How much nostalgia in a “Star Wars” movie is too much?
The entire series is built on copying and mashing together ideas in older movies to create something thrillingly new, so nostalgia should never be something to complain about in one of these movies. After all, the original “Star Wars” from 1977 was a brilliant mashup of pulp serials, Akira Kurosawa movies and Wolrd War II dogfighting films.
However, when you watch a movie like “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” that harkens back to older “Star Wars” stories instead of the movies that originally inspired series creator George Lucas, what you’re left with is a film that feels like a parade of things you’ve already seen many times before with no new ideas to present.
On the surface, that wouldn’t be a bad thing. Some entire genres like romantic comedies and action movies thrive off of giving the audience the same story beats and themes they’ve seen before. But when 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was already such a strict retread of an older, more beloved movie, the creative cracks start to become readily apparent.
In a regular movie review, I would recount the basics of the plot and the general setup. There’s no need to do that here. You already know Emperor Palpatine comes back, Rey (Daisy Ridley) the triumphant champion of the Light side of the force has to confront him and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) has to fight against the forces of the Dark side. There’s not much more than that happening here despite the return of the fan-favorite character Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) and the introduction of a brand new character named Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell).
Ultimately, “The Rise of Skywalker” could have gotten away with simply being a classic good v. evil story with both Rey and Kylo bringing balance to the polarized “Star Wars” galaxy where some scrappy rebellious organization seems to be in eternal conflict with an overwhelming fascist empire.
Director J.J. Abrams (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Star Trek Into Darkness”), writer Chris Terrio (“Argo,” “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice”) and the executives at Disney made a movie that races by at such a breakneck pace that you don’t realize it’s not really about anything more than empty nostalgia until you start adding up all the random inconsistencies in the narrative they’re trying to cover up by bringing back plot points and visuals from the original “Star Wars” trilogy.
Abrams flies from one action set-piece to the next so fast, you’re not given nearly enough time to even contemplate why the characters need to get to where they’re going so quickly. The film gives the appearance of importance and coherence by having characters say bold, dramatic declarations like “If we don’t do this, it’s our last chance,” yet what they need to do so desperately is often muddled when you take a minute to think about it.
For example, a big climactic battle full of emotion and newfound revelations about our main characters takes place on the remains of the second death star that was destroyed at the end of 1983’s “Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi.” That’s all well and good. It’s an exciting sequence that Ridley and Driver fully commit to. The problem is that there is no reason for the scene to even take place on the death star other than it looks cool and people already know what a death star is.
The film has already spent well over an hour chasing MacGuffins and trying to give Palpatine a reason to be in the movie after shoehorning him in, so the emotional beats don’t hit nearly as hard as they need to because there hasn’t been anywhere near the amount of proper setup to put us on the same emotional wavelength as Rey and Kylo.
In Abrams’ first “Star Wars” outing, “The Force Awakens,” he decided to fall back on his self-proclaimed mystery box style of storytelling by introducing plot threads about Rey’s parentage, the origin of Snoke and the First Order and Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) true motive for abandoning the rebellion.
Then Rian Johnson (“Looper,” “Knives Out”) decided to throw all of that out of the window with 2017’s “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and tell a story that focused on failure, disappointment and the inherent unreliability of old legends. Johnson’s film was less of a second installment in a trilogy and more of an attempt to take the franchise somewhere new after the prequels, while well-intentioned, failed to tell a compelling story.
So with a whole world of possibilities open to him, Abrams decided all of his previous mysteries actually needed explanations and Johnson’s movie was wrong.
For example, Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) were frequently rebuked in “The Last Jedi” and had to learn hard lessons about what it means to be a leader who stands for something greater than themselves.
In “The Rise of Skywalker,” every decision they make, no matter how reckless or poorly thought out, is always right. The characters in this movie give the appearance of struggling to overcome great odds and adversity, but the writing doesn’t show us how they change in order to learn new ways to confront their problems.
Overall, what “The Rise of Skywalker” reveals most about “Star Wars” is that no one at Disney has a solid vision for the series, and what we should expect from now on is an endless series of movies that recycle old ideas instead of challenging their audience.
Last Minute Thoughts: I just want to go on the record and say that outside of “A New Hope” and “The Empire Strikes Back,” I think “The Last Jedi” is the only truly great “Star Wars” movie.
The Knights of Ren are in this movie. Their costume design is great, and I really wish they were in the other movies in this trilogy. They’re gone just as fast as they’re introduced to us.