Thank the Midichlorians it's over! When it was announced that J.J. Abrams was chosen as the director of the closing film for the Sequel Trilogy, I predicted that he'd attempt to please both fans and non-fans of The Last Jedi at the same time. A noble intention, that in retrospect, was doomed to fail. In his desperate endeavors to be as pleasing as possible, he was as safe as possible. But because of the groundwork laid down by his predecessor, even the safe answer was a risk; not so easy as a simple Copy/Paste of the classics. He had to tell the story as he saw fit, while moving forward with the story and characters from a starting point that probably intimidated him. Is it possible to tie together such a disjointed trilogy into a conclusion that holds together? Yes. Is it possible to please everyone? No.
|Time for Rey to find her place in all this. Whether you like it or not!
In the end, I'd rather watch two hours of fanservice than be insulted for two hours (though neither are ideal) so The Rise of Skywalker comes out on the positive side, but not without the additional odor of Retcon. None of the films in this franchise respect each other, and the flow between them is understandably rough. Abrams spends half the film clawing his way back to a vision he can work with -- essentially making two films worth of content fit into the run time of one. It's rushed and messy; shaved of every second it could spare, and never given a moment to rest. But then he finds the place in which he wants to work, and around the third act everything settles into a compelling story again. Only one thread hangs on, fraying but intact, to tie the three films together; and that is the arcs of our heroine Rey, and her villain, Kylo Ren.
If I had my pick of any one thing to keep consistent between the films, that would be it, with no second place. That's what Abrams nailed down in the end, and though it's not exactly the way I would have written it, it works within the frame of both the movie and the last two movies' baggage -- and is genuinely good storytelling from a character perspective. Despite holes in the plot, I respect that. Rey (Daisy Ridley) will still be called a Mary Sue, I'm sure, but Abrams provides a reason for her exemplary untrained skills, and completes her arc with care and dedication. Kylo Ren remains the best written character of the sequel trilogy. Adam Driver doesn't have a pages of dialogue here, and even spends extended amounts of time in silence when you wouldn't expect it. With the solid foundation of the character, and Driver's talent for expression, Ren thrives under the treatment. He is the film's boldest choices, and its greatest payoff.
|Rey and Kylo are the heart and soul of the film, which is the most important thing. Also, this movie has more than one lightsaber duels, and that's very important too.
As for my used-to-be personal favorite, I was glad to see Poe (Oscar Isaac, who actually drew a short straw when he won a part in Star Wars) fulfill the role he was originally written for; "the Han Solo type." He keeps the temper Rian Johnson gave him while piloting the Millennium Falcon, flirting and quipping, and finally feels realized. And yes, he and Rey interact. Finally. I almost didn't even notice, and that's exactly how it should have been from the start. John Boyega's Finn unfortunately takes more of a backseat, having done all his growing in The Force Awakens. You can sense that there's no clear vision for the character, but he isn't in the way either; a welcome presence. While feeding the fans lines to placate them once, Abrams said that Rose was the thing Johnson did that he was most grateful for; watching the movie, that's clearly not true.
What I would guess Abrams is really most grateful for, is the establishing of Force Skype Calls -- or the connection between Rey and Kylo that allows them to interact at distances. Abrams takes it a step further in a neat way -- one of the movie's most creative ideas -- and useful to the plot, too. In fact, it seems most of Abram's creative choices here stemmed from working through choices that Johnson made. Sometimes it leads to the fulfillment of themes that I found impressively intuitive and subtle considering the action beats coming across like a cartoon hammer to the skull -- and sometimes it results in blatant retconning. Sometimes both at once! The movie is a mess because of it, but also not as milquetoast as it might have been had Abrams been allowed to merely execute a soft remake of Return of the Jedi. A fascinating trade-off, and something for which I'll gladly thank Johnson.
|This movie elevates TLJ, but also wouldn't have happened without TLJ, so I guess really, they elevate each other -- and through that counterintuitive route, that means they succeed in doing what trilogy parts were meant to.
We could spend hours in Whatifland, but I'll forgo it. This trilogy could have been many different things, but this is what it is: Abrams'. He has staked claim and it belongs to him. He did what he thought was best, and if it wasn't, I'm far too tired to devise how. Given the circumstances, this film is closer to a best-case scenario than I ever dared hope it'd be. The whole trilogy was a long series of stumbles, insecurities, misunderstanding of fans, and conflicting ideas, but, almost miraculously, the ending doesn't fall apart. It gets to where it was going. It makes it to a real end. I could mention that the end it finds is more than decent; far from dull, and at least in the ballpark of a resonating and moving story. (At most I got misty-eyed yesterday just thinking about it.) But all that's a mere bonus at this point. For most films, making it to the end of the story is a given; but given the disastrous road this one has endured, I cannot think of a better recommendation than to point out the end that this giant, turbulent, space adventure possesses, and say, "They did it."