As you’re composing yourself after the brassy blast of John Williams’ theme song with its 42 years of weight behind it, here come the first words in the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker title crawl: “The dead speak!”
And that’s the problem right there.
An enervating part of the Star Wars religion is the way the dead keep coming back as blue-tinted ghosts—as when old Obi Wan joined in on the teddy-bear picnic of Ewoks from the next world in Return of the Jedi. While the filmmakers mean for us to feel sorry about an already-demised actor who died on-screen, it’s like that glitch in Facebook’s algorithms that reprints a dead person’s obituary on the anniversary of their death—it’s sad, and it’s news to some, but it lacks surprise.
Moreover, Rise of Skywalker violates the law that says you don’t show the monster until the end of the movie. From the title crawl, we know that Emperor Palpatine (quavery old Ian McDiarmid) has come back to life.
He’s resurrected and needs to be snuffed, and so we know where this movie will end. He and the Final Order hide on a grim, bad planet full of blue lightning. It’s a Sith stronghold that can only be found with a triangular widget, which in turn can only be found with the help of an inscription on a blade in the dread language of Mordor (actually Sithese) which C-3P0 is forbidden to utter. And we know that the last of the Jedi, Rey (Daisy Ridley—sometimes beautifully fierce, sometimes blandly intrepid) must be the spearhead.
Rise of Skywalker has the disadvantage of following The Last Jedi, maybe the best in the series; during lag times in this J.J. Abrams film, you recall the energy Rian Johnson brought to the lightsaber fight in Snoke’s crimson throne room, and the groans of the grizzled Chewbacca, and the closeups of Adam Driver’s vaguely teenage face swollen with emotion.
Driver’s Kylo Ren helps this film, and Rise of Skywalker’s most attractive side is the relationship between him and Rey, the woman he loves and hates and can’t stop pulling a lightsaber on. The two are so bonded that they’re in each other’s heads. They share the same space from separate locations at the same time—in one fight, she’s on a spaceship and he’s in a marketplace; he swings his saber and bursts open a bag of beans, and the beans roll at her feet, many miles away.
Their more-or-less climactic duel takes place atop the rusting ruins of the Death Star, surrounded by a turbulent sea. But there’s plenty of rudderless action as the rest of the characters make a crowded-yet-uneventful chase from one planet to another.
There’s constant eye candy: a Kumba Mehla–style festival in the desert called “the Festival of the Ancestors” (which the movie certainly is), a six-eyed sandworm attack and various growling muppets. And yet nothing connects. This was once a series that did things no other movies did; now every movie does them, and that’s the best thing to be said about it now that it’s wrapped up.