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Review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a cataclysmic mess

Star Wars is one of the biggest franchises of all-time and after 40+ years, we’ve finally reached the end… for the third time. The third and allegedly final trilogy concludes with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker which is honestly a disjointed and convoluted mess.

This movie is like when you’re in math class in high school and you get an overly complicated word problem. You’re sitting there trying to break it down but you end up just making yourself more confused and you whisper to yourself “What the fuck are you talking about?”

This movie’s plot is so unbelievably overstuffed, a Thanksgiving turkey would look upon it in envy. One year after the events of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren has discovered the Emperor has been quietly operating in the shadows and gives Kylo the tools to build “The Final Order”, a stronger version of The First Order.

Rey has been training in the Jedi ways, preparing herself for whatever comes next. Once the Resistance finds out about the existence of the Emperor, Rey and the usual band of heroes set out to track him down so they can end this war once and for all.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

It sounds relatively simple but they go so far out of their way to overcomplicate everything. There are an ungodly amount of MacGuffins, they feel this need to answer every single possible question you could ever have (even if the question has already been answered in a prior movie), and add in things that never needed to happen.

For a series that has proven that it can really elevate itself beyond the sci-fi genre, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker crumbles in on itself. It’s the kind of movie that feels like every major story beat is being rattled off by a child trying to recount the movie by saying “And then, and then, and then…”. Writer and director J.J. Abrams gave us a pretty strong start to this trilogy with The Force Awakens and has proven many times with other films he has talent.

The Rise of Skywalker shows him at his weakest, probably because he had less than a year to write this thing before going into production. There are at least three different plot devices in this movie that keep the story moving at a breakneck pace but they get them so quickly and throw them away just as fast.

Nothing feels organic about the progression of this story as it’s all connected by random devices that point you in certain directions or characters saying “Now you need to go here!” There’s even a point in the story where Rey just conveniently finds a duplicate of an item that was destroyed. Granted, it is somewhat set-up but the way she finds it is no problem for her at all.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

While I love Rey’s character in The Rise of Skywalker, she also just pulls force powers out of nowhere. Sometimes it’s just as surprising for her as it is for us and it makes sense, sometimes it’s just a guess and like she just wills this ability into existence so she can conveniently use it later in the film.

Things like Chewie’s crossbow being incredibly powerful were set up in Star Wars: The Force Awakens so they could have a meaningful payoff. You didn’t realize it was set-up as you were watching but then when Kylo Ren gets shot with it later, you understand why Rey can fight him without getting whooped.

Every time something has any chance of being some sort of set-up, you can tell just how they’re going to use it later. It feels like the movie treats the audience with an incredible amount of disrespect, making you think the writers believe we’re all really stupid… or maybe they just think they’re super clever and they’re the ones with a lack of brain cells.

Even when you put aside the incredibly convenient and convoluted plot, The Rise of Skywalker feels like it lacks confidence in itself. It seems scared to commit to any choice too big, bold, or interesting. Abrams does some insane stuff that made me go “Oh my god, that’s fantastic and I can’t believe they’re doing this” but then they walk it back five minutes later. Nothing has permanence. Characters face no consequences for their actions.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Abrams seems to think they can have the best of both worlds by going for certain key story beats and then reversing them. A character has a huge, impactful death? What a wonderful risk that is paying off with a truly visceral emotional response from the audience. J.J. Abrams then says ok, we got you to feel something, now we’re going to tell you what you felt was for nothing and what we did didn’t even actually happen. You have been fooled, you fool.

It cheapens every big moment because no one has the balls to stick to what would actually be interesting. Instead, we’re forced to just stick to what we know or what is largely predictable. This wouldn’t be as big of a deal if they didn’t literally tease us with major narrative shifts in the actual movie.

Outside of Rey and Kylo Ren who are the central characters, the writing for every other character feels like it abandons anything resembling what makes a character the definition of a character. Everyone is just a vehicle for this incredibly clumsy story, in service of driving forward with no time to really let big moments breathe.

While it’s great seeing everyone interact and the chemistry between the actors is electric, no one feels defined. Poe’s arc from The Last Jedi where he learns not to be wreckless is forgotten as he risks the few remaining people he has left on a suicide mission.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Finn has a very interesting connection to his Stormtrooper origins that could make for an incredibly compelling side-story but they don’t delve into it beyond one very brief scene. It’s again another issue of Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio not going anywhere with what they have. It’s not even risky material, they simply don’t continue to flesh out characters people already love.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker believes what people love is what they’ve already seen and not building off the things that we love. That results in seeing callbacks and homages that they literally did in the last movie, they’re scraping the bottom of the barrel in such a way that they can’t even find new ways to trigger your nostalgia.

The Verdict

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is an incredibly safe and uninspired movie that sticks to the status quo of a franchise that is over 40 years old. We are permanently stuck with the same shit over and over again, only now it’s from people who were just kids when they originally saw Star Wars so they’re left trying to poorly emulate what they thought was great.

When Star Wars began, it didn’t have anything to look back on. It had to define itself and build those iconic moments from nothing. Now the series is trying desperately to cash in on those moments, making the majority of the big moments from these new movies center around something you saw when you were a child.

Instead of taking the next step for Star Wars, we’re just in this circle that is inescapable. While there are some books, games, and TV shows doing interesting things, the main films feel so beholden to what we’ve already known and seen regurgitated by pop culture for decades.