It’s been awhile, eh?
So, in my review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I wrote: “Ultimately, much like The Force Awakens, it’s tough to fully judge The Last Jedi until we’ve got Episode IX available to watch.” Now we have Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, so I guess it’s time to “fully judge” these movies.
Stepping back a bit, The Rise of Skywalker returned to JJ Abrams as its director after Rian Johnson directed The Last Jedi. Colin Trevorrow was supposed to do this one, but left after he and the studio heads disagreed on the direction to go in. Trevorrow still has a writing credit on Rise of Skywalker because production had already made it a decent way through with his influence.
This is all to say that the production of this movie was somewhat troubled. Abrams was brought in to finish what he started in the way the studio generally wanted it done, and in my opinion, he did his best with what he had to work with. The story largely “works,” loose ends are mostly tied up (“mostly” being “greater than 51%”…so definitely not entirely), and the actors and effects all get the job done. It’s all fine.
My main qualm with Rise of Skywalker is that it feels like Disney went down the “Netflix algorithm” well of content creation, where the production of this movie seems like it was very much trying to play to fan service rather than try anything interesting with the story.
The Last Jedi tried something interesting with the story. It made the character, Rey (our Luke Skywalker “stand-in”), a “nobody:” someone who wasn’t of Force-powerful blood…yet someone who very much was strong in The Force. By the end of the movie, The Force was effectively “democratized,” where a bunch of children from across the galaxy were shown using Force powers to a limited degree. All the sudden, the possibilities were wide open for how the citizens would rise up against the First Order.
And then JJ Abrams was brought in to pull that all back….and ignore all those points…and make Rey into a “somebody” with Force-powerful blood. This movie effectively avoids a lot of what The Last Jedi set up.
So yeah, was that a bad move? Maybe not? It was fine. But again, it seems like Disney and Lucasfilm wanted to play it safe, not anger its fan-base, and based on the reviews, satisfy no one. Speaking of those reviews, I think a lot of them are overly harsh, many of them speaking to the movie they wanted rather than the movie they got. Still, there are definitely some issues with this film, largely centering on the story and how they chose to wrap it up. It was just very paint-by-number in execution, very predictable, and very safe.
Long-term, my bet is that The Last Jedi will eventually be seen as the best of the three movies in the Sequel Trilogy. It may take awhile for that to happen, but The Force Awakens and Rise of Skywalker both look like Star Wars Fanfiction now by comparison, while The Last Jedi tried to push the franchise forward.
It’s up to Disney and Lucasfilm to decide whether they want to move forward with it, I guess…