REVIEW: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (NO SPOILERS)

The final instalment of this epic saga is fun, exciting, and often exhilarating and makes for a decent enough conclusion, however it’s also the more frustrating of all the nine episodes. It has also made me ponder for the first time: can something try so very hard but still make the laziest of choices?

This is as much a review as it is a way for me to process my thoughts in a SPOILER-FREE manner so bear with me…

I very much enjoyed the energy of The Rise of Skywalker as it was a thrilling ride but even as I type this many hours later, I am struggling to call this film “good” or “great”. These days I’m of the belief that the quality of a movie doesn’t always coincide with my enjoyment of it. There are plenty of “bad” movies I enjoy and a few that are considered “good” that I don’t care for.

Episode 9 sits on a knife’s edge in that regard and while it’s certainly not “bad”, the best I can do right now is call it “good enough”? It’s difficult to articulate without going into spoilers (don’t worry, I won’t). I don’t love it the way I love The Empire Strikes Back or The Last Jedi but I’ll take it over the prequels any day (which are still garbage).

There is so much to like in this movie, there are even moments I absolutely love, but they are undermined by choices that I describe as “easy” or even “lazy”. Among those there are things I can accept, there are things I can even tolerate, and there’s perhaps one plot point that I outright hate (it’s a “you already did X and Y, now this is one step too far” kind of choice)!

The performances are great, especially for our three main heroes, Rey, Finn, and Poe. For all the criticisms some actors had about them not having as strong of a bond in the previous film like the original trilogy’s trio, they didn’t account for the fact that you need all three films to provide the appropriate comparison. And so we finally have that here. Also, with a fantastic set up fleshing him out in The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren finally has a place to go in this film and Adam Driver sells it incredibly well beyond the one-note temper tantrum of TFA.

I also loved all the action set pieces. Sure some of it was about going big for the sake of it but then some set pieces were legit about exhibiting how Rey and Kylo have grown in the intervening times.

So for all the stuff I liked, why did I enjoy TROS by way of tolerating much of it?

I don’t like JJ Abrams.

Normally, I don’t have issue with managing ones expectations but I will say when you pay money to see something it should be worth the cost instead of being a gamble. And while Abrams is a fantastic director from a technical and visual perspective, capable of mimicking the greats like Steven Spielberg, he lacks an ability to tell truly compelling stories.

When you look back on his handful of directorial outings he’s been spotty at best. They range from critical successes like Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol to safe and lukewarm (hahah pun) with The Force Awakens and Star Trek (2009) (both re-tellings of A New Hope), to white-washed garbage fires like Star Trek Into Darkness. When you combine that with co-writer Chris Terrio (Batman V Superman and Justice League) you then start to understand why so much of this film feels a touch shallow. Not everything… just a lot of it.

As a spectacle it’s ambitious but as a story it lacked depth in many places. There were certainly emotional beats and great up-swells and only a few of them were earned (for my money that ending coda was near-perfect). But for the most part there was a lot of emulating good moments from better films, which is Abrams’ modus operandi. He’s incapable of swinging for the fences to challenge his audience and prefers to go safe, the easy choices, the low-hanging fruit.

So I went into this knowing what to expect.

A lot has been made about the supposed “course correcting” in this movie and while there are some elements that may be exactly that, I think a lot of the fan service (and there is so much of it in this film, most of it great) is being confused as fixing “mistakes” of the previous movie. I also think it has less to do with listening to fan complaints and more to do with Abrams being Abrams… safe.

And safe isn’t a bad thing for a film like this, safe ensures enjoyment for as wide an audience as possible.

Which is why I enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker without loving it. It’s a mixed bag of elements I liked, I loved, I can tolerate (to a point) and I outright hate. Which is why it’s so frustrating because it’s good enough to want it to be better (whereas the prequels are so bad it’s not worth fretting about).

Very little in this movie blew me away like Empire… did, almost nothing challenged me the way The Last Jedi did.

I liken it to a burrito bowl: all the good bits of a burrito but without the satisfaction of eating it like a burrito or the potential dangerous thrill of it disintegrating on you as you make your way to the bottom. Remember, guacamole is extra.

In 6 months time, with further (over)analysis I may end up hating this film but for now it was an enjoyable “it’s fine”.

UPDATE: Yeah it’s 6 months later and I’ve gone from “it’s fine” to “it’s not good” for pretty much the same reasons as listed above (normally my enjoyment of a movie means I buy it on blu-ray… I haven’t bothered and will probably only pick it up at a Savers for a few dollars). The best description I heard for it is that if you listed all the things that happened in this movie then it would sound like a great movie but all this movie is is that list. TROS is not a movie, it’s a list of cool ideas. And that pretty much explains my ambivalence on the night.

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