2019 | rated PG-13 | starring Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Carrie Fisher, Richard E. Grant, Ian McDiarmid | directed by J.J. Abrams | 2 hrs 22 mins |

[Season 3 Finale]

As it turns out, when Disney acquired Star Wars from George Lucas back in 2012 for $4 billion, it was a hot potato that they didn’t creatively know what to do with. I mean, they knew what to do with it in terms of synergizing it across every Disney property and reverse engineering the action figures into movie characters, but from a story point, the new trilogy could just as well be referred to as the Remakes in the same way the Lucas trilogy is referred to as the Prequels. Now that it’s all said and done we can see that all 3 Disney films were nothing more than loose remakes of the original trilogy. Just… bigger.

Instead of crafting an overall arc for their new generation of characters, J.J. Abrams opened the trilogy with The Force Awakens, with a soft reboot of A New Hope, then built up everyone, particularly Daisy Ridley’s heroine Rey, as a patented Abrams Mystery Box that left them hollow of character traits to preserve the mystery for whatever family connection twist gets revealed in future films (it is Star Wars after all, a galactic soap opera where everyone is related to everyone). Instead of building a universe and creating a Marvel-esque master plan Disney played a head-slapping game of Telephone with their $4 billion trilogy, tossed it to Looper director Rian Johnson who subsequently tore down everything Abrams built with the nihilistic The Last Jedi. A complicated movie to say the least, Last Jedi is the first movie since Empire Strikes Back that feels like a singular creative vision, painted gorgeous and surreal set pieces, and attempted to expand the Star Wars universe (one notoriously closed circuit despite a robots-and-aliens “anything can happen” appearance). That all ultimately comes to service nothing as Johnson can’t get past a snarky, condescending view of the series, flips the structure backwards and creates all sorts of plotlines that go nowhere and mean nothing. Still, the film has the highest highs and the lowest lows of the series an future cinemaphiles may still view Last Jedi like David Fincher’s barn-burning Alien 3, a movie initially hated, but became to be loved and respected for it’s ambition and unique feel.

Last Jedi blowback was fierce as it turned out all of the  Star Wars fans who complained about  Force Awakens being a remake of  A New Hope were just paying lip service to criticism; Disney then came up against their most unexpected foe yet – the toxicity of a generation of nostalgic Star Wars fans who want one thing and one thing only – the same thing again. Luke Skywalker, Leia, X-wings, family drama, lightsabers, The Force, white hats fighting black hats. A safe, black and white, uncomplicated space opera with just enough Nazi parallels to feel grown up. With nobody caring about this Star Wars trilogy winding into it’s final film, Disney came up with a positively brilliant campaign that played into that nostalgia – that this film wasn’t the conclusion of a trilogy of new characters nobody cared about, but a conclusion to something they named “The Skywalker Saga”, wrapping all 9 films together including Anakin Skywalker’s prequel rise to Darth Vader to give this one some dramatic heft. Everyone went with it.

All of this is lead into why Rise of Skywalker is such a babbling, borderline incoherent mess. After Rian Johnson, fashioned passive aggression into cinematic form, he tossed the flaming potato to Abrams (nwo replacing Jurassic World’s Colin Trevorrow) and said “deal with that”.  The Rise of Skywalker necessarily sets about undoing the events of  The Last Jedi  and bending it back into an adventure the large tent-pole moments of which have already been stuck in the ground by the studio to replicate the original trilogy. The plot this time: Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, carrying the film on his back) know fully embracing the dark side finds a “Wayfinder” that leads him to the cavernous, doom laboratory lair of Darth Sid… no, just Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), and both kickstart a plot to take over the entire galaxy. Meanwhile, Rey, Poe (Oscar Issac) and Finn (John Boyega), along with Chewbacca, C-3PO and BB-8 take off journey to find a Wayfinder themselves and put a stop to Palpatine. A series of action set pieces ensue.

There are some nice moments here. Kylo and Rey’s relationship, Poe and Finn’s bromance given way too little time, Kylo and Rey’s connection given a clever payoff (the only thing in the series that does) and a few visually interesting set pieces that take the group to a desert Holi party, a WW2 Christmas town and a “moon of Endor” where the Death Star lies in ruins. But Abrams has to do a lot of bending over backwards and running the plot over and through itself like a pretzel to get any of it off the ground. In  Thank You for Smoking, studio executive Rob Lowe easily dismisses the logic of working a cigarette sponsorship into a space movie by saying he’ll solve that with one-line of dialog, “thank God we invented the whatever device”. The entirety of  The Rise of Skywalker is like that one line. The Force has always been a Deus Ex Machina plot device that allowed  Star Wars to get it’s characters in and out of jams however it needed at that minute, but here Abrams uses it to thinly spackle together every gaping plot hole. Everything from Palpatine’s mysterious resurrection after the events of Return of the Jedi to his creation of a fleet of 10,000 Star Destroyers, to the origins of Snoke, to Abrams bringing back all previously dead Jedi in ghost form (and having them use telekinetic ghost powers) to Rey’s now God-like powers of healing – all of it is tossed off with a single line of ADR dialog – if addressed at all. The movie moves so fast from one inconsequential event to the next that is started slipping out of one ear as it entered the other. Exploring these concepts more would open the doors to something creatively interesting, but no, we have a mandate to carry out. The pace of this film is not, by itself, a problem. Abrams moves this thing along with a necessary third act urgency appropriate for a final film, but he’s still wrestling with the plot, introducing new places, ideas and characters all the way up to the end. Putting the peddle to the floor only works if you’re not still building the car while you do it.

There is good J.J. Abrams (the guy who created  Alias and faithfully homages Steven Speilberg’s 80s and 90s adventure films with an emphasis on character) and there is bad J.J. Abrams, the guy who showed up to slap together Rise of Skywalker,  the studio henchmen in Michael Bay mode whose master scheme for  Skywalker seems to be  “Return of the Jedi, but bigger”.  Skywalker is the biggest and most heartless, soulless, assembly-line built machine of a film of the entire Disney trilogy. While it is slightly more lived-in then the sense of watching people in front of green screens you get from watching the Prequels, you can still feel the studio honcho standing over Abrams shoulder barking “We need to bring in the original John Williams score here, here and here”. Because of that Mystery Box approach to character set-up in  Force Awakens nothing about Rey, Poe or Finn is particularly interesting because they never had the chance to develop a personality for fear anything would tip the “mystery” of who Rey is – the answer to which is as obvious and predictable as it is the only option the series had left.

Actually, not quite… {Spoilers Warning} My quick fix script doctor solution to make  Rise of Skywalker more interesting would be to play with the element of it that works the most – the Rey/Kylo connection. As said, there is a Skywalker in this movie and it’s Kylo Ren. Complete the arc teased by  Last Jedi, have Kylo Ren embrace his parental lineage and accept the Light Side, while Rey goes completely to the Dark Side. If Disney searched under it’s pile of 4 quadrant stunt casting they would see that the arc truly belongs to Kylo and the void left in the Rey mystery would make her a perfect villain. But no… Kathleen Kennedy wouldn’t allow that. Because this force is female and Kennedy seems to think that a girl won’t learn how to do business unless she sees another girl lift rocks with her mind. The most powerful super-producer in Hollywood managed to make this series about gender politics both at the expense of the story and while managing to slip out of the trilogy and it’s spinoffs without hiring a single female director. {Spoilers and Soap Box Rant Over}

Episode 9: Rise of Skywalker is a big, messy, space adventure that never gets out of it’s own way, drops both too much and never enough exposition, requires you to toss off one question after another to get from scene to scene and pretends it’s characters are far more resonate than the series ever established. Abrams was admittedly written into a corner by Rian Johnson (who in the meantime, went off and made a real movie and one of the best films of the year with Knives Out), but he Force Magic conjures his way out of it in the laziest possible ways, leaning far to hard on the original trilogy in an attempt to please fans then make his own thing. But did he have a choice. The blame here goes far and wide. Behind Abrams is Kennedy, behind Kennedy is Disney and behind Disney are the cries of the most toxic fandom in all of pop culture. It’s as if every turn in this movie was focus grouped and re-edited with the gun barrel of 10,000 angry Star Wars fans holding the print hostage. A bunch of people who loved Star Wars in 1977 lived long enough to see themselves become Emperor Palpatine in 2019. Congratulations.