Review: ‘Rise of Skywalker’ is a sour end to a grand saga

Not much has caused a disturbance in the "Star Wars" galaxy quite like Rian Johnson’s "The
Last Jedi," an erratic but electric movie that, regardless of how you felt about it, was something
worth arguing about. The same can’t be said for J. J. Abrams’ "Rise of Skywalker," a
scattershot, impatiently paced, fan-servicing finale that repurposes so much of what came before that it
feels as though someone searching for the hyperspace button accidentally pressed the spin cycle instead.

A laundry list of plot points cluster like an asteroid field in "Rise of Skywalker." It’s a
spirited, hectic and ultimately forgettable conclusion of the Skywalker saga begun 42 years ago by
George Lucas.
It was also surely a lot to ask for. Abrams, having already ably and nimbly resuscitated Lucas’ space
opera with the far less cluttered "The Force Awakens," was brought back (like seemingly
everyone is in "Star Wars," dead or alive) with the task of not only wrapping up a trilogy but
repairing the divides stirred up by "The Last Jedi" and stabilizing the franchise’s revolving
door of directors. Abrams here took over for the jettisoned Colin Trevorrow, who retains a "story
by" credit.
More significantly, "The Last Jedi" had to solve the underlying existential crisis in
"Star Wars," a franchise in search of a reason beyond nostalgia (and, cough, billions of
dollars) for continuing. The film, for sure, tries its damnedest to come up with something. It is one
busy, hardworking movie. But if anything has been proven by the many attempts to rekindle the magic of
the original trilogy, it’s that Lucas’ cosmic amalgamation of Flash Gordon and Akira Kurosawa isn’t so
easily refabricated.
As the trilogy’s third act, "Rise of Skywalker" takes the general shape of "Return of the
Jedi," even resuscitating its villain: Emperor Palpatine (the very spooky Ian McDiarmid, now mostly
a shadowy heap of CGI). He was last seen exploding in a Death Star air shaft, thrown to his apparent
death by Darth Vader. Yet as "Star Wars," the most forever war there is, marches into its
fifth decade, the undying demands of a pop culture phenomenon and corporate revenue generator has led to
some unsettling resurrections.
This third "Star Wars" trilogy began with a plan: the first movie would belong to Han (Harrison
Ford), the second to Luke (Mark Hamill) and the third to Leia (Carrie Fisher). Life interfered. Fisher,
who along with Ford did more to enliven the original trilogy than any special effect, died of a heart
attack in 2016. But she, too, has been brought back for "Rise of the Jedi," via bits and
pieces of old footage. For an actress of such live-wire verve, the composite result — a handful of brief
lines and gazes — is a hollow non-performance.
Palpatine, residing in a dark Sith lair, essentially sets the table. He summons Kylo Ren (Adam Driver)
with an order to "kill the girl" (Daisy Ridley’s Rey) and thereby inherit the throne. With the
wave of his hand, Palpatine unearths an entire fleet of Star Destroyers. They rise from the depths, a
new armada of doom for the First Order.
But this is only a piece of the movie’s manic start. Abrams, who penned the screenplay with Chris Terrio
("Argo," "Justice League"), races to catch up with the many characters of the
Resistance, among them Leia, Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac), Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), Chewbacca
(Joonas Suotamo) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels). From the start, there’s a rush to speed through a complex
plot that sends a crowded Millennium Falcon in search of the hidden Sith base, a quest that includes a
series of MacGuffins including — like a relic from a more earthbound adventure — a secret-wielding
dagger.
"Star Wars" has never lacked for velocity but the pace here is schizophrenic. The movie can’t
sit still. Everyone’s yelling and most of the bits of humor along the way are too blandly inserted.
(C-3PO, at least, is in fine form.) Part of the rush, it seems, is to dismantle some of Johnson’s
groundwork and refocus the spine of the story on Rey’s destiny and her complicated relationship with
Ren. Whether that’s a gesture to the toxic fandom unleashed by "Last Jedi" or not, some
characters suffer for it, most notably Rose. She was the highlight of "The Last Jedi," which
stirringly realigned the traditional power dynamics of "Star Wars." But she’s regrettably
sidelined for much of the action this time.
Some of the tropes that Johnson deconstructed have been reassembled. Poe, the Han Solo heir apparent, is
again central. New worlds bring new friends — a Stormtrooper-turned-rebel played by Naomi Ackie; an old
rival of Poe’s named Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell); a cute Muppet-like creature named Babu Frik — and old
(Billy Dee Williams’ Lando). Many of them make a good impression but the encounters proceed predictably.

To go too much into the narrative of "Rise of Skywalker" isn’t necessary and, besides, I’m not
totally sure I could explain it all, anyway. That, in itself, is one of the movie’s most disappointing
aspects: It’s trying too hard. What the streaming spinoff "The Mandalorian" has proven
(besides that people will go absolutely gaga over infant Jedi Masters) is that simplicity of story line
pays in "Star Wars," just as it does in westerns. "Rise of Skywalker" aims for the
brilliant parallel action of "Return of the Jedi" but ends up with mounted horse-like
creatures charging on the wing of a Star Destroyer. Somewhere, Jar Jar Binks is celebrating. He might
not be the most misplaced thing in the galaxy far, far away, after all.
But even if "Rise of Skywalker" has its fair share of missteps, it gets some things right. The
grief of a Wookie, for one. Kylo’s new black helmet, laced with blood-red cracks, for another. A
lightsaber fight amid the sea-strewn rubble of a Death Star swells with watery grandeur. And most of
all, the anguished Rey-Ren duel finally takes on the mythical dimensions of earlier "Star
Wars" tugs between good and evil.
Yet for a movie predicated on satisfying fans, "The Rise of Skywalker" is a distinctly
unsatisfying conclusion to what had been an imperfect but mostly good few films. But hope springs
eternal among "Star Wars" fans. Some will likely emerge from this latest installment
paraphrasing Leia: "Help us, Baby Yoda. You’re our only hope."
"Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker," a Walt Disney Co. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion
Picture Association of America for sci-fi violence and action. Running time: 142 minutes. Two stars out
of four.
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Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP