The Rise of Skywalker: With a Bang or a Whimper?

With The Rise of Skywalker, Disney brought to a close both its own Star Wars sequel trilogy, and the full Skywalker epic that had introduced a universe of beloved characters to the big screen in 1977. As had been the case with Disney since their initial purchase of Lucasfilm over a decade ago, each entry in their sequel trilogy came with a hefty dose of both fanfare and fan backlash. Following 2015’s installment, The Last Jedi, many moviegoers anticipated an epic conclusion that would directly address numerous controversies brought on by The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson. With The Force Awakens’ J.J. Abrams again returning to the helm, there was an air of optimism—but, as many online commentators and YouTubers have passionately indicated, the return of Abrams also signaled a break in continuity and, with that, a new wave of controversy. In his own review, YouTuber Jeremy Jahns succinctly summed up the true goal of The Rise of Skywalker from the filmmakers’ point of view, remarking:

Because again, this [movie] is a lot of damage control. The Last Jedi made calls and now this movie has to do damage control for it …

YouTuber Tyrone Magnus agreed, and made it a point to not blame Abrams directly; rather, acknowledge that the filmmaker had returned to the director’s chair and inherited much leftover controversy from the franchise’s previous installment. He commented:

First off, I would like to say that I do not blame J.J. Abrams. I feel like, from what I’ve read and what I know—because you never know the whole story—but, I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, and I do give him the benefit of the doubt. He was given something to work with to fix the mayhem that The Last Jedi started—and I think that he maybe did the best that he could with what they gave him

At Geeks + Gamers, they too gave J.J. Abrams the benefit at the doubt, casting the true blame for any of the final installment’s shortcomings upon the studio and its own leadership. While the filmmakers may have been Star Wars fans themselves, many fans surmised that Disney sought to merely pump out a “crowd-pleaser” for the sake of money. Geeks + Gamers commented:

It’s two things—one, that J.J. Abrams obviously had a lot of ideas in mind after The Force Awakens that Rian Johnson decided not to listen to, and two, that Disney/Lucasfilm—and [Lucasfilm President] Kathleen Kennedy, specifically—has no idea what she is doing

Although many fans were happy to see the surprise return of actors Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill in their iconic roles of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, respectively—both of whom had been killed off in previous films—Grace Randolph at Beyond the Trailer found their cameos as a symbolic form of “fan service” that indirectly revealed Disney’s casual discarding of continuity in exchange for profitable star power. In her assessment, YouTuber Randolph observed:

Harrison Ford, to me, is the symbol of the decisions being made for this franchise—not what benefits the franchise creatively, but how the people making [the films] personally feel, what they want they want Star Wars to be: that they know better … I wish that they’d given Star Wars to people who actually like Star Wars

Geeks + Gamers elaborated on their own dissatisfaction with the film’s pacing and plotting, adamant that the sheer number of action sequences were an attempt to overwhelm audiences into ignoring the shortcomings of the film itself. In place of strong characterization, the YouTubers commented, were attempts to recapture the epic sweep and solid story of the original trilogy’s installments. They added:

Are there parts of this film that some people will like? Absolutely. There are a lot of ‘fan service’ elements and a couple of things where you say to yourself, ‘Really? You’re going to throw that in there?’ … J.J. Abrams said, ‘Let’s throw everything and the kitchen sink at the fans and some things will stick' but, cohesively as an entire unit, it won’t really work

Following up on that theme, Geeks + Gamers added:

Another way of explaining this film is it is ‘Mystery Box: The Movie,’ because there are so many plot conveniences for one. That’s a big problem—things just happen, and characters just appear [so] time is not really a construct that they seem to be paying much attention to, or really care about because characters will be in one place once second and then, literally in the same day, will show up in another place that’s supposed to be thousands upon thousands of miles away from each other

The YouTubers at Half in the Bag, the commentators even regarded the obviousness of Disney’s “fan service” attempts as misguided, pointing out that Star Wars purists would be the first to notice the inconsistencies and apparent “rushed” pacing of the film as a finale. They commented:

A lot of reviews are saying ‘fan-service.’ This wasn’t very ‘fan-service’ … It’s building on things and re-introducing things from the other movies, like Lando shows up—and he’s completely useless … [But] the worst in terms of ‘fan-service,’ as far as what took me right out of the movie, was right at the end, was when Maz Kanata gives Chewbacca his medal after 40 years

Across the board, the vast majority of online commentators were universal in their disapproval of The Rise of Skywalker’s story and structure. While not nearly as controversial a departure as the The Last Jedi, the third and final trilogy installment still had to present its own controversial plot-points in order to address the most-hated elements of its predecessor. To tie up loose ends, long-dead characters such as Emperor Palpatine, Luke Skywalker, and Han Solo returned to the fold—and major artistic statements such as Daisy Ridley’s Rey not coming from a royal lineage were reversed in order to fit J.J. Abrams redacted vision. YouTuber Jeremy Jahns summed it up, adding:

Are we just not going to talk about the fact that Palpatine had a kid?! Palpatine had a kid, who then had a kid—like Palpatine’s a grandpa? I mean, did he have a wife? Obviously, he got down! … In the end, this whole movie makes me think of the whole trilogy itself—have a path! Know where you’re going to go. And if you’re going to bring the big baddie from the previous story back, illustrate that earlier than, like, the third movie

YouTuber Chris Stuckmann agreed with the observation, elaborating that the return of such characters, while popular in and of themselves, were included by the modern filmmakers more out of an act of laziness rather than true storytelling. Stuckmann stated:

The idea of the Emperor coming back kind of invalidates the arc of the last movies, the [previous] six. I don’t love that—at all, actually

On this, YouTuber Jeremy Jahns concluded:

It’s really not too bad [if] it’s just a one-time adventure, a one-off—but that’s not the case. It’s a trilogy. It’s a trilogy that’s at war with itself

Pacing and structure aside, many fans were divided on the nature of the characters themselves and, more importantly, the actors’ portrayals. While many YouTubers were against the inclusion of Luke, Han, and the Emperor returning, just as many commentators were equally dissatisfied with the performances of the film. In previous entries in the trilogy, Daisy Ridley’s Rey, John Boyega’s Finn, and Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren/Ben Solo had been praised; with The Rise of Skywalker, many couldn’t come to terms with the film’s character arcs—or the actors bringing them to life. Geeks + Gamers stated:

The acting is probably the worst of any of the Star Wars films up to this point, especially when the characters are just so hollow to the point that you’re just not caring. I didn’t care much about these characters … It’s set about a year after The Last Jedi, and it feels like so much has happened, but we aren’t shown any of it

YouTuber The Cosmonaut Variety Hour agreed with many fellow commentators, but blamed the faults of the film not on the actors but on the script they were given to work with. In his review, the Cosmonaut observed:

The performances in this movie are also pretty good, the same as they’ve always been. But the problem is that, while the performances are fine, the script is really bad. Yes, the actors’ charisma remains intact, but the lines they say are awful

Kristian Harloff at Schmoedown was more forgiving of the performances, and cited the film as an enjoyable entry—if viewed as a standalone film, rather than as the finale it aimed to be. YouTuber Harloff observed:

I did think that it was an overall entertaining ride … I enjoyed watching it. I’ve seen it twice and I enjoyed watching it. And as I’m watching it as a Force Awakens sequel, it delivers. I think the acting is really good, I think Daisy Ridley is really good—she’s awesome … [But] you have to either say, ‘I’m going to enjoy this film for the way that this whole thing closes out—and I said it at the beginning—it’s a good closeout to this trilogy … I understand where people are going to have tons of issues with this movie. There are going to be different sides of it…

At Half in the Bag, the commentators were more disappointed over the lack of character development than the performances of the players. While happy with the sheer chemistry of the characters, but mourning the lost opportunity for more join screen-time, the YouTubers, somewhat playfully, remarked:

Regardless of whatever flaws the movie had, those characters—or actors—do have good chemistry together … It makes you wish they were in a real movie … My personal opinion? All Star Wars is a fluke … The Empire Strikes back is the linchpin that’s holding this house of cards together

All online commentators agreed on the fact that, while the film has numerous flaws, there would be a large number of causal fans who would find plenty about The Rise of Skywalker to be pleased with. With opinions divided, many YouTubers saw eye-to-eye that the film had been poorly executed for a grand finale, but worked on the smaller level as a standalone Star Wars story. Schmoedown’s Kristian Harloff summed up his over impressions, adding:

[On The Mandalorian] It’s just this smaller feel that I think Star Wars benefits from more than this big, blockbuster action stuff … I had a lot of issues with Rise of Skywalker. I enjoyed it, but I also think that … this is a good close to this trilogy—not the not the final nine. But this trilogy

In his closing remarks, YouTuber Chris Stuckmann also found the same flaws, but some redeeming qualities in certain areas of The Rise of Skywalker, stating:

In regards to this sequel trilogy, I will say that as a whole, I don’t like the way the story progressed. It’s painfully obvious that Disney did not have enough of a guiding force or a kind of road map to make all of this happen in a way that felt cohesive. But, the one thing that I like about all three of them are a lot of the characters. They had a lot of compelling characters set up—they just didn’t do much with them

Stuckmann added:

The visuals, John Williams, the action—you know, you can be entertained by this movie. You can totally watch the movie and be entertained as you look at it. But, you just have to think about what it really is doing to this story and how jumbled it’s become, and you gotta look at Disney and you had to say, ‘What exactly were you thinking?’

YouTuber Half in the Bag echoed some of Stuckmann’s words, but was less forgiving on the structure and execution of the film itself, concluding:

The Last Jedi was a big waste of time and so it feels like The Rise of Skywalker is making up for that. It’s trying to do things that the middle movie should have done … It’s sprinting to the finish line

In his own closing remarks, YouTuber The Cosmonaut Variety Hour summed up his own final thoughts on The Rise of Skywalker, adding:

The one word I would use to describe this movie is ‘overwhelming’—and that is not in a good way