'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker' Is a Let-Down

Daisy Ridley as Rey in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

The third installment to the Star Wars trilogy, The Rise of Skywalker, has us wondering. Is this trilogy about creating memories? Or is it simply an act of remembrance?

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
J.J. Abrams

Walt Disney Studios

19 December 2019 (UK) / 20 December 2019 (US)


Critiquing The Force Awakens (Abrams, 2015), I wrote, "While Abrams has breathed life into a dying saga, is its prolonged life anything more than indulgence for either those behind it or we, its audience? Star Wars belongs to a period when films looked and felt a certain way, and were a collection of films loved for their imperfection. One must fear that The Force Awakens' endurance and attempt to belong outside its time may still not end well, despite the fact Abrams has awakened in the saga something that defies absolute indifference towards it. But the film is merely the first step in a bigger journey, and only at the conclusion (?) can this expansion venture perhaps be adequately judged or critiqued."

Timing can determine the fate of a film, knowing how to tell the story is crucial. The release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Abrams, 2019) delivers a blow of humility to its director, just as Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Johnson, 2018) did to its filmmaker. It's interesting how these two revered contemporary storytellers have been humbled by what they love. Their struggle to answer the question of how to tell the story post-episode VI raises another pertinent issue with such filmmaking sagas: understanding the time and space of the story itself.

Forty plus years is a long time, in which the blockbuster forged by the creative wills of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas with Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977) is no longer in its infancy. If it's now synonymous with Marvel, is the continuation of the Star Wars saga an intrusion upon this powerful entity in the blockbuster canon? While in 1977 Star Wars: A Hew Hope felt magical, special even, can we expect new instalments to sustain or evoke that same feeling, when Lucas's attempts at a prequel trilogy yielded such divisive, underwhelming, even angry responses from audiences? In hindsight, was the Special Edition trilogy in the '90s not the last hoorah for this beloved story?

Adam Driver as Kylo Ren (IMDB)

While The Force Awakens estabilised the franchise, Johnson's poor middle film, the death of the Star Wars spirit, was a destabilising effort that put too much demand on this, the final chapter. The epilogue trilogy was doomed back in December 2018. Abrams has found himself in a cycle of eternal recurrence -- one of stabilising the franchise. However, unlike his earlier success, the pressure this time around is too much for him to overcome. He is left only to conclude his expansion venture with what is a frustrating and unremarkable experience.

The Rise of Skywalker is not without promise, and credit to Abrams for his willingness to open up the universe in a way he had previously been unwilling. From his own rendition of A New Hope, here he gravitates towards a greater emphasis on the mythology and lore of the Sith. Yet he frustratingly teases more than satisfies this tantalising prospect. This returns us to the quandary of undertaking a story because the Sith should remain mysterious, true to their shadow-like presence and the puppeteers behind events. The creation of the Sith planet of Exegol and Palpatine's (Ian McDiarmid) references to Sith heritage awakens in us a desire to know more.

While the prequel films were Jedi-centric, exploring their mythology and lore, juxtaposing this new trilogy, built around an exploration of the Sith, could have been an effective choice. This approach could have evolved and nurtured the story in an alternative way. On the other hand, an exploration of the Sith may itself be ill-advised, in spite of the prospect being a tantalising one. The Rise of Skywalker never feels like a film that knows the answer to the question raised in its predecessors; what is the overarching story of the trilogy? Instead, it simply frames episodes VII-IX as an act of indulgence.


One of the biggest qualms with this final chapter is how Abrams' direction hurts the film as a cinematic work. There seems to be a failing to understand the triangular relationship of character presence, cinematography, and sound. In an early scene, Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) raises up his newly built fleet, a moment that screams cinematic. Compare this to the scene from The Empire Strikes Back (1980) when Yoda raises the X-Wing from the swamp, the frustrations between him and Luke, his apprentice, the patient cinematography and slow-building score by John Williams coalesce to create an awe-inspiring moment. And... this is a another missed opportunity in The Rise of Skywalker, thus compromising the film as a cinematic work.

There are moments of promise, such as the notably eerily atmospheric scene of Rey (Daisy Ridley) standing amidst a piece of iconographic wreckage on Endor. But the director betrays impulsivity and lack of patience. What could be an iconic moment is squandered.

Is this trilogy creating memories? Or is it only an act of remembrance? Cinema is imperfect, but even in imperfection, pleasure can be found, and moments worth remembering forged. Is The Rise of Skywalker an unnecessary act of remembrance that unsuccessfully tried to keep the past alive?







Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.


The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.


Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.


Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.


Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.


The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.


Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.


Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.


Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.


Songwriter Shelly Peiken Revisits "Bitch" for '2.0' Album (premiere)

A monster hit for Meredith Brooks in the late 1990s, "Bitch" gets a new lease on life from its co-creator, Shelly Peiken. "It's a bit moodier than the original but it touts the same universal message," she says.


Leila Sunier Delivers Stunning Preface to New EP via "Sober/Without" (premiere)

With influences ranging from Angel Olsen to Joni Mitchell and Perfume Genius, Leila Sunier demonstrates her compositional prowess on the new single, "Sober/Without".


Speed the Plough Members Team with Mayssa Jallad for "Rush Hour" (premiere)

Caught in a pandemic, Speed the Plough's Baumgartners turned to a faraway musical friend for a collaboration on "Rush Hour" that speaks to the strife and circumstance of our time.


Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."


The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.


Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.