Review: 'Star Wars' stumbles with 'The Rise of Skywalker'

Closing chapter in third 'Star Wars' trilogy plays it safe and never finds its mojo

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

The Force is sluggish with this one.

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” the closing chapter in the third trilogy of the “Star Wars” saga, sputters to the finish line with its story of good and evil, Jedi and Sith, old and new. It’s all the tropes “Star Wars” fans are used to, but what it lacks in dramatic energy and forward momentum it attempts to make up for in the warm embrace of nostalgia. Its light saber is in dire need of a charge.

Daisy Ridley, Oscar Issac and John Boyega in "Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker."

Co-writer and director J.J. Abrams, flying his second “Star Wars” mission after 2015’s “The Force Awakens,” attempts to right the ship after 2017’s “The Last Jedi,” which left a bad taste in the mouths of superfans.

“The Last Jedi” took risks and attempted to rewrite mythologies the “Star Wars” fanbase holds dear, and “Rise of Skywalker” is here to return things to the familiar. What it ends up exposing is the weakness of the world of the current series, and the lack of emotional investment in its cast of characters. This is not the “Star Wars” of yesteryear, and it shows.

Not that it returns the series to the lethargic pacing of George Lucas’ middle trilogy of “Star Wars” prequels, which were as exciting as watching Chewbacca’s hair grow. “Rise of Skywalker” at least has a pulse. But it’s not as fun as “The Force Awakens” or as adventurous as “The Last Jedi,” and it’s more tethered to the past — and to its fanbase, and to corporate shareholders at Disney — than any previous entry in the series.

“Rise of Skywalker” wisely focuses on the two strongest characters in the current “Star Wars” universe, Daisy Ridley’s Rey and Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, who very plainly represent good and evil, respectively. Simply put, Kylo is out to kill Rey and end the Jedi, thereby becoming all powerful and finishing what his grandfather, Darth Vader, started. The burden of family and legacy weighs heavily in this universe.

The chase between Rey and Kylo is where “Rise of Skywalker” comes alive, and Ridley and Driver create electricity in their scenes together. It’s everywhere else that “Rise of Skywalker” struggles to find its drive.

Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron and John Boyega’s Finn are strictly functioning in backup roles, and these characters we’ve spent two movies getting to know are rendered flat and undeveloped. Finn’s “Last Jedi” storyline with budding love interest Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) has been stamped out — he now has eyes for Jannah (Naomi Ackie), a Resistance ally he meets on a mission — but along with Poe he’s mostly reduced to shouting other characters’ names in times of peril or bellowing, “noooo!” when something dire happens.  

On the Dark Side, Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is pushing Kylo to be as bad as he can be and attempting to place the galaxy under evil rule. There are some convenient bloodline reveals and about-face character turns that both help and hurt him and push “Rise of Skywalker” toward its inevitable conclusion.      

Along the way, some familiar faces return, there are key goodbyes (some more permanent than others), and an adherence to the past that handcuffs Abrams and doesn’t allow him to make any bold choices or take the story anywhere new. He was hired to deliver a product, one that would please as broad a swath of people as possible, and thus “Rise of Skywalker” is rendered safe, bland and perfunctory. It’s there because it has to be there.

Love it or hate it, at least “The Last Jedi” provoked a reaction, and Abrams must be secretly jealous that “Last Jedi” helmer Rian Johnson got to leave his mark on the series. “Rise of Skywalker” simply feels like a shrug of the shoulders and a march into the expected.  

Which may be all fans want. “Star Wars” isn’t going away — no one is saying this is the end of the series, especially not the folks at Disney — but it’s a logical end point for this version of the story and these characters that we’ve been spending decades getting to know.  

Think about it: the original  “Star Wars” was so rich that it created a world that fans still want to live inside today, 42 years later. Will people feel the same about the characters of this trilogy come 2057? You don’t need the Force to tell you the answer to that one.


'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker'


Rated PG-13: for sci-fi violence and action

Running time: 142 minutes