Star Wars has been a pop-culture cornerstone for just over 40 years. The most recent additions to the franchise under Disney’s ownership (such as Solo) haven’t been lauded by audiences, with both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi coming under fire from hardcore fans that didn’t think the Skywalker story was going in the right direction. The pressure was on for Disney and Lucasfilm: they had to course-correct this ship before it took a nosedive toward ruin. Unfortunately for Disney, the last installment of the Skywalker saga is not on the light side of the Force… but it isn’t on the dark side either. It’s the Grey Jedi of Star Wars movies – neutral, both good and bad.
First, let’s talk about the good. The Force Awakens was a solid step for this new trilogy partially thanks to director J.J. Abrams.
Regardless of how you feel about the movie’s strong similarities to A New Hope, Abrams catapulted the franchise back into the mainstream with something that the franchise had not seen before: a trilogy that would be led by a female Jedi, a Black Stormtrooper and a Latino Resistance pilot. Abrams, who also directed the trilogy’s first installment, came back to finish what he started, transforming some of the story choices that director Rian Johnson made with The Last Jedi (for better or worse depending on who you are).
The script is also solid, though it does fall more on the fan service side of things several times. There’s more Leia in Rise of Skywalker than you might think, with Abrams pulling from unused footage from The Force Awakens of Carrie Fisher (who tragically passed away in December of 2016). The scenes with her have to be structured around those bits of footage, though, which can make the scenes feel rigid.
Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) do get a solid amount of interaction, answering the complaint that this main trio of the franchise had little interaction in The Last Jedi. They finally seem like a real group of friends, which makes for very good chemistry in their scenes together.
Adam Driver as Kylo Ren easily delivers the best performance of the movie. His scenes with Rey in particular are electric and interesting to watch. They are the perfect example of balance in a franchise dominated by talk of good versus evil.
Now, we need to talk about the bad. Too much of a good thing – for example, fan service – can spoil it, which is the case with Rise of Skywalker. Abrams and Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy are so focused on giving the fans answers to (almost) every question they have about this trilogy that it ends up feeling like pandering to the fans, both casual and die-hard.
Between its callbacks to the original series through locations or characters, and interactions fans have been asking for since this trilogy started, the movie does its best to cater to what everyone wants. This results in the movie feeling like it was thrown together for the sake of finishing the story. It was so obvious that I laughed at the movie a few times, which is never a good sign.
There’s also the wasted potential of the other female characters of the movie. Keri Russell as Zorri Bliss, an old smuggler friend of Poe’s, is underutilized as a former and also potential love interest. Why would you hire Keri Russell for your movie and not only barely use her, but stick a bucket on her head – and an unflattering one at that?
Naomi Ackie’s Jannah, another love interest they try to throw at Finn after his moment with Rose Tiko (Kelly Marie Tran) in The Last Jedi, does have a few key moments in the last half, but feels shoved in to give more diversity both in regards to gender and race to the franchise.
Tran, the first Asian woman to be a lead in a Star Wars movie who had a prominent role in The Last Jedi, is completely sidelined, getting less than 10 minutes of screen time in the 2½-hour runtime.
Possibly my biggest gripe with the movie is that Abrams told fans that there would be LGBT2Q+ representation in this movie, something that the fans have been clamoring for since Finn and Poe became such fast friends in The Force Awakens. Isaac especially has hinted at there being something more between the two characters. I saw all of Finn and Poe’s interactions through an LGBT2Q+ lens because I wanted it to be there, but the “representation” in the film comes at the very end and lasts for all of five seconds between two unnamed female Resistance fighters. While Unnamed Space Lesbians A and B gave a glimmer of hope that maybe someday Star Wars (and Disney as a whole) will go there, the fact that these five seconds are edited out of the cut of the movie that was released in countries such as China and Singapore was disheartening. Just like the “it’s there if you want it” queer representation in Frozen II, Disney once again shied away from showing that anybody, of any orientation, can be a hero, which is frustrating to say the least.
Was this a perfect Star Wars movie? No. Have any of the films in this new trilogy been? Again, no. Do I feel satisfied with how the saga wrapped up despite the blatant pandering? For the most part. I’m looking forward to the break from a galaxy far, far away though. Hopefully with new original stories to tell that don’t rely so heavily on nostalgia for the past, this space opera can travel at lightspeed back to the respected place in pop culture that it once had.