Film Reviews

The Rise of Skywalker Spoilers – J.J. and Rian Finish Each Other’s Sandwiches

We already offered our spoiler-lite Rise of Skywalker discussion. Today, we talk spoilers.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the franchise’s worst-reviewed installment since The Phantom Menace. (Right now, for me it ranks just above the prequels but trails everything else.) It’s the first Star Wars film since Disney took over to score lower than an “A” from opening-night audiences surveyed by CinemaScore. J.J. Abrams has already told disappointed fans he respects their opinion just as much as he does those who loved the film but he hopes both sides can be civil. The industry trades are whispering this might be the thing that finally pushes Kathleen Kennedy out the door at LucasFilm since firing half the directors she’s hired – including Colin Trevorrow, the man originally picked to helm Rise – didn’t already do the trick.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is also a movie I saw with my entire family this weekend only to sit stunned afterward as they all told me how much they loved or at least thoroughly enjoyed it. The kids who only know Star Wars through Rey, Finn and Poe? Plenty to like, although my nephew wondered why there weren’t more Force ghosts at the end. The adults who grew up with Luke as their hero and would rather forget the prequels? Sure, Rise has its problems, but aren’t all Hollywood blockbusters just muddled messes these days? At least this one has sweet lightsaber fights, great Rey and Kylo scenes, and, of course, an adorable little alien named Babu Frik. “All those people complaining online,” I was told, “should quit their bellyaching. We’ve seen far, far worse from Star Wars.”

That’s Babu Frik. He rocks.

I was also asked, “So, are Palpatine and Anakin, like, the same person?” Again, my nieces couldn’t care less about anything before Force Awakens. The Star Wars sun – or two suns, if you’re on Tatooine – rises and sets on Rey for them.

It’s all made me acutely aware of the following: Rise of Skywalker is a patchwork of retconned plotting, pointless fetch-quests, overly repetitive dialogue, play-it-safe storytelling (oh, no, that character died – just kidding, no they didnt!), and enough exposition to fill two films, but some people just don’t care. Seeing Rey Skywalker – a name I feel J.J. Abrams was always building toward – and Ben Solo defeat the zombie Palpatine while an armada of completely random ships – as well as the Millennium Falcon with Lando and Chewie in the cockpit – takes down the First Order is all they needed from this film. I guess I just wanted more, though. Here comes my bellyaching.


Rian Johnson and J.J. Abrams Finish Each Other’s Sandwiches

There’s this trope that pops up quite a bit in sitcoms and rom-coms. It’s the “we finish each other’s sentences” joke. The premise is simple: sometimes people are so compatible they can guess what their spouse or friend is going to say next without even really having to think about. You turn that into a joke by giving the characters really weird sentences to finish, or you go meta and have characters fail to even get the “we finish each other’s sentences” part of it right.

Perfect example: Arrested Development’s Michael Bluth talking to his sister Lyndsay about his new girlfriend.

Yes, the first Frozen did this same exact joke.

In this scenario, if you follow why I am even talking about this in an article about Star Wars, Michael is Rian Johnson, Lyndsay is J.J. Abrams, and they’re talking about how to finish the story from The Last Jedi. That makes Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker the “it’s like we finish each other’s sandwiches” of franchise sequels, a three-hundred million dollar blockbuster that feels not only completely incompatible with what came before but also sometimes outright hostile toward it. Johnson, through Last Jedi, started a sentence about burning down the past, and Abrams finished it by, well, slavishly resurrecting the past. It’s like they weren’t even speaking the same language.

The sad thing, however, is this was pretty much inevitable. You don’t take a traditionalist like Abrams and experimenter like Johnson and put them through a high stakes game of Madlib – Abrams started the story (Force Awakens), Johnson continued it (Last Jedi), and now Abrams has finished it (Rise) – and expect a coherent result. Not surprisingly, Abrams treats Rise more like a Force Awakens sequel than Last Jedi, but he also really wants to answer all of those questions Johnson already answered in Last Jedi.

Rise of Skywalker: All the Movies at the Same Time

And that is Rise’s central problem – it doesn’t content itself with being the third part of a three-act story; it tries to be both the second and third acts, sometimes at the same time. As a result, it is completely overstuffed with incident and MacGuffins, like the worst version of a Marvel movie, turning it into the kind of film that can be summarized as follows:

They go from one place to the next in search of that thing that will get them to Palpatine – who is back, btw, don’t aks how other than “Siths always be doing dark magic, amiright” – who wants to kill Rey but secretly doesn’t and is ultimately found when Rey realizes she could have always just stolen Kylo’s ship since it had another one of those things that would lead her to Palpatine.

Poe, ex-spice runner, is the type of General who goes into battle hoping reinforcements will appear out of the thin air since they have so many friends in the galaxy even though there’s been precious little time spent on establishing who those friends are, Finn is force-sensitive now mostly because John Boyega wanted more to do this time, and Rose…who’s that? Never heard of her. There are new characters – Jannah (Naomi Ackie) and Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell) – to abruptly introduce. Leia just said some things to some people, but does it oddly feel like she wasn’t really talking to them? Maybe if they re-state what she just told them it’ll sound better.

Also, Hux is a spy! Wait, Hux is dead. Bye-bye Hux. The Knights of Ren are finally here, though, and … oh, never mind. Ben killed them. Speaking of which…

Kylo is Ben again because his ghost-dad who isn’t actually a ghost got through to him after his mom died, but then he becomes a ghost too when he gives all of his lifeforce to save Rey who used the power of every Jedi ever -several of whom talk to her through the stars like It’s a Wonderful Life, including several previously cartoon-only characters and a couple who didn’t even have any speaking lines in the prequels – to beat good ole’ Palps.

Plus, John Boyega yells “Rey!” a lot

Of course, that might be a bit unfair. A LOT of Hollywood blockbusters sound insane when you try to summarize them like that, Rise of Skywalker more so than usual, though, because it is trying so very hard to be everything to everyone and it shows. It’s Flop Sweat: The Star Wars Movie.

Some Sympathy for J.J.

I keep trying to put myself in Abrams’ shoes and truly ponder the challenge he had in front of him when he agreed to direct Rise:

Carrie Fisher had just died, leaving behind scant footage to be repurposed for the next film. Say goodbye to any grand plans you had for Leia. Last Jedi was deeply divisive and had killed off Luke and Snoke, leaving you without an obvious Big Bad. The central trio you helped create in Force Awakens – Rey, Finn, and Poe – spent the sequel completely separated, to the point that Rey and Poe don’t even share their first meeting until the final scene of the film. Disney is telling you this needs to be an ending for the entire Skywalker saga, and Rian Johnson went a completely different direction than you would have. He basically said “fuck the Joseph Campbell hero’s journey, let’s do something new,” and, um, you happen to think the hero’s journey is a foundational part of Star Wars. Oh, so much to do, so much to undo.

So, yeah, broom boy stays broom boy, Palpatine was secretly behind everything (he literally created Snoke as some sort of clone, we think), Rey is a Palpatine, Rey, Finn, and Poe are BFFS and always have been, Luke saves his old lightsaber from destruction instead of throwing it over a cliff, and everything really does boil down to an epic fight of good vs. evil.

Justice for Throuples

It’s not like J.J. is some hack director, though. He will forever be discounted by some fans as a purveyor of wholly unoriginal ideas, but the man can direct a camera as effectively as a Jedi can a lightsaber. He’s come a long way from the days of lens flare overload. As a result, Rise has several truly breathtaking sequences of cinematic spectacle, particularly when Rey and Kylo leap over waves like they’re characters in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

The money is clearly up there on the screen, and the constant forward momentum certainly staves off boredom. Spend any time with the prequels and you will appreciate that Rise is at least watchable and Rey and Ben are iconic characters now, but that feels like such a low bar, way too low for the film that’s meant to be the end of the whole saga. There is one way, however, that Rise does what the prequels did as well: it cheapens what came before. This story deserved a better ending.

Baby Yoda Reminds Us Of All That Once Was Good, and It Could Be Again. Ohhhh, People Will Come, Rey.

There is one more thing my nieces and nephew mentioned when we talked about Rise of Skywalker: where was Baby Yoda? Half of them haven’t even seen The Mandalorian, but they are all kids of the internet. They live and breathe social media and Youtuber culture, and the Baby Yoda memes have been everywhere. As a result, they all agreed that however highly they rated Rise it would have been that much higher if Baby Yoda had popped up, even if just for a single scene.

Timeline wise, I don’t know that such a cameo would have made sense, but the mere fact that they all wanted to see Baby Yoda reminds me there are still some Star Wars things we can agree on. We’re still drawn to this galaxy far, far away. The lightsaber is still one of the iconic movie props of all time. I can’t stop watching that video from the Youtuber who created his own functional lightsaber in his garage. And the moment I find some actually good Baby Yoda merch I’m going to buy it because, OMG, so cute.

We love Star Wars. The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t have to ruin that. For many, in fact, Rise is actually quite amazing and emotionally satisfying. I disagree. Julianne, in her spoiler-lite review, eloquently explained how the film put the logical and emotional sides of her brain in direct conflict and the emotional side ultimately won out. I’m having a harder time getting to that same place, but enough with my bellyaching – I have some third party Baby Yoda merch to go find.


What’s your take on Rise of Skywalker? Let me know in the comments.

5 comments

  1. I am really surprised I saw this on opening weekend. I had originally planned to skip it because JJ has produced some rubbish in recent years, particularly Ep VII (too much recycling) and STIID (mischaracterisation of Spock as the angriest person in the universe, bad fan service)

    When my friend suggested we catch up before the Christmas and NYE, she suggested this or “Marriage Story” and my whole thought pattern was comparing it to a colonoscopy (I might as well get it over and done with) and sunk cost fallacy

    My first impression was that JJ does distract from everything by rushing so much crap into a film – just like STID. So it was kind of okay. However, it’s just punctuated by so much that was laugh out loud bad.

    People keep comparing ROS to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” but I keep comparing it to “Independence Day”. There’s a brutally funny-bad motivational speech, every ship has a superweapon that destroys the entire ship when blown up and there is a painful ignorance of how wireless networks can share information.

    Then there’s the awfully stupid bits. Jannah, her “horses” and shooting a spaceship with a bow and arrow (I recently finished playing “Horizon Zero Dawn” on PS4 and cavewoman vs mechadinosaurs makes sense because it has some world building behind it.) The retcon that Death Star II wasn’t totally atomized was as stupid as the survival of Hadley’s Hope in “Aliens: Colonial Marines”.

    Unanswered question: whose medal was given to Chewbacca? Was it from the corpse of Han, Leia or Luke? Was Chewbacca given a medal offscreen during ANH like how there’s a LOT of Academy Awards that are given away offscreen?

    How did the Ewoks hear about the death of Palpatine 2.0? Did the New Republic install cable and give them access to GNN (Galactic News Network).

    1. “Laugh out loud bad” – I almost never do this with any films, but I actually talked back to the screen at one “laugh out loud bad” moment. It’s when C-3PO re-delivers Poe’s speech about how everything they did will have been nothing etc. etc. etc. I couldn’t help it. I whispered under my breath, “Yeah, we know. Poe literally just said all of that word for word like 2 minutes ago.” The repetition, I’m sure, is intentional, a reflection that Poe’s words meant something to C-3P0 – a character who oddly spends a lot of the film reminding Poe that they are friends. Plus, C-3P0 is the only speaking character in the film who could actually say he was there on-screen for every step of the journey and has enough experience to understand the gravity of the situation. (Palpatine can’t since he’s not in all of the films.) But, God, it plays so much like a studio note, like someone wrote in the margins “we need to re-establish the stakes here” and when Abrams/Terrio answered back “but we just did that two pages ago?” the response was “that’s like a million TikTok videos ago! Kids, these days, with the short attention spans. Just do it!”

      The ID4 comparison is apt. It has a lot of that same satirical jingoism that isn’t actually satirical but just hilariously bad

      The medal – I don’t know whose exact medal that was, but the explanation I’ve seen is that at the end of New Hope Luke and Han got medals but Chewie didn’t. Giving him a medal here was a fan-service way to make up for that. In Rise, we do see that Leia literally dies holding that medal. My guess: it’s Han’s, if only because it would mean more for Chewie to end up with Han’s medal instead of Luke’s. The whole discussion and your Academy Awards joke, however, does have me wondering why the franchise never revisited this idea of ceremonial war medals. (Not that I actually wish other films had gone there as well, more that it’s such a big deal in New Hope and then is kind of like “let us never speak of this again for the next 42 years.”) I’m slightly stunned now that J.J. didn’t have Leia give Rey a medal at the end of Force Awakens.

      I think the Ewoks could just see the destruction from their planet and they never pass up any opportunity for a good chub-chub dance number. They don’t know the exploding old Death Star means Palpatine is dead; they just know it’s time to party. Crazy little Care Bears gonna get their freak on.

      1. I don’t want to sound mean but you’ve fallen into the JJ mentality that space is really really small. 😉 Those Ewoks can’t see what’s happening in another solar system in real time, broad daylight and the naked eye. Maybe Ewoks are all Force-sensitive and could feel the disturbance in The Force when Palpy died again.

        Remember when people criticized Episode 2 for how Lucas established that Kenobi and Anakin become great friends off-screen rather than show it. Maybe C-3PO became besties with everyone off-screen.

        Seriously though, I think Exegol was meant to be outside the Outer Rim. (In the legends comics, Palpy had a planet Byss in the deep galactica Core.) How did thousands of those good guys’ ships get there at the same time? Why didn’t Palpy have a few in orbit? Surely the Star Wars universe has something similar to Pearl Harbor that historians say “this is why we don’t have everything anchored at the same time”? Even from watching “Top Gun”, the average viewer knows that an aircraft carrier have rostered pilots and prepped aircraft to launch in 5 minutes. Maybe this is the reverse of the plot device where the USS Enterprise is the only Federation ship within range when the Earth is threatened.

        Was there an explanation of why Palpy decided to launch in 6 days?

        It defied my expectation that Hux was the traitor. When he said he’d handle it himself, I turned to my friend and said “no, you idiot”.

  2. I really liked it and I am old enough to have experienced the first ones on home video, the prequels in the cinema and the new ones now. After hearing all the flaws identified in the game changing Last Jedi (which I thought was alright until all the haters came in with their arguments convincing me to reconsider) this is like a breath of fresh air. Whats not to like. Its plays to all the star wars lore without too much tinkering with the core principles. I agree it skips over TLJ in favour of episode 7 but then TLJ didnt give us much character development other than Rey and Luke. There were plenty of nice nods to the past such as all the jedi voices and that old x-wing pilot from a new hope. Would have been nice to have seen more prequel characters. Ewan McGregor is signed to Disney Plus so could have shown up, Haden Christianson works for food so could easily have appeared. But I guess there wasnt enough time. In my humble opinion I got what I epected of the 9th film. Closure onteh franchise. I wish they had not brought back Palpatine and introduced Lord Plagous and still could have had Rey as a Palpatine. That could have worked as Plagious was referenced previously and could hve been the true puppetmaster. Bringing back the Emperor is like bringing back Thanos for the next Avengers movie. There was some touching moments too. Like C3PO, Leigh’s death and.. other things. Speaking of which, only 76 seconds of that asian character from TLJ was a surprise after all the hate she got. Feels like Disney caved in the same way Lucas did with Jar Jar binks. Oh and what did Finn want to say to Rey? We will never know. I asked my kids wht they thought. The boy tended to focus on the scene when Richard E grant got blown out the window and Ben Solo dissapeared out of his clothes following that kiss. The girl was all cheering for Rey as a role model until the kiss to which she shouted “is that really necessary?” and she was right. I dont knwo. They saw Jumanji earlier this week and seemed to enjoy that more.

    1. My problem with Rise is not that it skips over TLJ; it’s that it both rejects TLJ and tries to cram in everything they would have done in a second film AND then also tries to be a third film. The result is a completely incoherent narrative and a main villain who means absolutely nothing to anyone in the film other than Force Ghost Luke who only has that one scene anyway. Heck, the opening crawl of Rise reads to me like J.J. Abrams and co-screenwriter Chris Terrio basically saying, “Okay, here’s all the shit the last guy SHOULD have done in TLJ, but since he didn’t we’re going to have to cram a lot in here.” For Rise’s storyline to work, TLJ would have to be completely different and build to an Empire-esque reveal that Rey is Palpatine’s granddaughter, but that’s not what Rian Johnson did with it and Abrams and Terrio’s need to retcon everything and introduce two movies worth of material turns Rise into a Star Wars film that is visually intoxicating but narratively exhausting and, again, largely incoherent. You can push through all of that, though, if you like the characters enough and don’t really ask too much of the film.

      I am keenly aware, based on Juli’s review and my conversations with my family and friends, that I’m the type who maybe went in asking for more. A lot of people enjoyed the film. I’m glad for them. I just haven’t been able to get to that same place. Small sample size theater: It is interesting to me, however, that your kids seemed to like Jumanji better. My nieces and nephews all liked Rise fine enough, but they haven’t mentioned it once since we saw it. Frozen 2 has come up more often. That too me is damning – the final Star Wars film in the Skywalker saga shouldn’t be so easily forgotten. PS…I’m with your kids on this one. I actually like the new Jumanji more than Rise.

      Notes: Ewan McGreggor does kind of show up. His voice is the first one you hear when the ghosts talk to Rey through the stars. What he tells her – “this is the final step…” – is a direct continuation of a similar line he contributed to Force Awakens during the scene where Luke’s lightsaber calls out to Rey.

      I had always suspected all of the internet theorizing over Palpatine and Snoke and Plagius was all for not and that the films would never provide as much geeky backstory and exposition as the fans wanted, but I never expected Palpatine to come back as a vaguely explained zombie and Snoke to also be waved away as a possible, but ultimately unconfirmed clone.

      Yes, Rose got less screen time in Rise than her sister did in TLJ. Abrams and Terrior are saying they didn’t intentionally sideline her, but it sure as hell looks like they didn’t know what to do with her and preferred tor create new characters of their own over figuring out what to do with Rian Johnson’s divisive character. I remember when the first posters and images for Rise came out a lot of fans complained that Rose was nowhere to be found. I, however, took that as an early warning sign that she simply wasn’t in the film that much. Less than 2 minutes of total screentime, though, I didn’t see that coming. Does feel like a total and complete creative retreat, turning Rose – as you said – into this trilogy’s Jar-Jar.

      Rey and Finn – I believe Abrams has since confirmed Finn meant to tell Rey that he is force-sensitive. It’s designed to be a misdirection; we’re meant to assume he is going to finally confess his love for Rey, but in fact, all he was going to say is that he can sense the force. It’s never paid off, though. As I cracked in the article, it’s a storyline entirely born out of the fact that John Boyega made it known he wanted Finn to have more to do in Rise and didn’t enjoy being off in TLJ’s “C” storyline. Abrams and Terrior, however, shouldn’t have listened. What they gave Finn comes out of nowhere – the big twist of Force Awakens is that Finn is NOT a Jedi, he is not a Chosen One hero, he’s just a guy; Rey is the true hero of the story, the one the lightsaber comes to..but, hey, now all of a sudden Finn may not be a Jedi per say but he does at least sense the Force. So, sure. Fine. Whatever. You could say Finn maybe senses the force in his very first scene in Force Awakens when he is overwhelmed by the death around him and takes off his stormtrooper helmet, but it’s not like that was ever developed from that point forward, certainly not enough to become one of Rise’s big new twists.

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