In Fanboys (2009), a forgotten film lampooning Star Wars-obsessed fans (you know, people like me who own Jedi robes), the characters try to get their friend who’s dying of cancer an early screening of The Phantom Menace, the new Star Wars movie after years of no Star Wars.
When the surviving fans get their chance to see the first episode of George Lucas’ prequel trilogy, one of the fans asks, “What if the movie sucks?” The movie was released years after The Phantom Menace, so the dramatic irony struck hard because we knew the fate of the much-hyped return of Star Wars in 1999.
Twenty years later, I sat down in a somewhat packed Valley River Regal Theater and, what’s become a mantra for every Star Wars screening I’ve ever been to, I, too, asked myself: What if it sucks?
The Rise of Skywalker is the end of the Skywalker saga, which began with the prequel trilogy. Anakin (the supposed “chosen one”) was a child slave on the planet of Tatooine, became a badass Jedi during the Clone Wars and then flipped to Sith Lord after being lured by the power of bringing his loved ones back to life and his disillusion with the Jedi Council’s bureaucracy.
The saga continues with the original trilogy to Luke and Leia, Anakin’s twins, who topple the Galactic Empire and supposedly bring balance back to The Force, a ubiquitous power that we still don’t know who gets to wield and who doesn’t — a question that J.J. Abrams has only made murkier with the new movie.
The Rise of Skywalker is the end of the saga, a cap to the Skywalker space opera. It brings together Rey (Daisy Ridley), a Jedi trainee, Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac). Along with everyone’s favorite Chewbacca, they’re fighting against the fascist First Order, led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
Directed and co-written by Abrams, The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t take any risks. It tries to please everybody, an overcorrection that may have been because of the internet hate that emerged after The Last Jedi. There are so many “easter eggs” and allusions to the earlier episodes that Abrams comes across desperate to have fans on board with him.
In fact, Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), who had a tacked-on romance with Finn in The Last Jedi and received a ton of internet hate, was sidelined in Abrams’ movie, basically receiving the Jar Jar Binks treatment. So is Disney sending the message to fanboys that it’s OK to harass people if you don’t like how your movie turned out?
Maybe inspired by the concept of light speed, Abrams sets a neck-breaking pace for The Rise of Skywalker. What this creates is a comic-book feel — and that is technically what Star Wars is. But the consequence is creating nonstop action, thus sacrificing much-needed fleshing of characters and plot development. And when compared with the pacing of the original and prequel trilogies, it feels like Disney and Co. think our collective attention spans must have shrunk to that of a gnat.
Abrams leaves more questions than answers regarding Star Wars canon. One of the biggest things he undoes is an interesting development from Johnson’s movie. Rey is no longer a “nobody.” She’s related to a huge “somebody.”
Without naming names, Rey finds out that she’s a descendent of one of the most powerful figures in the Star Wars saga, a possible explanation for why she has super Force powers. This canon decision contradicts what Johnson set up in his movie that anybody can use The Force, as shown at the end of The Last Jedi when a slave kid uses The Force to grab a broom.
That’s not all, though. Rey discovers she has a power to heal, and another character even brings someone back to life. This is the power that turned Anakin to the Dark Side in Revenge of the Sith, meaning Rey somehow learned a power that only one person knew.
I have more grievances with the movie’s glaring warts and overuse of putting characters in an exhausting number of life-threatening scenes only to come out unscathed — at some point luck runs out, just ask Han Solo (oh, wait).
But my feelings on this movie can be best summed by a quote from Rey in The Force Awakens when she and Finn are deciding which spacecraft to flee the First Order in. When it comes to ending the Star Wars Skywalker saga, “The garbage will do.”