Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

J. J. Abrams does not do endings, period. He has been involved in co-creating multiple TV series (Felicity, Alias, Lost, Fringe, among many, many others) and directing films in three major franchises (Mission Impossible, Star Trek, and this.) In the case of the former he was actively involved in series during the pilot, but eventually checked out of the process, sometimes staying on a couple of seasons but never being involved in the writing, directing or any decisionmaking regarding the series finale. In the case of franchise films his first entries have been either light retooling (Mission Impossible’s) or beginnings of fresh new chapters, like Star Trek, but chapters he finally moved away from. A recurring theme in many of these works are mystery boxes; posing ambiguous questions and presenting mysteries as a way of getting people hooked - while, like his immediate TV predecessors writing the X-Files mythology, having absolutely no idea where those mysteries would or could lead. Whether later creatives could spin gold from all his discarded ideas or subtle clues was not his affair; although Rian Johnson did his level best to apply precisely that in his Star Wars movie. But here he is, for the first time in his career, to provide those answers and that closure himself - immediately demonstrating why he had never tried to do that before.

Things just happen in this movie, and they keep happening. It is as checklist driven as Revenge of the Sith, but where that film was wrestling with telling the story of Vader’s fall and plugging the gaps between it and the original film, here Abrams dances to the need to have things make you remember other things, have moments that juice the nostalgia again and again, step back from narratively or emotionally earning any single response in favour of leadenly trudging through setpieces. He may never had answers for any of his mysteries, but while Rian Johnson tried to turn the absence of meaningful answers into an asset, Abrams prefers to choose narratively meaningless ones, reducing the plot to a vastly expensive exercise in fan fiction that lacks a good fan fiction writer’s sense of world building and character.

All the parts are there, including the winsome cast he assembled for Force Awakens, but listless. There are moments when they rise to an occasion - Adam Driver in particular still gives it his all - but I was just about to repeat a sentence I had already written, which is the kind of exhausting feeling this film engenders. At least they are recognisable though; Rian Johnson’s leftover Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose does not just have drastically reduced screentime, her personality has bled away, the awkwardness and passion that made her a standout now merely a stoic general reacting to situations. Finn gives her a friendly shoulder pat but as if she is a stranger that has been pod personed.

To say this is the worst of the Star Wars films sounds like hyperbole. There have after all been some pretty famously discoursed and dire entries in this series. But even at its worst, Star Wars has been able to throw together engaging action sequences in its third act, like how Attack of the Clones starts in a gladiator pit and expands to a planetary battle. The action sequence here however is muddled and obligatory; as disappointing as the trench run on Starkiller Base but at a much huger scope, greater runtime and thorough annoyance. Here’s an enormous space battle chock full of cameos* and characters, as if the film is nudging me to say this is the thing I like, and I feel like a child at Christmas humouring an adult for buying me the wrong kind of gift. It is the loudest, brashest, most obnoxious film ever to bear the banner of George Lucas’ opus - and, again, its worst. (Some are going to be very bothered at the escalation of force uses in this film, but that part I am very fine with - the force is meant to surprise in these movies, and in a better movie the same application of powers would have worked wonderfully - and even here they have me think of Androcles and the Lion or whatever.)

I cannot even think of anything to say about John Williams’ score. Perhaps played in isolation something will come to me, but his final Star Wars score feels overwhelmed by Abrams’ directorial style (which I also felt a little true of Force Awakens; neither film leans on Williams as much as Lucas had done, which is a shame.) Someday there will be dissections of what the hell went on in the decisionmaking process of this film, but right now I just want to set Star Wars aside for a moment, as the film provokes the question whether I ever loved it at all, or whether I still can after that tumultuous disaster, just as Game of Thrones decline turned me against it, but much more severely. I think of Star Trek: Nemesis, and like there, I really do not want to hate this film. I know these films are for children; I hope children get more out of it than I do, but I wish I had got that too. Well, so it, the force, goes.

*So many cameos! Some very surprising ones. I wish I could be enthusiastic about that. I really do. But here we are.

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