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The most disappointing thing about J. J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is how most of it is guided not by daring ingenuity but by an aversion to any form of risk.
The film is fun and entertaining, which is not high praise considering that even the worst entries in the ever-expanding franchise are fun and entertaining to some degree. (READ: Your guide to ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’)
It is a stubborn retraction of the little but reverberating successes Rian Johnson managed to infuse in The Last Jedi (2017) with its hints of stark disillusionment and the apt democratization of valor and bravery within the franchise’s archaic narrative of hero worship. It frustratingly succumbs to the lowest of expectations, resulting in a whimper-like conclusion to a saga that once meant something but has proven to be just an indentured goose that will just keep on mindlessly laying golden but stale eggs.
The Rise of Skywalker is so beholden to the past, so fearful of relevant novelty that its main narrative involves the return of Palpatine, a nemesis straight out from the first film, to steer the epic back to dull safety. (READ: Latest ‘Star Wars’ film gets worst reviews in decades)
The decision does its job of allowing the franchise a stab at a tidy resolution, where all the plotlines of its main drivers, which include Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) from the middle trilogy, Anakin from the dreary first trilogy, and Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Ben Solo (Adam Driver), eventually converge in a conclusion where all its twists and turns involving good guys going bad and bad guys turning good are reduced to the propagation of the importance of lineage – which in this age of destiny as a product of individual efforts rather than family names, sends quite a backward signal.
Abrams’ conclusion stands for the status quo.
After Johnson’s thrillingly progressive take on the material, The Rise of Skywalker feels like the ultimate letdown.
It is a glossy regurgitation of themes that fit the politics of decades ago, making the entire point of producing nine films within several decades a needless endeavor, at least in terms of shaping modern-day mythology. While the repetitive struggles of a ragtag team of rebels spanning several generations against a heartless empire offer some truly memorable surprises, both the rewards and the discourse offered by this culminating episode simply underwhelms. Despite all the expensive spectacles, The Rise of Skywalker is old and musty, unwilling and unable to evolve to suit the egalitarian attitudes of today.
Overwrought fairy tale
In the end, the events of The Rise of Skywalker renders the entire Star Wars saga into an overwrought fairy tale.
Remember that before Star Wars turned into the banner of commercialist Hollywood, it echoed an anti-war sentiment that reverberated in a world that was tired of real wars fought for imperialist endeavors. While Lucas’ film made use of archetypal characters and borrowed extensively from the works of Akira Kurosawa, its simplistic telling of a nobody from the boondocks of a galaxy far far away who rises the ranks to inevitably spearhead a revolution is fitting in a market that is thirsty for modern myths that contribute to a collective sentiment.
Sadly, commerce interfered with the space drama and its politics is replaced with idolatry and capitalist fanfare.
It is only in The Last Jedi that the saga felt like it was maturing, like it was being offered as a product of the times and a reflection of the moods and philosophies that have changed since Lucas cooked up the tale.
Abrams’ effort to undo the advances of Johnson’s episode, while truly unfortunate, is a demand that the very nature of Star Wars as a product is inevitable. What is truly more damning about The Rise of Skywalker is that its attempts at finding a middle ground render its bid at relevance petty and forced. The film puts the efforts of rebellion in the background, with the fate of the universe reliant on the success of the belabored and bewildering romance of Rey and Ben, and the few rebel officers like Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) who were only interesting because of whatever they symbolized, which are lost in exchange for the authority they gained within the opposition forces. Other characters are reduced to sound bites and obligatory bids for diversity.
What truly matters, however, is its end goal of establishing that the fate of the galaxy still hinges on prominent family names rather than the strength of the people.
The depletion of the value of The Rise of Skywalker, despite its supposed pedigree, is its own doing.
It chooses the path of least resistance, offering temporary delights in exchange for a chance to be worth any real discussion. The film opts for fantasy, for being defined by its eye-popping renderings of impossible worlds that become settings to a compelling but ultimately rote soap opera involving the push and pull of goodness and evil within fragile individuals.
Definitely, the film is worth every penny you spend for it, if the ultimate goal is to simply be bathed in sights and sounds that are truly immaculately crafted. However, spectacles are dime a dozen nowadays and it isn’t too much of a stretch to expect more from the series that started it all.
All in all, The Rise of Skywalker is more like the fall of the saga and everything it once stood for. – Rappler.com
Note: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker went on a limited run in the Philippines from December 20 to 22. It returns to Philippine cinemas on January 8, 2020.
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ Tirad Pass.