Dir. J.J. Abrams. Starring Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega
There are spoilers, but can you spoil something that was already rotten? Ha! Ha! Ha!
This would be a bad movie even if The Last Jedi had never existed, one reliant on lame screenwriting, quests which are urgent but never important, and a centrist distaste for bloodletting. (You know the type: as long as we don’t see the horror in someone’s face when they go or know their names, killing them with drones is no skin off their teeth.) The screenwriting is worse than anything Natalie Portman or Hayden Christiansen ever had to say. One weird trick is to repeat the same thing in different tones in the hopes that we’ll laugh (“They fly now”); another is to repeat the same ideas over and over again just in case we were on our phones, and to repeat them in the blandest, high school athlete way possible. Gotta say, my favorite is definitely just having someone say the emotion we’re supposed to be feeling. Shoutout to the tiny conical-headed robot who says things like “Happy” or “Sad” when things are, alternately, happy or sad. The robot was voiced, I kid you not, by J.J. Abrams. Irony is dead.
The feeling I had in the first twenty minutes or so was that this movie was veering dangerously toward a different word: unwatchable. The movie it reminded me of most was Crash. (The Best Picture winner, not the good one.) Overstuffed, filled to the brim with characters and actions and stupid ideas, and all of it supposedly with such meaning and feeling behind it which is supposed to fill me with feeling, too. I watched The Rise of Skywalker from behind my hands the way preteens watch the latest haunted doll horror movie. A vague idea is not interesting simply because you can plop your own thoughts on top of it. It’s not over till it’s over! We have to fight for what we believe in! Good and friendships and family (oh that word) against evil and darkness and unlimited power. The ideas are so undefined that it’s hard not to roll your eyes every time someone gives the “We have to hang together” speech, which I think happened at least three times, and honestly it might have happened more than that.
The fact that The Last Jedi exists means that on top of this being a bad movie, it’s a bad movie directed by the world’s fussiest baby. Kylo Ren’s stupid helmet is reassembled. Rey tries to throw away Luke’s lightsaber and Luke’s ghost prevents its destruction. Rey is revealed to be a descendant of Emperor Palpatine, who is not dead, because what happened to him in Return of the Jedi probably wouldn’t have killed someone, now that I think of it. It is not enough that every interesting idea, the first interesting ideas that anyone has had in a Star Wars movie since the early 1980s, are done away with. They must be actively counteracted; we must be reeducated by reactionary elements and be told that what has happened is undone. But not the parts where Rey (Ridley) and, sigh, “Kylo Ren” (Adam Driver) communicate over vast distances through the Force. That was cool and we need to keep that part, but the rest of it, nooo, that’s double-plus ungood. This says nothing of how much of the last ten minutes of Rise of Skywalker is actively indebted to the other Star Wars movies, including the terrible new ending for Return of the Jedi in which people cheer on multiple worlds. Or how Abrams takes the holiness of that shot with the two suns and then tries to pass off Lucas’ art as his own homework.
Abrams also appears to have taken an unironic cue from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Remember that part where Harry’s in the hospital and Gay Perry shows up and neither one of them is dead, even though they should both be dead, and then Harry’s like, “I mean, shit, why not bring ’em all back?” and then everyone who’s died in this movie plus Abraham Lincoln shows up in Harry’s hospital room? Yeah, no one can die unless you watch them die, and even then it’s not clear they’re actually dead. Nothing matters in Rise of Skywalker, a movie with stakes that are so impossibly high that they feel invariably silly. Now instead of having a big ol’ Death Star which can only blow up one planet at a time, every Star Destroyer has a Death Star weapon attached to its tummy. However, all these Star Destroyers were underwater for a while and now they’re just sitting in the atmosphere of a secret planet, where their shields don’t work for whatever reason, and this means the good guys have a chance to blow up the Star Destroyers the old-fashioned way, with lasers and cool lights and piloting, or whatever. We know all this is out there because a little triangular prism with a green dot and a funny knife with writing on it have led us to this point. The Rise of Skywalker might have made a decent video game, but nowadays video games require some kind of emotional buy-in that this movie can’t summon up.
If this movie is anything, it’s a monument to inadequacy. An inadequate story. Inadequate screenplay. Inadequate, insultingly one-dimensional cinematography. Inadequate characterization, with the good actors (Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac) visually struggling to say ridiculous stuff, the middling (John Boyega) shouting, and the old (Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams, Carrie Fisher) smilin’ through. Inadequate ideas. And most of all, filmmakers inadequate to the task, hoping that enough noise and bother will satisfy as an ending. Is this the end of the “Skywalker saga?” God, I hope so.