Review: The Rise of Skywalker

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, December 20th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: A great space odyssey comes to an end—for now.

CLIP: Confronting fear is the destiny of a Jedi.

That may be, but breaking bad news to fans is the destiny of a movie reviewer.  And sadly, like Rey, I’m here to fulfill my destiny.

It’s not that The Rise of Skywalker is a complete mess. The final entry of the new Star Wars trilogy still has plenty of enjoyable moments, especially in the first half. The problem is the pleasure arises almost solely from nostalgia for better scenes and characters in the original films, not from what’s on screen before us. More exasperating is that even the main conflict is borrowed from the past.

As the iconic yellow text crawl declares, “The dead speak!” Sith Emperor Palpatine, last seen at the end of Return of the Jedi, has arisen as a sort of zombie villain. The voice echoes from within Kylo Ren’s mind in a way that disturbingly suggests possession. It entices him to complete the mission his grandfather Vader started. Kill the last hope for the Jedi.

CLIP: At last. My boy. I have been every voice you have ever heard inside your head.

Only this time, instead of sacrificing a son, the conflicted antihero must offer up his true love—orphan Rey. She, in turn, must try to fan the spark of humanity still hidden in that dark breast before it crushes the last vestiges of light in the galaxy.

It’s not a bad set up, which is why it worked in Return of the Jedi. But director J.J. Abrams throws in all sorts of go-nowhere, extraneous twists in an effort to distract us from the fact he has nothing new to offer.

Palpatine and Kylo Ren’s motivations constantly shift, to the point we’re not convinced either bad guy has a workable scheme for domination. Hard to fear the heroes will lose when their enemies are so unclear about their aims.

Yet the good guys’ goals aren’t much better. For half the movie Rey, Poe, and Finn ping-pong across planets chasing down an artifact only to discover they don’t need it after all.  

CLIP: We spotted the fugitives. Oh, they fly now. They fly now? They fly now.

Romance arises, sort of. But it feels lackluster and tacked in. Like something included simply to ape Han Solo and Princess Leia’s relationship without achieving any of their chemistry. On several occasions we see a beloved character from the old guard die. One assumes it’s to gin up the emotional stakes, as the loss of Han did in The Force Awakens. Yet, in the very next scene, they’re resurrected. So was the point only to remind us how much we love these original characters? That certainly seems to explain a big reveal about parentage that doesn’t really make sense. It recalls the greater, “I am your father,” scene that came before it.

This same “let’s throw everything in to please everybody” impulse is likely what led to what’s being trumpeted as an “historic” first—the first gay moment in Star Wars. When something happening in a single movie franchise now qualifies as “historic,” isn’t it time to declare victory and stop writing these headlines?

The breathless news stories are as silly as the moment itself. In essence, two female characters who are so minor they barely have names, lock lips for a split second. And that’s only in the background as our main characters embrace in more platonic celebration. It might give parents pause, but it’s a little embarrassing for any movement to claim it as some sort of triumph. It’s more like Disney desperately hoping to avoid a kicking from the progressive entertainment police.

What moms and dads need to know about as much if not more is Palpatine’s followers. Wearing dark, hooded cloaks while monotonously chanting in an underground lair, they suggest nothing if not a black mass. That, along with some minor language, calls for taking the PG-13 rating seriously.

So The Rise of Skywalker may be a bit of a down note to leave the Star Wars saga on. But fans always have this new hope—with the box office numbers it’s sure to score, another reboot can’t be too far, far away.

MUSIC: Rise of Skywalker, Finale

(Disney/Lucasfilm Ltd.) This image released by Disney/Lucasfilm shows Daisy Ridley as Rey in a scene from “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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