When Disney acquired Lucasfilm from George Lucas it left many questioning what would happen to the much beloved Star Wars franchise. After all, Episode III was supposed to be the last episode, so there was natural fear as to what exactly Disney had in mind. But there was also a sense of — pardon the pun — new hope of sorts for not only a continuing generation but also a new generation of fans to perhaps experience a galaxy far, far away all on their own.
From the beginning, with The Force Awakens, until now with The Rise of Skywalker, there’s been plenty of criticism and plenty to ponder as to whether the company that built theme parks and animated films should be the rightful heirs to the franchise. The Rise of Skywalker seems to answer that. For me personally, I remember leaving The Force Awakens thinking to myself that it was one of the most satisfying theater experiences ever. I left the theater happy that I was back in a universe that I loved and grew up with as a kid, one that was before the prequel trilogy that left a bad taste in my mouth after they were over. The Rise of Skywalker didn’t quite do that for me but to say that it wasn’t a wildly fun installment into one of the most beloved franchises in cinema history would be ludicrous.
J.J. Abrams, who directed The Force Awakens, came back for this one and it seemed like a move in the right direction, even though it left many to wonder why he wasn’t the choice for the entire trilogy? Rian Johnson had his say-so in The Last Jedi, while Colin Trevorrow, who directed Jurassic World, was originally scheduled for the final installment but after the much conflicted feelings about The Last Jedi, Disney went back to Abrams to presumably right the ship.
What Abrams did right with The Force Awakens was bring back the original trilogy feelings — and he does it again in The Rise of Skywalker. Sure, he used a lot of the same tropes and ideas that worked in 1977 from the original in The Force Awakens, but the beautiful part about all of it was that it still worked. From the jump in The Last Jedi, it felt off with the overly-done, out of place humor, coupled with some rather ambitious, risky direction overall.
But as soon as The Rise of Skywalker begins, you feel right back at home in the Star Wars universe. Sure, it plays it safe as it tries to answer and please as many people as it possibly could, but I just don’t see how that’s a bad thing necessarily. We’ve seen before what taking Star Wars in a different direction can do, like what Lucas did with his prequel trilogy and what Johnson tried in The Last Jedi. It didn’t work either time.
Lucas’ was filled with overly-done CGI that he plastered across the entire three films because the technology back in 1999 had grown by leaps and bounds. It was also filled with less than stellar stories placated by political jargon and less action at times. Johnson, on the other hand, chose to forget the past and concentrate on a world that didn’t revolve around one central theme, person or idea.
What The Rise of Skywalker does well is it’s fan service. It does none of those things that Lucas’ last trilogy did or what Johnson’s Episode XIII did. Abrams returns with call-backs to beloved characters, the same tropes, ideas, color palettes, designs, and right amount of CGI to look like a Star Wars film. The hard part of this film, though, at times, is creatively rectifying all that happened in the previous film. Abrams retcons a lot of the ideas that Johnson had started in The Last Jedi, which basically means he answers a lot of the questions that were started in The Force Awakens. However, this also simultaneously makes The Last Jedi look incredibly bad in a lot of ways — which is where I think the Disney acquisition gets frustrating.
Watching this new trilogy, it makes you wonder if Disney ever had a clear path for this story, one written out from film to film because it doesn’t seem that way at all. It seems as if the company, particularly Kathleen Turner, head of Lucasfilm, wanted to cash in immediately on their billion dollar investment with no real story in place, hiring some of the more popular named directors who had dealt in sci-fi films to simply figure it out as they went along. That’s extremely frustrating because it seems like such little thought was put into actually making it as successful as it could have been and only done to sell theme park tickets and toys. It’s also frustrating because this is the same company that has just pulled off possibly one of the most successful, cohesive story arcs with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With Marvel they somehow got all of their directors, producers and seemingly everyone else involved on the same page for nearly two dozen films and counting, while they couldn’t do that for three Star Wars films.
This film definitely doesn’t deserve the harsh criticism it’s receiving.
My belief as to why it’s getting such harsh criticism is because this is a conclusion, the end of the Skywalker story altogether and that makes it difficult to create an ending good enough to please everyone. There are things to criticize, of course, like the explanation of the Emperor’s return and how little time is spent on that, among some other things. How they had to use deleted scenes or rehash scenes of Leia to fill in parts of the story. There’s also just a lot that goes on with this film, probably too much for only one. But there’s also some great memorable moments that you’ll want to come back for, which I can’t go into detail about without spoiling parts of the film, but that involves things like lightsabers, fights, training, uses of the force and just everything that has previously made Star Wars great.
Overall, it’s still as fun as almost any Star Wars film, filled with great characters that you’ll always want to come back to and a story that has a solid ending to a great saga.