Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER
Rated PG-13, 141 minutes
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Director/ co-writer J.J. Abrams’ STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER is not the worst third chapter of a fan-favored franchise with cherished characters to have been released this year. That dubious honor is reserved for GLASS. However, it runs a close second to it. He and screenwriter Chris Terrio (working from a story also by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow) have crafted an emotionally bereft picture severely lacking in gravitas, pathos, or any bold risk-taking that inspired this modern Skywalker series. With lazy conventions and convolution, puddle-deep platitudes and cheap nods to nostalgia, this saga concludes on a wildly unsatisfactory note.
The final piece in the puzzle involves getting the gang back together after being split apart in THE LAST JEDI. Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) are looking to reunite with Rey (Daisy Ridley), who’s deep in her Jedi training with General Leia (Carrie Fisher). The Resistance has caught wind that there’s a burgeoning yet thoroughly familiar foe threatening to take over the galaxy. This evil adversary has been nurturing the dark force festering and raging inside our favorite bad boy, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who’s still attempting to sway Rey onto his side. In order to defeat the uprising of that potential menace, the four friends set out on a quest to save humanity.
There are a multitude of different avenues the filmmakers could’ve taken with what the other two films had set into motion – and yet they chose none of those options. Instead, they value safe, expected choices rather than bold innovation that would thrive in this atmosphere. Set-ups are almost instantly paid-off so the dramatic pull of these ideas aren’t sustained long enough for genuine impact and engagement. The narrative is riddled with ridiculous contrivances – from the handling of the McGuffin, to the inevitable climactic battle. These creative choices elicit a confused “what” not a confident “wow.”
Moments that do land are fleeting. Rey fighting Kylo Ren on a battleground with greater symbolic ties, meaning and subtext, as stormy ocean waters lash against them, manages to be one of the more indelible sequences. Spectacle isn’t given much time to manifest, but a few shots, like those highlighting the sheer magnitude of the First Order’s star destroyer fleet, are imposing and where the terror is tangible.
That said, after being three films deep in the new trilogy, it’s hard to grasp a sense of who these main characters are outside of mimeographed iterations of the original trilogy’s heroes and villains. Though Rey and Kylo have established motivations, Finn and Poe are allotted little to no character development in this chapter. Both have matured into unrecognizable, dulled portraits of what they were originally positioned to be in THE FORCE AWAKENS and carried through to THE LAST JEDI. Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), who was a pivotal force in the previous feature, is sidelined, essentially relegated to reacting to a monitor for two-thirds of her screen-time. New characters, Zora Bliss (Keri Russell) and Jannah (Naomi Ackie), are also dealt a disservice, both cast primarily as love interests, secondarily as vapid lip-service to “strong female characters.” In fact, Zora’s gibberish-speaking creature sidekick upstages her as the film’s MVP.
There are positive, healthy sentiments fused into the thematic text about how evil lurks in the shadows, isolating in order to manipulate. And while that’s threaded throughout, it’s reductive and trite. Unfortunately this is a soulless entity, missing a large portion of compelling character-drive and impressive action set pieces – ingredients necessary to propagating its message with power and poignancy.
STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER opens on December 20.