‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ Review: A Limp Apology for ‘Last Jedi’

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Lucasfilm/Disney

There are two moments I’ve never forgotten from the original Star Wars trilogy.

In 1977, I was 11 years old, so of course I’m going to mention that jaw-dropping Star Wars opening. Endless space, John Williams’ rising score, and that never-ending Imperial Star Destroyer passing overhead.

The second is Luke Skywalker’s first appearance in Return of the Jedi (1982). What an arc that character had — from a starry-eyed, somewhat spoiled child in Star Wars, to The Empire Strikes Back’s unseasoned and impatient warrior eager to do his duty, to this… Look at Luke now. Look at his poise, his confidence… He’s a Jedi! No. Better. He’s a man.

In fact, all three of our heroes in the original trilogy were given transformational arcs. Leia went from a somewhat bratty (but always brave) princess to a military leader, Han Solo went from a mercenary love-em-and-leave-em pirate to a faithful and selfless hero.

Okay, now look at Rey, Finn, and Poe.

Bland.

Blander.

Blandest.

At the end of Rise of Skywalker (ROS), Rey is no different from the girl we met in the opening scenes of The Force Awakens (TFA). Sure, she can do more stuff and knows more about her family tree. But internally, she’s the exact same person. She was a Mary Sue when we met her, and she’s a Mary Sue today.

Finn’s character arc ended 30 minutes into TFA after he went AWOL from the Empi — er, The First Order.

Poe, the character with the most potential because he’s portrayed by the great Oscar Isaac, is the worst of the three: a schizo. He was charming, brash, funny, and capable in TFA. Then, for no reason other than to serve as an avatar for producer Kathleen Kennedy’s obnoxious woke politics, The Last Jedi (TLJ) turned him into an ignorant sexist with terrible instincts. ROS retcons him back to the guy we loved in TFA, but there’s no depth, no growth, so he’s nothing close to interesting. No one in this trio is.

This is a big problem with this new trilogy. A big, big problem…

For all the flaws in the Star Wars prequels, we at least had a trio of characters who grew and changed.

ROS isn’t a movie. It’s a video game with characters who never change… but do accumulate stuff.

Oh, and they also have extra lives.

This is no joke. After the fourth time, I kept count: on seven different occasions — seven! — characters return from the dead.

On three of those occasions, characters we’re told are dead (including Emperor Palpatine, of course) are not. The other four return as spirits by way of the Force (one might be a memory — hell, I don’t know).

What I’m saying is that it’s not like before, where Obi-Wan used the Force to give Luke life advice. Nope, now these spirits can do anything. It’s like they’re not dead at all because no one dies, so why is everyone trying to stop the Empi — er, First Order? What I mean is — if there’s life after death and the afterlife is so groovy, there’s no reason to fight the Empi — er, First Order — why not commit mass suicide to escape to this better place where you can still pick up the TV remote and be united with your loved ones?

When you remove the threat of the permanence of death, you remove all the stakes and the emotions that come with it.

Oh, and if you want to talk about zero stakes, the Jedi now have healing powers. In fact, the Jedi can pretty much do anything now: stop a ship from reaching orbit and blow it to pieces, transport themselves to anyplace, leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Oddly enough, though, when the screenplay reads INSERT COOL SEQUENCE HERE, the same Jedi who can pull a transport ship out of the sky are unable to use those same powers to levitate a 180-pound man over a half-mile of turbulent ocean. So for no reason whatsoever, Rey risks her life using a skiff — well, she doesn’t really risk her life, because if she dies, she’ll come back an even stronger Mary Sue.

That’s not the worst part. Nope, videogame characters and all those extra lives are not the worst part. The worst part is that for 75 minutes, the movie is an actual video game, as our characters leap all over the galaxy treasure hunting for the thing that translates the thing that leads to the thing that wins the game.

We’re told that Luke Skywalker spent years and years and years hunting for the thing that translates the thing that leads to the thing that wins the game. And then…

Mary Sue literally reaches down and picks it up.

Oh, here it is. That Luke is such a dumbass.

I won’t forget Leia. Poor Carrie Fisher. She died almost exactly three years ago, and here she returns as Princess Non-Sequitur. The awkwardness with which she’s edited into a few scenes using outtakes from TFA are so bizarre it’s like she’s acting in a different movie — because she is!  Remember how The Sopranos used outtakes to bring Livia Soprano back from the dead? This is just as bad. A total disconnect.

Stormtroopers are equipped to fly now. You would think the Empi — er, First Order would spend that money teaching their cannon fodder how to aim a blaster, or at least buy them some decent armor, but no… You can kill a stormtrooper with an arrow. An arrow. Not a laser arrow, or a light arrow, or a diamond-tipped arrow laced with poison. An arrow.

Rose Tico gets the Jar Jar treatment. Sidelined. Background. She shouts a few things like, “If we don’t stop the bobbyregulatromaguffinizer in the next 30 seconds, we’re all dead!” But so does everyone else. She just shouts it fewer times.

Gee, J.J., you didn’t have to dump her. It’s so awkward when she shows up. Like after a divorce when you’ve chosen to remain friends with the husband and then bump into the wife.

Oh, hey, hi… Yeah. Good, good to see you too. Yeah.. We should definitely stay in touch. Yeah.

Why not do what TLJ failed to do: make Rose interesting?

ROS isn’t boring. It’s just dumb and flat and so understandably eager to undo all that TLJ damage, it feels like we’re starting over. Re-establishing the camaraderie between Finn, Poe, and Rey when you’re in movie three is just sad. There was never much chemistry to begin with, but this is Chapter One Banter. By now, you guys should be speaking in shorthand, not getting to know one another.

Billy Dee Williams returns as Lando Calrissian — and looks better at 82 than I do at 54. He’s awesome. He’s Billy Dee. He’s also been promoted to General Deus ex Machina, which brings me to ROS’s biggest problem. This is, by far, the most anti-climactic Star Wars movie ever, and is so by a long shot. And when you’re reminded that this is the final one, the end of an era, the end of 42-year-old saga… It’s such a failure.

Without giving too much away, Lando’s Deus ex Machina is a cheap and lazy cheat. How? Whuh? WHAT!?!?! Why couldn’t they have done on day one what Lando did in 40 minutes?

Then there’s the lesbian kiss, which is so patronizing to the gays I busted out laughing. It’s so ham-handed, so condescending… It’s like a clueless suburban mom welcoming a Mexican foreign exchange student with a platter of tacos.

Adam Driver is excellent as Kylo Ren. But after the 47th scene of him and Rey light saber-ing by way of the Force… Enough already.

Keri Russell’s in there somewhere.

Where did the Knights of Ren come from?

Where did that giant Empi — er, First Order — er, Final Order armada come from?

Where did Palpatine come from?

Where did Chewbacca’s medal come from?

Where did Genaral Hux’s decision come from?

It all came from nowhere…

Could someone please explain foreshadowing to Mzzz. Kennedy?

This movie is dumb. It’s not terrible. It’s only boring in parts. It never lifts you out of your seat. You care so little about the one-dimensional, paper-thin character we call Rey that what should have been an emotionally satisfying goodbye only works as nostalgia. Maybe that’s enough. No, no, it’s not. Not by a long shot.

All I know is this: Disney had access to the most amazing movie mythology ever created, all the money in the world, a massive fan base, all the talent in the world, and they blew it, screwed the pooch, FUBAR’d a no-brainer property to death as a film franchise.

You know what…?

At least George Lucas tried. At least with those prequels, he reached for something beyond lazy fan service and cheap nostalgia and using John Williams’ score as a greatest hits crutch.

He tried.

So maybe we all owe him an apology. And if we ever get the original trilogy released in high-definition in its original form, he’ll get one from me.

Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC. Follow his Facebook Page here.

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