This is a review, it’s possible that there is something in here you might consider a spoiler. I don’t think there are any spoilers here, but just what a spoiler is varies.
Many of us grew up with Star Wars. I saw the original film in the summer of 1977 at a drive-in movie theater. I don’t remember much about it other than some Tie-fighters blowing up, but I knew it was cool. I was four years old. The Empire Strikes Back was released three years later, I was seven, I got a bunch of Star Wars toys the following Christmas. Return of the Jedi was the first movie I saw more than once at a theater. I saw it three times, I was ten and thought I had figured out the complexities of the Force.
Star Wars made a huge impression on me as a child because there was nothing else like it. I don’t remember any other big budget sci-fi-adventure movies being released in the 1980’s (or 1970’s), and I don’t really remember anything like Star Wars following in its wake until George Lucas resurrected the franchise in 1999 with The Phantom Menace. Like many other people in 1999 I didn’t like The Phantom Menace very much, but that’s probably to be expected, I was 26. Leaving that film with a friend of mine all he could find to say to me was “well, it was a Star Wars film.” I think his judgement remains spot on.
I don’t know very many people who liked 2002’s Attack of the Clones either. There are parts of it I find interesting, but it’s mostly forgettable. I have lots of friends who dislike Revenge of the Sith, oddly it might be my favorite Star Wars movie (but it’s not the best one, that’s Empire). It’s a clumsy film, with wooden dialogue, and not much chemistry between some of the protagonists; also the Jedi look like idiots, but I still love the movie anyways.
Ten years passed between the prequel movies and 2015’s The Force Awakens. I’d like to tell you that I enjoyed that film, but it was simply a rehash of the original Star Wars. It had better special effects, a more diverse cast (yay!), and lots of lens flares, but story wise it was something most of us had already seen. There were things in it that could have eventually become interesting, but those were never really explored in its sequels.
The second installment in the latest Star Wars “trilogy” might be the most divisive Star Wars movie. Lots of people hated The Last Jedi because it broke some of the unwritten rules of Star Wars. I liked it for just that reason. Before going to see it my wife said to me, “you are just going to be disappointed, because that’s how you feel about Star Wars movies now.” When we left I told her that wasn’t the case because The Last Jedi had surprised me. I like being surprised.
Last Jedi is thirty minutes too long and it felt weird to me that a once robust resistance to the First Order bad guys had been reduced to about 100 people completely off screen. (The good guys apparently lost a lot between the two movies, but Disney decided that wasn’t a story worth telling.) But I appreciated its ambition, and willingness to try new things. I’m not sure the story in that movie was all that great, but I liked that it did things I had never seen in the Star Wars universe before.
When planning a trilogy it’s usually wise to plot out all three acts of the trilogy, but that’s not what happened in this current batch of Star Wars films, and it shows. Say what you want about George Lucas, he had a story to tell and he told it his way. He didn’t always do a good job of telling that story (especially with the prequels) but his stories had a beginning point, a middle, and an end. This current Star Wars trilogy has none of those things.
J.J. Abrams directed both The Force Awakens and this year’s Rise of Skywalker, he also had a hand in writing both films. Rain Johnson was the sole writer and director of The Last Jedi. Johnson’s inclination with Star Wars was to try new things and to craft something unique. Abrams likes to stick to the hits, and replay most of the major Star Wars beats over and over. He also love McGuffins (stupid nonsensical clues that take characters from point A to point B), and his Star Wars films are full of what should be interesting characters flailing around trying to find hidden messages from Luke Skywalker.
Other than featuring several of the same characters from the first two movies in this “trilogy” The Rise of Skywalker is mostly set in an entirely different universe. Apparently there wasn’t a good enough bad guy in the previous installments, so Emperor Palpatine is brought back from the dead, again off screen, and it’s all just in the opening crawler. There’s a hunt for some more McGuffins, there’s tension, and then much of what was in The Last Jedi (including certain characters, we missed you Rose!) is simply washed away. You could skip the second installment in this “trilogy” because Abrams ignores it in his new film.
Did I hate The Rise of Skywalker? Not completely. The score is great, it’s a beautiful film, and I like Rey, Finn, and Poe (and the actors who play them do a fine job). The movie moves briskly, and once the first hour is out of the way it’s mostly entertaining. Maybe if this film had opened our current sequence of Star Wars films (the Emperor coming back to life feels like a pretty big deal to just spring on you in the third act) they would have found a story worth telling. And that’s the thing, there was never much of a story to tell in any of these films.
It’s weird that Disney, which has masterfully orchestrated twenty plus movies in the Marvel Movie Universe, can’t figure out how to make three f’ing Star Wars movies fit together. When they bring Star Wars back in another five years and try to do another trilogy, I hope they actually start with a story, one that moves from A to B to C in a way that makes some sort of sense. It’s fun reliving the hits again and again (thanks JJ!), but without new experiences, it all feels just a little bit empty.
If you love Star Wars, you’ll enjoy The Rise of Skywalker, but it’s unlikely you’ll remember it next Yuletide.
Jason’s Ranks the Star Wars Movies From Best to Worst
Empire Strikes Back
The Last Jedi
Revenge of the Sith
A New Hope
Return of the Jedi
Rise of Skywalker
Attack of the Clones
The Force Awakens
The Phantom Menace