And so my friends we have come now to the end. Episode IX, the final chapter in the “main” Star Wars saga! Thus far in the trilogy, The Force Awakens largely disappointed, and The Last Jedi was strong in concept and rich in both direction and character arcs if, unfortunately, weak in storytelling. For this third installment, JJ is back to direct. Will the third time the charm? Will The Rise of Skywalker rise to the occasion and satisfyingly wrap up this 42 year journey?
Hahahahah! You did see the bit above about JJ directing and leading the project again, did you not? Yeah. Alas. This is a movie that spends the entirety of its time shouting, “Movement! Lights! Sound! Effects! Nostalgia! Loooook, Nostalgia! ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?”
No. No we are not.
I hesitate to say this movie is replete with bad writing, for doing so risks tainting the very notion of writing. I also hesitate to say that this movie is full of bad storytelling, because there is no story here, and certainly nothing cohesive enough to say that something is being told. This movie is lousy. Unfortunate. Dreadful.
In fact, I (too; others have said this) am becoming convinced that JJ Abrams might not understand what a story, or storytelling, is. Look, I could write a treatise about how poorly this movie was conceived, assembled, and delivered, but I’d be repeating much of what I have said in previous reviews of both the Trek movies and The Force Abandons. This movie is replete JJ’s worst impulses turned up to 11: Characters that not only have no arcs, they have no solidity and are inconsistent in their behaviour and attitude from scene to scene, changing willy-nilly to suite the artifice of the moment. Terrible and trite dialogue that consists solely of either expository drek to set up the coming action sequence or needlessly repeating what we are already seeing on the screen. (This includes, BTW, a whole new droid “character” whose sole purpose appears to be to literally speak aloud the emotion we should be feeling right now.) There is a plot… of a fashion… but no story, and the what plot exists is more akin to a random copy-paste of moments and ideas and tropes that are mashed together in a hodgepodge fashion. It’s all moments, crafted for temporary effect, with no cohesive narrative. It’s also all moments crafted in the lame “bigger is better” category, where things are dialed up so much they become a parody of themselves. And sure, sometimes there are moments that are actually interesting, amusing, and even cool, but without a story or storytelling they become essentially meaningless. For all the noise and flash, and the promise of something grand, there’s nothing to latch onto. The film feels hollow, and even the cool scenes have minimal impact on us.
There is this quote I came across recently by Chris Pine, who played Kirk in JJ’s Trek reboots. In an interview with the BBC, he says:
“I tell the story about JJ in the first film, when I’d run on the deck of the ship and say something to the blue screen about something. And I had no idea what I was talking about.
And I said to JJ, ‘I’d love to do it one more time, ‘cause I don’t know what I’m saying. If you could tell me what I’m saying, it would be a great help.’
And he said ‘It doesn’t matter. You just run on, you just say it as fast and earnestly and urgently as possible, and no one is gonna care. ‘Cuz all the audience is gonna think is ‘Something’s Happening! Something’s Happening!’”
Emphasis mine. Now I don’t know if this is true or not, but I have no reason to doubt Chris Pine. In which case… wow. JJ has an incredible amount of contempt for his audience. Contempt for us. To quote C-3PO, “How rude!” And he also clearly has absolutely zero interest in crafting… well, anything. Except maybe mayhem, vomiting all over the screen so that “Something’s Happening! Something’s Happening!”
Alright, the storytelling somehow manages to simultaneously be terrible and non-existent. But that would be “ok” if, at least, the story attempting to be told… ok, natch, he has no story either, so let’s take it down another level and say if at least the idea or concept of the movie was interesting or had some meat.
But no. The whole thing is nonsensical, completely contrived, and empty. No pathos, no motivations, no arc, no logic, no rationale, no nothing. It’s terrible.
Worst of all, it doesn’t even feel like it’s connected to, or a continuation of, the previous movies in this trilogy! Not even building on anything that was begun in The Force Abandons – it’s crazy! Worse, it seems to go out of its way to ensure it erases, or at least dumps on, everything it possibly can from The Last Jedi. Every single character development, every arc, every theme, every plot direction, it’s all either completely missing, reverted, deliberately contravened, or relegated to a bit part. It’s terrible. (Though the funny thing is, given how abysmal this whole affair is I don’t know if all of this was a deliberate erasure by JJ (or done on the instruction of others), or if he literally just didn’t understand or care and therefore its all so independent.)
Let’s go to the point form, shall we?
- This one is almost funny, because even the opening crawl somehow managed to be bad. I can’t articulate exactly why without seeing it again, but it went beyond the nonsensical plot/situation it introduced to be strangely and poorly written. Not a great way to start the movie!
- Someone shoots down a tie fighter with a bow and arrow. I swear I saw this.
- Hey, Poe is a spice trader! OMG! A scummy spice trader! And then… WE NEVER HEAR ABOUT IT AGAIN NOR DOES IT AFFECT ANYONE NOR DOES IT CHANGE HOW THEY RELATE TO HIM NOR DOES IT FIGURE INTO THE PLOT OR STORY. WTF?
- Rose Tico had her role reduced to a complete bit part. That’s shameful. Even more so is that in the one “story” beat they give her, which is a near-direct copy/callback to the previous film, she’s pretty much both casually dismissed by Finn followed by the movie completely dismissing her by not even showing her reaction. Disgraceful.
- Oh noes, will Rey turn to the dark side? JJ teases this a few times, but because there’s no character nor narrative continuity throughout this movie there’s never any concern nor engagement for us to her character. So it’s never really a question, leading the scene in the former Death Star 2 (with the weird switchblade dual sabre – what is up with that?) feeling empty and weird.
- “Hey, this dark side Jedi trader evil guy died, a long time ago, because he was stuck down here!” “Oh look, a snake!” “Hey, the snake moved, and there’s an exit!” Wait, WTF? Was that snake there dozens of years ago, and never moved? Once? Was that hole not there years ago? Why was the snake sticking its ass into it (if it wasn’t pressed up against it we’d see light)? Gah!
- Chewy is dead! …For 22 seconds of movie time. For some reason we have to be told he’s OK right away, robbing it of anything. (Plus, seriously, is Finn’s eyesight so bad he couldn’t tell that there were two transports, and which one Chewy was placed into?) And then, Chewy doesn’t get to do much of anything else for the entire rest of the movie. And every time the characters try to invoke his name for why they’re doing what they’re doing (as if that was the only reason they’d be doing it), it sounds forced and hollow.
- 10000 Star Destroyers with Superlaser dongs is not impressive or scary, it’s ridiculous (and unnecessary).
- And Final Order? Really? That’s the best name you could come up with?
- Pointless cameos are pointless. And contrived.
- Gotta introduce quasi-love interests to ensure that Poe and Finn don’t end up together! (And why not also throw in random elements from a romantic comedy between Finn and Rey because… well, no reason of course, and equally of course it is subsequently completely dropped as a thing.)
- Anyone else find it creepy that the First Order has been explicitly been kidnapping kids to make their army, including Finn and his strangely introduced counterpart (I’m just like you!), but seemingly thousands of these conscripted kid soldiers are wantonly and gleefully killed along the way without a second thought?
- Just as JJ copied (ie repeated) heavily from A New Hope for The Force Abandons, here he pulls from Return of the Jedi, right down to the Emperor (itself a frikken copy/repeat) showing the protagonist a dying fleet to try to get to turn them to the dark side and then taunting and goading them so much that it ruins his plan. Oy. Dude, with that kind of stupidity you deserve to lose.
- I will say I did enjoy the sabre handoff from Rey to Ben – that was a neat idea and actually built upon what had gone on before in the previous movie. Though I think it would have been much more emotionally powerful if he’d been given his Mother’s sabre…
- Grugh, Leia’s death… and the sudden “she needs to go now to contact her son.” Why now? How did she know what was going on? And why does she think it would make a difference? There’s a potential for something great here – we see Kylo hesitate firing on the capital ship in the previous movie when he senses her aboard. Clearly there is some connection, and some nice story beats that could be powerfully build upon. But nope. Just a random “contact now” so he can be “killed” and “healed” and that, somehow, convinces him to return to the light. Look, I know Carrie Fischer is dead, so you couldn’t film new scenes with her, but frikken write things to make it work with what you got! Random happenings does not a story make.
- That said, while it was clunkily handled, the mirroring of the scene between Ben and Han from TFA with Ben saying “I know what I have to do” but this time he (re)turns to the light was cool. Too bad it wasn’t in a more competently crafted movie.
- Even poor John Williams seemed to be fed up and phoned it in. Or maybe it was JJ’s instructions to him (must use this thing from before!), but the score was both too loud throughout and seemed entirely comprised of refrains and direct repeats (repeated ad nauseum) from the previous movies. Alas.
- Ok, let’s be positive to finish this off. I liked the designs for both Leia’s and Rey’s lightsabres! I especially like how Rey built hers out of the end of her staff. Nice touch.
The thing that surprises me the most about this whole affair is that when Lucasfilm sat down to make a new trilogy, they just… didn’t. They didn’t create a plan or a storyline or even a conceptual framework. They just said, “Ok, make a first movie!” and when the second came along, JJ and Lucasfilm said “we have no idea or plans, just make a movie!” and when this third came along, JJ just, again, went to “make a movie!” so that it ended up being isolated. That’s… just weird. Especially since we’ve seen what Marvel, also owned by Disney, did with their 22-film arc from Iron Man to Endgame. But here they didn’t seem to care. “Just whatever!” is a weird foundation. Ryan Johnson at least put in the effort to look at the entire saga up to that point craft something from there. And did a good job on that front! JJ, of course, did not.
So yeah. There’s little to commend or recommend in this movie. It’s not even exciting. Worse, it’s utterly predictable – you know how each scene will end long before you get there. This movie is less than satisfying, and as the end of an epic, 9 part, 42 year saga, it’s beyond less than satisfying. It’s sub-basement 66 levels of unsatisfying. I never thought this was possible, but in many ways it makes me look back upon the prequels with a newfound level of positivity. At least they were trying to tell a story.
I rate this move Terrible Plus. It’s not so abysmal that it’s offensive, but it’s so utterly lacking in just about every department that there’s no way it could even rate Poor Minus Minus.
The saga is now over. I won’t say it is now complete, as that would require a story to have been told to lead it to a place of completion. It’s just done.
I do not know what lies next in store for us in terms of Star Wars Cinema. I can only pray they invest in good writing.
May the force be with us.