More noise than signal

Star Wars: Episode IX: Rise of Skywalker

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

I’d said in our Last Jedi review “I hope that we’ll look back in a few years and say that this was the permission slip given to every director and production team that follows to do something completely different to the established Lucas-based Star Wars films. I’m not holding my breath, though.” Called it. Rise of Skywalker sees J.J. Abrams and co back for writing and directing duties, although how many of the ideas, and therefore blame, for this film comes from him and how much from the reins-tightening Disney overlords is open for discussion.

I suppose a plot recap is in order for the seven or eight people who haven’t seen it. I’ll get to it, I promise, but when the very first thing this film does, in the title crawl, is reference a tie-in promotional event that happened in the Fortnight video game, which I guess is now canonically in the Star Wars universe, it’s very difficult not to get into a tangent about what, precisely, the hell is going on with this franchise, even if that event is ultimately of no consequence. Although perhaps that’s even worse. Anyway…

Ian McDiarmid’s Emperor Palpatine is back, because, well, why not, and he’s been hiding a fleet of infinite Star Destroyers each with Death Star lasers on-board, because, well, why not, having survived his death in Episode VI for some reason that’s apparently not that important to delve into. He’s holed up on the lost Sith planet of Excema or something and is trying to join up with Kylo Ren and his borderline incompetent First Order goons.

Actually, y’know what, if you want a full recap, go to Wikipedia. One of the critical problems with this film is that it stuffs at least a film and a half’s worth of plot into its running time, but even so, it’s a lot of running about with little meaning. In broad strokes, Rey and the remnants of the rebel force are trying to find a Sith navigational McGuffin to get to that there lost planet and take out the Emperor and his fleet, and Ren and his goons are trying to stop and/or bring them before Palpatine for judgement. Cue the usual Star Wars dog and pony show.

I’m not a fan of, well, Star Wars as a whole anymore, but the one interesting, if not successful, thing that The Last Jedi did was to look inside Abrams’ patented mystery box, dig out a few of them and say that, ultimately, there can be no truly satisfying answer to them, because if they were, they’d be so integral to a character’s personality or arc that they could not be in that box to start with. If, for example, Rey’s parentage really meant something, we’d need to know it from the outset for it to be anything more than a superficial revelation.

To which Rise of Skywalker says oh Phil Lord no, and starts stuffing things back in the box only to immediately pull them back out again with different answers, which is all a bit amateur hour, really. While this, and a dozen other plot strands that are picked up and either instantly resolved or discarded (ref: Oscar Issac’s love interest, or the Knights of Ren) are rushed past quickly enough that Rise of Skywalker does a decent impersonation of a reasonably enjoyable Star Wars outing, assuming you like this sort of thing, it can stand up to no scrutiny whatsoever.

Given that this is a film series based on Laser Space Wizards, I’m not the sort to get all that upset about plot holes. There’s few that couldn’t ultimately be waved away by saying a wizard did it. What does annoy me is that Disney were so hungry to start recouping that franchise purchase price that they didn’t sketch out any sort of coherent story or character arcs for these poor bastards saddled with acting in it, or writing and directing it. That leaves us with this cobbled together closer for a trilogy in name only that appears primarily concerned with an excuse to make new Palpatine action figures, and to continue strip mining the franchise’s past. Which is ironic given that the closest thing to a linking theme of the new trilogy I can come up with is about letting go of the past and not letting it define you, when the films themselves continue to be wholly defined by the original trilogy.

It’s not served anyone well, and it’s hard to see anything in this modern trilogy as anything other than a quest for dollars. Such, perhaps is always the case in the studio tentpole game, but even when Lucas was disastering his way through the prequels there was at least an obvious point to them, told through a clear character arc. I can’t find anything like that in the new films. They’re really well made, with likeable performances and enough gloss to obfuscate that, but there’s no point to them. While the likes of Daisy Ridley, Oscar Issacs and John Boyega bring enough charisma with their performances to be likeable and engaging, in the, what seven-odd hours following them around, what have we actually learned about any of their characters, or motivations, or pasts, or their anything, to properly care about them?

There’s a lot to talk about with this, if not specifically about Rise of Skywalker but about Disney’s handling of Star Wars and what’s happening going forward (see also our recent Trends of the Decade episode), so I won’t monopolise discussion further. But if you want my verdict on this, it’s a bad ending to a middling trilogy, and if I had any great love left for Star Wars I’d find it greatly upsetting. As I don’t, it’s just mildly irritating and entirely forgettable.