There are several scenes in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker that involve a large group of diverse faces standing in a circle debating survival tactics; one of those faces being Dominic Monaghan; and short of a violin-heavy Michael Giacchino score I could’ve sworn I was watching Lost. It’s not as if J.J. Abrams has evolved significantly as a filmmaker in the 15 years since his Lost pilot aired. And this ‘final’ installment in the Star Wars brand’s flagship ‘Skywalker Saga’ (we’ve heard that before) isn’t hard to compare to how Lost climaxed: loudly and leaning on fan-friendly nostalgia, but totally disregarding hours — nay, years — of work establishing exciting new threads and characters.
At the end of the day, Rise tells us, nothing ever changes and it all comes back to the same couple of old fucks. Y’know who we mean: Luke and Leia, Joe Biden, Emperor Palpatine. There isn’t a chance in hell the Star Wars braintrust were planning to incorporate Palpatine when they wrote and released The Force Awakens a few years ago; this film has the overwhelming aura of having been conceived on the fly before our very eyes, largely influenced by mixed fan response to Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi — a troubled film, but one at least that held little interest in satisfying preconceived notions of what anyone par Johnson believes Star Wars to be.
This fan pandering is most evident in the minimal use of Kelly Marie Tran’s character Rose, set up as a major player in The Last Jedi but victim of horrendous racist and misogynist backlash which led to Tran receiving death threats. Rather than saying F You and making Rose one of the key players in Rise, as she easily could be, Abrams and Disney have coward-idly reduced her role to a handful of shots. Meanwhile, they’ve decided to make irritating butler robot C-3PO, iconic within the Star Wars iconography but hardly in the region of beloved, one of the central figures of the plot. Go figure.
We do finally get to see our main trio of young new protagonists — Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac — hang out together on a quest, but their energies don’t quite click and we’re left wondering why the film is so determined to surround the perfectly capable Ridley with an assortment of men who undermine her singular heroism (men, it must also he said, whose strong queer baiting for three consecutive films leads to nothing). At least we get some strong sexual energy from Billy Dee Williams, borderline predatory as an older Lando who shows up to help looking fabulous. Carrie Fisher, inconceivably top billed thanks to a contractual arrangement that predated her death, is in more scenes than you’d expect or, frankly, hope.
Parts of the film are obviously constructed around the few lines of dialogue they had of Fisher. It’s really, really uncomfortable to watch. It’s narratively rational that this film should’ve featured a major encounter between Fisher’s Leia and her estranged son Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and the sad impossibility of such a scene leaves a major hole in the final work. Driver doesn’t really have a presence in this film until the last act, when he shows up looking physically stunning and knocks everyone else off the screen. It was a real coup to get Driver for these three films; it’s perhaps the only mark they’ll leave long-term on popular culture.
Although that’s massively unfair to Daisy Ridley, who has done a superb job becoming a new kind of Disney heroine for this century. She deserves to become as much of a symbol for young people as Luke Skywalker has always been; giving a great performance in a sufficiently well-written part. These three films have been sufficient. I especially liked the parts where Harrison Ford and Billy Dee Williams were extremely sexy. May the force of their boomer cool be with you, always.