When it comes to the hotly debated subject of football and ‘your team’, I like to think of myself as Switzerland. Not because I support them in the World Cup, but because I take an entirely neutral stance and don’t take any stock in the conflict. I don’t care about football and have no strong feelings one way or the other. The same goes for Star Wars, a community with a fan base just as irreverent and hostile as the hooligans who tear up peaceful European towns during tournaments and start drunken brawls in back-alley kebab shops at 3 in the morning. Except this is a community who can hurt you worse than any stumbling, sun-burned Brit throwing an off-kilter sucker punch, though not through their actions, rather their words.
Around this time two years back saw The Last Jedi strike the big screen, and a hive of scum and villainous fans awaken, rise and strike back, conjuring an as-yet unparalleled miasma of vitriol and loneliness. Any discussion of The Last Jedi quickly spiraled away from the film itself and downwards to funnel into the growing cesspool of hateful and bigoted comments, generating its own variation on Godwin’s law. The backlash was huge on social media and can still be felt in places like r/saltierthancrait (abandon all hope ye who enter here), and in some forums and conversations on 4chan and Twitter. The term ‘review bombing’ was entering the zeitgeist and its effects were being recognized by the powers that be over at Rotten Tomatoes. They stepped in and have since been rolling out a series of features to prevent review bombing such as preventing user reviews from being added before a film is released, requiring verification from users who wanted to submit a review for a film to prove that they’d bought a ticket and completely removing the ‘want to see’ voting feature. It also inspired Rotten Tomatoes to diversify their host of critics, adding six hundred new critics as of August this year to bolster its diversity push. While the review aggregate site tried its best to give The Little Star Wars Film That Could a fighting chance and bat back the naysayers, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker currently sits at 57% on the Tomatometer, though with 17% of the total reviews of The Last Jedi (at the time of writing), this is a volatile number and likely to change once the floodgates open and the bucking broncos are released from their cages. But does it deserve better or is it truly the worst of the franchise since The Phantom Menace?
You might think that, from the last paragraph, I hold a slight bias towards Star Wars fans. First of all, whatever gave you that idea? Second of all, you’re right, but y’all aren’t doing yourselves any favors in fairness. I’m usually willing to let my prejudice slide when I know it’s the vocal minority that is kicking up a fuss, but I sat next to a guy in the theater who kept stifling laughter at the most inconsequential shit like he’d remembered that page 221 of the novelization of The Empire Strikes Back had clearly disproved whatever was happening on screen and Kathleen Kennedy should be embarrassed that she ruined his childhood. But even he couldn’t ruin The Rise of Skywalker for me. Nothing did. Not to say the movie is without its flaws — god no and we’ll get into those later — but I can confidently say that I thoroughly enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker.
What’s It All About?
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker follows a familiar path. Our ragtag team of lovable rogues set out on an adventure across the galaxy in search of a MacGuffin that can lead them to the key to destroying the Sith once and for all. Along the way, they encounter familiar faces, friends, and foes both new and old. The final chapter in the saga is determined not to take any risks or try anything, partly because the last time someone tried something new with the Star Wars universe they were ostracized and threatened, but mostly because it doesn’t need to. Star Wars has been a profitable franchise for over four decades; complacency is entirely expected. In spite of this, The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t dwell on its downtime and moves at a pace that ensures something’s always happening before you can start to get bored, even if you can trace the path it’s taking all the way to its logical conclusion.
For all that I’d heard about fan service, callbacks and cameos making up the majority of The Rise of Skywalker, a cursory knowledge of Star Wars, even just of the new trilogy, is all that’s required to follow the story. Sure, there are references but they don’t intersect with any of the main plot points and the writers don’t intend to beat you over the head with nostalgia in a vain attempt to look back on what came before with rose-tinted glasses. Performances are passable all around, though I would give kudos to Oscar Isaac and Daisy Ridley as the standouts. After seeing Marriage Story, I can’t help but notice how Adam Driver as Kylo Ren is so wooden for 95% of this film. Every time I see him on screen, I see Charlie singing ‘Being Alive’ and I kind of wish I was back there again.
Despite its routine appearance, one of the main issues that The Rise of Skywalker faces is its structure. The audience is flung across the galaxy from planet to planet because of convenient, long-lost information, newly found amid scavenged ruins or plot contrivances which demand that we are taken somewhere for progression’s sake. No scene transition flows and the path doesn’t feel natural. The Force (which is now basically just magic but more so than before) is a way for the writers to move from A to B when they’ve scrawled themselves into a corner. Until we reach the climactic scenes of the film, the first two hours are entirely inconsequential and rely on the hype for the final showdown. Which, I completely understand the significance of in rounding off all nine features in the Skywalker Saga, but wow, if it’s not a little ridiculous and mushy. Avoiding any major spoilers, the encounter came off very reminiscent of Avengers: Endgame but didn’t pack close to the same punch given the relationship, or lack thereof, between the two combatants, something I’m sure both die-hard fans of the saga and people like myself can agree on.
For the Fans
Ultimately, if you’re one of the people that thinks Disney killed Star Wars or that The Last Jedi was too different and progressive, maybe you’re already too far gone to enjoy anything that gets pumped out of the Mouse House, or maybe there’s still a spark of hope that the final chapter can tie it all together, I hope that The Rise of Skywalker is enough for you and I hope you walk out of the theater optimistic for the future of the franchise you hold so dear to you heart. I hope you aren’t like that guy sat next to me who turned to his friend as the credits rolled and said: “there’s two hours I’m never getting back“.
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