1977. A New Hope. The beginning of a story that would span a lifetime. A story that would change the meaning of Science Fiction. A story that would garner fans the world over and create a level of fandom never seen before or since, for better or worse…
We hear the word finale a lot these days. Season finale, series finale, the grand finale of Beethoven’s ninth symphony. Ok maybe not the last one but still, it’s one of those words that has lost some of its heft in recent years. Finales are a part of modern life. With half a dozen streaming giants vying for space in our monthly budgets and show after show dropping 10 hours of content at a time, we’re never bereft of something to watch and so the next finale fix is never far far away. But this is Star Wars… and that is something else entirely. Or at least… it should be.
As the 9th film in the saga, The Rise Of Skywalker had a lot to live up to. No one’s saying it’s 8 predecessors were perfect, some were downright terrible in fact, but this was the chance to make all of it right, to restore the franchise to its once delightfully dizzying heights. So it makes sense to bring J. J. Abrams back on board. He’d already redeemed the sins of the prequels with The Force Awakens and in doing so earned back the trust of even the most hardcore Star Wars fans. Faith was restored. Sadly, it seems that faith was misplaced.
I won’t mince my words here – this film was a profound failure. It wasn’t just a drop-off in quality or a couple of unsatisfying character arcs, it was a complete deterioration in coherence, consistency and rationality, all of which were present and correct in the previous two installments. Say what you like about The Last Jedi, at least it made a degree of sense. At least Rian Johnson committed to his decisions and used the creative freedom given to him to make some bold choices that we didn’t see coming. Which is more than can be said for this. TROS flirts with interesting ideas such as Dark Rey but backs out at the last minute, leaving us feeling cheated and confused. It follows a painfully predictable story arc, telegraphing every beat so we are never challenged or surprised. It’s worst crime however, is how it ret-cons TLJ to the point where it may as well not exist. Now I know TLJ was a divisive film and so a little ret-conning can go a long way if it is considered and done right but frankly, this film plays as if they were making it up as they went along.
It wasn’t as if they had nothing to work with, Johnson’s film was self-contained yes, but there was plenty of fertile ground to cultivate if Abrams and Kennedy would have taken what was left and ran with it. Instead they chose to ignore it and plow an entirely new field. Whatever the reasons behind their refusal to accept Johnson’s canon (a more cynical person than I might suggest the masses of entitled fanboys who crucify anything that doesn’t give them exactly what they want) the fact remains, that decision, resulted in a convoluted, messy, nonsensical film and it simply didn’t have to be.
With that said, it wasn’t a complete disaster and this film has some redeeming qualities, we did give this 2.5 stars after all. Of course John Williams delivers some glorious melodies toying around with the famous motifs we’ve come to know so well, such as the half-speed version of the main theme in <em>that</em> trailer – Phwoar. Personally I thought they missed a trick not using it in the film itself. It probably goes without saying that the spectacle was there. With the amount of money poured into these films, we expect to see things we haven’t before and in that respect we got some lovely treats. A thousand Star Destroyers rising from the ice, space horses, a light-saber battle atop a downed shard of Death Star. It had visual moments no question, but do such moments lose their weight somewhat when the story surrounding them is weak? For me its a yes but maybe you see it differently.
Luckily, the sequel trilogy has had an outstanding cast from the get go and it’s from them we get the best parts of the film. The first act is joyous. The crew is all together, (Poe, Finn, Rey and Chewy) and we get to see them jaunting about the galaxy getting into all kinds of trouble. It’s reminiscent of the glory days and the nostalgia is palpable but they still retain their pre-established banter and unique paradigm so it’s not just openly mimicking the originals.
The performances from the core cast are as strong as you’d expect. Driver and Ridley handle the emotional heavy lifting well and it’s the scenes between them that lie at the core of this film. If it weren’t for a few key moments between Ben and Rey, this film would have no emotional punch whatsoever. Driver is sometimes accused of ‘phoning-it-in’ for the Star Wars films but he delivers the performance of the trilogy for me. Mark Hamill and the late Carrie Fisher reprise their iconic roles as Luke and Leia. Hamill’s time in the spotlight is brief (and a bit weird) but it was good to see him back. Fisher’s scenes, on the other hand, were pretty incoherent due to the fact they were unable to finish filming before she passed. The use of random scraps of left-over dialogue from TLJ to give her as much screen time as possible probably wasn’t the most tasteful solution. Perhaps a gracious, off-screen death for Leia would’ve been a more appropriate way for her to leave the franchise? Kelly Marie Tran’s character Rose was criminally and inexplicably under-used after delivering a great performance the previous film. She may as well have been cut from TROS altogether. Not to mention the constant peppering of utterly unnecessary new characters and expecting us to have any emotional allegiance to them (with the exception of Babu Frik).
Ruling – Regrettably, it’s the worst of the sequels. By quite a margin. A bum note at the end of a legendary space opera. Had they taken what Rian Johnson had left them with and tried to make something out of it, would it have been a better film? We’ll never know… but also yes. Choosing an alternative approach isn’t inherently a bad call but if you’re going to do it, don’t be so lazy about it (for those of you who’ve seen the film you’ll know what I’m eluding to). In the end, unsound foundations make it impossible to build something great and this film, at its most fundamental level, was flawed. Consequently, it left me feeling deflated when it could, and should, have left me elated.