignore that this is perhaps the least cohesive Star Wars film ever made.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: C
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)