'Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker' Spoiler Review: J.J. Abrams Delivers A Relentless Game Of Hyperspace Hopscotch

In the year of our Ford 2019, trying to make sense of people's wildly divergent Star Wars opinions opens up a murky frontier of epistemological questions that Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, in theaters now, only complicates all the more. Epistemology concerns the nature of knowledge and justified belief. I believe that people believe what they believe when they share their Star Wars opinions but I often wonder how they acquired those opinions in the first place. There's a precedent for Jedi mind tricks in the Star Wars universe and it leaves me questioning whether some opinions were planted in people's minds, Kenobi-style, or whether they were genuine reactions that people formed on their own. Like, "Hey, have you Change.org petitioners perchance been inceptioned by the Kremlin?" Or, "Hmm. You journos been getting all chummy with Rian Johnson, listening to him sing subliminal karaoke at film festival bars?"

Discussing Disney's sequel Star Wars trilogy online is like venturing into a mad minefield decorated with the same bad blood as George Lucas's prequel trilogy. As the young Lando Calrissian tells us in his Grammy-winning music video: this is America. When J.J. Abrams stepped back into the director's chair for The Rise of Skywalker, there was always the lingering fear that a big ol' landmine was planted right under that chair, just waiting to detonate. In 2015, Abrams rescued the franchise, restoring its cultural clout with the $2 billion success of The Force Awakens. Now, he's essentially trying to re-rescue the franchise from a re-polluted water cooler. This translates visually when The Rise of Skywalker introduces an ocean moon that's polluted with the wreckage of the second Death Star.

At this point, the Death Star flotsam might as well be symbolic of our childhoods. Post-1999, divisiveness has become the default state of the Star Wars brand. As someone who enjoyed every one of the new franchise entries from 2015 to 2018 — to varying degrees, mind you, and not without some caveats for each — I don't necessarily believe there's a secret cabal of critics clothed in Sith robes who are devoted to worshipping The Last Jedi. Nor do I believe that everyone who failed to be intellectually or emotionally engaged by The Last Jedi has been brainwashed by Russian trolls. I do, however, believe it's possible to have your perception influenced by outside factors, just as I believe it's possible for filmmakers like Abrams to have their approach to storytelling influenced by the weight of audience expectation.

Friends, Gungans, and fellow countrymen, if you're reading this review, and you loved The Rise of Skywalker, and you don't want to hear some know-nothing blogger with the little boy's name of Joshua disparage it in any way, then this is your chance to click away to another /Film article. We'll be doing a deep dive here, so readers with a short attention span, be advised. As a lifelong fan — someone who's booked unscheduled plane trips at the last minute to see Star Wars snow sculptures in exotic foreign locales — I've deliberately buried the lede here and tried to divorce myself emotionally from the film within the greater context of Star Wars fandom as a whole.

We'll have another article up later this week that will take a more fair-minded, neutral look at how The Rise of Skywalker wraps up the threads of the full, nine-episode Star Wars saga dating back to 1977. In the meantime, the truth is, this movie didn't work for me at all. Explaining why is going to entail some frank criticism that some people (particularly the bros with hypnotized red hammer-and-sickle eyes) might not want to hear. I certainly don't begrudge anyone their enjoyment of this movie. I just didn't like it and I have to be honest about that.

Pure vitriol is not on the menu for this analysis (no pottymouth wisecracks or even soft scatological comparisons like "turd"), but I fear my snarky appraisal of the movie's scattershot plot may irk some younglings. We have no way of knowing just how much Disney's ownership of Star Wars may have influenced the creative process behind The Rise of Skywalker. The backlash against The Last Jedi and subsequent commercial failure of Solo: A Star Wars Story clearly weren't good for business. I'm sure Abrams was dealing with a lot of external pressures, not the least of which was the necessity of meeting a release date. He's a director who understands all too well the importance of the "motion" in motion pictures. This new kinetic flick of his is impeccably crafted on almost every level except the one where it matters most: the story. It's poorly written and can't disguise that by blurring past you while babbling expository nonsense.

I feel confident that the thin-skinned, artificially intelligent screenplay (here regarded as an entity; Bad Robot, indeed) would not survive a college-level writing workshop. But this movie got made, so now I shall assume the role of the blackshirt seething, "Not quite my tempo," like J.K. Simmons in Whiplash. The gloves are about to come off, my young padawan learners. You've been warned.

"Faster and More Intense!" Let's Lightspeed-Skip!

The Rise of Skywalker hurtles along at a breakneck pace like a Star Tours Starspeeder gone haywire. Early on, the movie introduces a new maneuver for the Millennium Falcon called lightspeed-skipping, whereby it hiccups from one place to another just long enough to catch a glimpse of the scenery. The jump to hyperspace thereby becomes a hopscotch game. Even after the Falcon slows down and lands on a planet, it feels like the movie itself is still stuck in lightspeed-skipping mode: planet-hopping around, telepathically teleporting necklaces and lightsabers, never stopping to catch its breath or smell the space flowers.

This is the kind of overstuffed turkey of a movie that defies a simple logline or plot description because it won't sit still on the plate long enough for you to get a good look at it. Said turkey is well and truly cooked but it's still hyperactive and freerunning. If I hadn't watched the movie twice and sat there taking notes, I wouldn't be able to remember half of what I saw.

There were times afterward when I did consult my notes and was genuinely surprised to encounter the fresh memory of some stunt that my brain had ejected wholesale. I couldn't even begin to walk you through the whole movie beat by beat, but in the spirit of its storytelling style, let's flip rapidly through a deck of snapshots and see if that amounts to a picture of anything.

Rey, Finn, Poe, and the gang are back for a non-stop adventure through outer space—to the very limits of Mount Maclunkey! The Emperor is back, too, and conveniently, he's been keeping a whole fleet of Star Destroyers underwater so he can exhume them from their improbable hiding place at just the right moment, much like the U.S.S. Enterprise at the beginning of Star Trek Into Darkness.

"Does that mean every ship in the fleet—"

"Has planet-killing weapons? Of course."

"Hit those underbelly cannons! Every one we knock out is a world saved!"

What can I say except, "You're welcome?" Across the galaxy, Rey goes on training runs, dancing blindfolded across tightropes in her blast shield helmet (it's a metaphor for the movie). Abrams aims to please, so there's more jokey use of Force powers, including a scene where Kylo Ren Force-chokes and flings a First Order officer against the ceiling.

The gang gets stuck in quicksand and sinks into a sand burrow where Rey finds new uses for her lightsaber as a glorified flashlight. So much for Luke's newfound philosophy, "A Jedi's weapon deserves more respect." Ever the power sponge, Rey soon manifests startling, Jesus-like abilities and uses them to heal space serpents. But ... but how?

"Force energy from me to him. Transferred a bit of life."

Thanks for explaining! Wait, where did Rey go? Oh, now she's over there, backflipping over a low-flying TIE silencer (later, she'll also backflip over huge crashing waves). She and Kylo Ren engage in a telekinetic tug-of-war over a First Order transport ship. Finn shouts, "Rey!!!" and "Poe!!!" and "Rey!!!" again.

In what seems like a neat twist at first, General Hux, the space Nazi, turns out to be a spy for the Resistance, only to be promptly killed off and replaced, lickety-split, by another sneering general in a way that makes you wonder why they even built Hux up and devoted all this screen time to him across three movies. Was it all just for that one twist? And is this how the normals in the audience felt about the deaths of Captain Phasma and Supreme Leader Snoke in The Last Jedi?

Kylo Ren, on the other hand, gets stabbed with lightsabers to the brink of death and flung into chasms like the Emperor of old, but he refuses to die until he receives his bewildering, complimentary kiss before dying. Rey and Chewbacca refuse to die, too, but that's just because the movie thinks its audience is gullible and wants to emotionally manipulate you. Did I mention that the Emperor sucks the life force out of Rey and Ren? We know it's their life force because he tells us so. The real Force never felt so forced as it does in this movie.

Name Parade: Klaud, Boolio, Babu Frik, D-O, Zorri Bliss, Jannah

The Rise of Skywalker tries to fakes it until it makes it and I feel its pain but someone needs to put this dying casino-planet fathier out of its misery. Along the way, Maz Kanata, Rose Tico, and a new non-entity of a character played by Dominic Monaghan (seriously, what is he even doing in this movie) stand around and literally stand around some more on Planet Sideline with nothing much to contribute except the occasional bit of plot exposition.

The Rise of Skywalker doubles down on my least favorite scene from The Force Awakens, where the Resistance fighters all form a writers' room huddle to explain the inner workings of the plot to the audience. If you get lonely when that's not happening, don't worry. This movie has more characters than it knows what to do with, so we'll meet other new faces. Some of the faces will belong to generic new aliens with buddy-buddy names like Klaud and Boolio (don't mishear that as Claude and Coolio), proving once again that Star Wars has never equalled the creature effects of Return of the Jedi.

But hey! Babu Frik! Amirite? Think fast, simpletons! Faster and more intense! That was the famous George Lucas mantra, and J.J. Abrams has applied it post-haste. Abrams himself voices the new droid, D-O, who looks like the Pixar lamp with his head mounted backwards on one wheel so that he can roll around instead of hopping (and so that he can remind you: Disney owns everything, including your soul and mine and those of the children. All children.)

There's also a new bounty hunter, Zorii Bliss, who looks like she wandered in from the Daft Punk school of costuming. And there's a new young warrior woman, Jannah, who wields a bow and arrow and rides a shaggy horse with tusks across Star Destroyers while they're flying below the clouds of the planet Exegol. Don't ask about the naming there and why it sounds like an alt-rock pharmaceutical such as Jurassitol or Rexall. Do you think Exegol could be mined for unobtainium since Disney is the proud owner of some Avatar real estate in one of its theme parks? But I digress. This young woman, Jannah, bonds with Finn over their shared Stormtrooper past and she gets weirdly teased as Lando Calrissian's long-lost daughter or something (because it's a small, small galaxy, after all, and everyone from the old and new generation has to be related somehow).

"The location of the Wayfinder has been inscribed on this dagger."

"The dagger's on the ship. We need it."

"Why?"

"A feeling."

"All that matters is the Wayfinder, finding Exegol."

Diagnosis: Mere Blockbusterism

Together with JawsStar Wars helped create the blockbuster movie model, but this latest installment in the 42-year-old franchise suffers from a particularly egregious case of the film disease that author Steve Erickson once referred to as "mere blockbusterism." There's even a sky beam. It's not quite the "swirling ring of trash in the sky" that Suicide Squad self-consciously joked about, but it comes pretty darn close, because the Emperor shoots Force lightning up from his hands into the sky, turning another ginormous, handy-dandy, back-pocket fleet of ships into falling junkyard scraps.

Watching The Rise of Skywalker, it's easy to spot the visual rhymes with previous Star Wars movies. Calling them callbacks seems lenient. They're more like swipes, the comic book industry term for when an artist shamelessly copies another artist but tries to pass the work off as their own. We bloggers and podcasters, who specialize in cannibalizing each other's insights, might know a thing or two about that. Anyway, there are plenty of copycat images like that, and I could certainly point them out here, but as Maz Kanata would say, that's a "[/Film] story for another time."

What really surprised me was how often and randomly The Rise of Skywalker reminded me of other Hollywood blockbusters from my lifetime, such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Perfect Storm, Transformers, X-Men: First Class, Man of Steel, Mad Max: Fury Road, Spectre, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Avengers: Endgame. When Rey doubles up on lightsabers and makes the Emperor's face melt, he might as well be a Raiders of the Lost Ark Nazi, liquified by the divine power of the Ark of the Covenant. The thingamabob she uses to locate the thingy thing on the Death Star is basically the headpiece to the Staff of Ra, the talisman Indiana Jones uses in the Map Room at Tanis to locate the Well of Souls. You still with me?

Rey rides the towering wave from A Perfect Storm to the Death Star flotsam. The all-important, glowing green Sith Wayfinder is a triangle-shaped piece of cheese for the MacGuffin rat race; it belongs in the trophy room of an unimaginative Hollywood producer, next to the cubical AllSpark from Transformers. Rey holds her hand up in a pose eerily similar to Magneto's and that First Order transport ship that she holds back with her burgeoning mutant powers might just as well be the submarine from X-Men: First Class.

When Kylo Ren and Rey kiss at the end, it's as unearned as the Superman and Lois Lane kiss that occurs right after the destruction-porn fight over Metropolis in Man of Steel. Flying Stormtroopers rocket up from their speeders in the middle of a desert chase (we're not on Tattooine; don't make that mistake again like we did with Jakku) and the sight of them arcing through the air recalls the pole-vaulting truck chasers in Mad Max: Fury Road. One of them winds up zipping around like a deflating balloon and that's the way my mind felt as I watched this movie.

Power! Unlimited Palpatine Power!

And then there's the Emperor and his new spiky Iron Throne ripoff. God bless Ian McDiarmid. Who knew he was the real star of Star Wars all along? Newsflash: this was never just the Skywalker Saga, folks. It was the Skywalker and Palpatine Saga, brought to you by ©Disney•Pixar. Because the Emperor tells us so. "I have been every voice you have ever heard inside your head," he insists. "I made Snoke!" Good to know.

The Rise of Skywalker assures us that we "don't know the whole story" about Rey's parentage, but I'm not sure the filmmakers did, either, and that puts them in fine company with George Lucas himself. The production history of the original Star Wars trilogy would seem to indicate that making Darth Vader Luke Skywalker's father and Princess Leia Luke's sister were subtle retcons; and who knows, if it were around circa the early 1980s, maybe the Twitter mob would have torn those retcons to pieces, too, even though the first one comes in a moment of high drama that clearly ranks as one of the greatest movie twists of all time.

Maybe if Sheev Palpatine had been there from the beginning as an actual character in The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi, it would be easier to swallow him as Rey's all-powerful grandfather. As it is, the sudden artless exposition asserting that he was there in the shadows all along, pulling the strings, landed like a whiff for me.

Lightspeed-skip to the next paragraph if you want to avoid old James Bond spoilers. Otherwise, you'll hear me say that Grandpa Palpatine, grand architect of sequel trilogy conspiracies, struck me as cheap and clumsy and more than a little similar to the retcon in Spectre whereby Franz Oberhauser/Ernst Stavro Blofield tried to take credit for everything that happened to the Blond Bond. Blofield and the zombie Emperor seem to have graduated from the same school of ex post facto mastermind villainy.

Lightspeed-skip to the next paragraph if you want to avoid old Star Trek spoilers. It seems clear that, from the very beginning, Snoke was either meant to be a copycat J.J. Abrams version of Emperor Palpatine, or a literal Star Wars clone whose true identity would later be revealed in a bait-and-switch, similar to what Abrams — the effervescent mystery-box marketer — did with John Harrison/Khan Noonian Singh in Star Trek Into Darkness. I'm not sure which is worse, but I know I could feel the movie squirming as its script went through the motions of insisting: Rey can't be no one! She has to be someone! The good half of a Force Dyad! Kylo Ren's better half! The Descendant of a villain like the ones in that Disney Channel Original Movie! A woman defined by her relation to evil men!

Cue Ewan McGregor screaming, "You were supposed to be the chosen one!" I can't wrap my head around Sheev Palpatine being anyone's father, let alone grandfather. He never seemed like the type to sire progeny.

Make no mistake about it: this is Star [Wars] Into Darkness, people. The scary lair of the zombie Emperor is perhaps the darkest that Star Wars has ever gone.

I realize that, essentially, what all these blockbuster references boil down to is the criticism that the movie reminded me too much of other movies. I'm sure lots of people were able to watch The Rise of Skywalker without being constantly reminded of other tentpole films from both inside and outside the Star Wars franchise. All I can say is, before I arrived at the theater for my first midnight screening of The Rise of Skywalker, morbid curiosity had already driven me to scroll down through the first wave of negative Rotten Tomatoes blurbs. This caused me to lower my expectations. I was expecting a movie on the level of The Dark Knight Rises (which, for me, didn't quite stick the trilogy landing, either). What I got instead was a movie on the level of The Matrix Revolutions. Hard pass.

Screenplay by Chris Terrio and J.J. Abrams

When The Rise of Skywalker iris-wipes out to its closing credits, the first name that comes up after J.J. Abrams is that of Chris Terrio, who won an Oscar for Argo but who also co-wrote the screenplay for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Harrison Ford's reappearance in this movie is ripped straight from the Kevin Costner playbook in that movie. You've got the same screenwriter bringing back the dead dad to counsel the living super-son but now his name is Han Solo instead of Pa Kent. Han isn't a Force ghost; Kylo Ren quickly spoon-feeds the audience a line of dialogue explaining him as "a memory." To the best of my recollection, we've never seen a walking, talking, interacting visualization of a dead person like this in a Star Wars movie before. Again, #NotAForceGhost, y'all.

As I watched The Rise of Skywalker, I kept thinking, why would you bring in the guy who co-wrote Batman v Superman to "fix" Star Wars? Whatever the reader thinks of Batman v Superman (FYI, I just did a closed-mouth burp and let the air out through my nostrils), it's clear that the DC Extended Universe (as it's still unofficially known on Wikipedia) has been trying to course-correct itself the last couple of years because of movies like that and their poorly received plot twists involving mothers named Martha. If you wanted to fix Star Wars — and there's a whole other camp of Porg-lovers out there who would say it didn't need fixing — why would you employ the guy who arguably helped break this other fledgling cinematic universe, the DCEU?

There are times when Abrams and Terrio's script almost feels like it's talking to itself in the mirror in the manner of an insecure teenager. "I sense unease about my appearance," Kylo Ren says as he dons his discarded, voice-muffling mask. (Adam Driver always looks and sounds better without the mask). There are other times when the script feels like it's very deliberately winking at us, the audience. Chewbacca gets his medal, finally! And look, there's Wedge Antilles! Blink and you'll miss him, but yay, fan-service! Aren't you glad we brought Billy Dee Williams back? Now, if you need me, I'll just be over here, walking out of the fire as a Force ghost, having dramatically caught that tossed lightsaber so that I can treat the Jedi's weapon with the respect it deserves (or use it as a blue flashlight).

These moments can't cover up the self-aware nervous twitches toward the Disney hegemony. "We were conscripted as kids, all of us," laments a former soldier in the Empire, or the First Order, or the Final Order, or whatever it's calling itself these days. "We'll need to increase recruitments, harvest more of the galaxy's young," says an officer who's still on the payroll. Is this a boardroom meeting with the top brass at Disney, or what?

Before the movie started playing, my theater ran commercials for:

(a) Japanese electronic voice lightsabers by Takara Tomy

(b) Disney Deluxe, the Japanese equivalent of Disney+

(c) The faraway American theme park land known as Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge

I know I'm forgetting one or two other Star Wars products that they plugged, but you get the point. A rain of toy and theme park money: that's the chief artistic impulse driving this movie. I say that as a shame-faced Star Wars dupe who eats ramen noodles with lightsaber chopsticks and is currently sitting on a stockpile of 6-inch Black Series action figures. They conscripted me as a kid. Aren't you afraid your own tender mind might be amenable to the power of mercenary suggestion?

These Aren't the Feels You're Looking for

If you can believe it, still other times, it feels like The Rise of Skywalker is locked in a contentious back-and-forth with a little movie called Star Wars: The Last Jedi. (Have you heard of it?) The childlike viewer, meanwhile, sees that Mom and Dad, Rian and J.J., are fighting and, boy, this is a real nasty argument: the space-opera equivalent of the shouting match between Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver in Marriage Story. (Which I haven't seen yet. I just knows me my memes ... about as well as J.J. Abrams can emulate himsa some bombad blockbuster language.)

I know, I know: stop comparing the movie to other movies. Judge it on its own merits as a misfire of epic proportions. But The Rise of Skywalker is a movie that seems utterly cobbled together from loose pop-culture parts. It's a scavenger, a junk trader, like Rey once was. It and The Last Jedi and The Force Awakens are all in conversation with each other, but The Rise of Skywalker doesn't want to listen and honestly respond to what The Last Jedi has to say.

Let's play devil's advocate and say that The Last Jedi gave The Force Awakens the same treatment. With its chucking of Luke's lightsaber and smashing of Kylo Ren's mask and casual dismissal of the unexplained Snoke, The Last Jedi dismantled part of the apparatus that Abrams had set up around the new Star Wars trilogy. It tore down the house that J.J. built.

In that case, you could argue that Abrams was the absolute last cook who should have been allowed back in the Star Wars kitchen, because Rian Johnson, the deconstructionist, had already spoiled his broth (which was a stolen recipe, just between you and me). It was too late to start over and he lacked the objectivity to know how to salvage the three-course meal they had both spent time cooking in that Tinseltown kitchen where the many cooks cook.

It's understandable that Abrams, as a storyteller, might take it personally when Johnson discarded some of his choices and tried to take Star Wars in a different direction. But I wasn't expecting to see the grubby fingerprints of a reactionary rebuttal on every last frame of The Rise of Skywalker. It's like his movie is sticking its tongue out at Johnson's the whole time.

Some fans may get off on that and find it vindicating. I felt like I was watching a Disneyfied dumpster fire descend into desperation and denialism. It's as if the movie maps our potential emotions at every turn, clocking every disturbance in the Force, then readjusting, as it calculates these aren't the feels we're looking for.

I still think Abrams' best movie is the first Star Trek movie. I've always had a soft spot for him, I guess, even when some of his other movies have provided an initial sugar-rush but then left me questioning their real nutritional value on a rewatch. They call that "empty calories," and I know I'm not the first to apply that phrase to this movie.

The Rise of Skywalker was the first Abrams film I've watched where, right away, on a first viewing, I felt like, no, I am not going to jump through your hoops anymore, Mr. Abrams. Thank you very little. I know what's in the mystery box: nothing but air. The thrill of a big box-office opening, followed by the after smell of disappointment.

As an audience, we already fell for the death-fakeout trick once when Abrams whipped out the magical super blood serum to resurrect a certain character in another 2010s movie, which shall not be named for fear of late-breaking spoilers. The point is, we're not going to fall for the same trick four more times in the span of one ill-conceived flick with Chewbacca, Kylo Ren (twice), and Rey.

I refuse to call her Rey Skywalker, or Rey Palpatine, for that matter. While we're on the subject of names, my lips will never get out of the habit of mistakenly wanting to call this movie Rise of the Skywalker as opposed to The Rise of Skywalker. That's because it's a clunky title that doesn't roll off the tongue the way the title of a corporate-mandated movie should.

Didn't Stop to Think If They Should

Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow and his screenwriting partner, Derek Connolly, share a "Story by" credit on, ahem, Rise of the Skywalker. (See what I did there? Jawas, just hanging around on Tatooine: "Uttini!") Trevorrow was originally slated to be the film's director before he joined the growing list of creators who have departed Star Wars projects under Kathleen Kennedy's tenure as Lucasfilm's Supreme Leader. Yet it's the original Jurassic Park, not Jurassic World, that I found myself thinking of with regards to how the movie handles Carrie Fisher's untimely passing. Specifically, I had that Ian Malcolm quote rolling around in the back of my head: "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."

Fisher's death came as a blow to everyone in the Star Wars community and left The Rise of Skywalker team stuck between a rock and a hard place. This was supposed to be Leia's movie, the way The Force Awakens belonged to Han and The Last Jedi belonged to Luke. It's a noble aim to want to honor the late Fisher on celluloid, but is it really on her behalf that they squeezed her into this movie? It seems like a better way to honor her memory might have been to accept her death on natural human terms and make the opening crawl about Leia. With the way The Last Jedi ended, they could have very easily jumped forward in time, setting this movie several years after that one and giving the Resistance time to rebuild. The movie could have started out with Leia's funeral and the character's absence could have gone toward strengthening Kylo Ren as the new Supreme Leader since he would now be left fully unchecked by any loving parents.

As it is, The Rise of Skywalker uses Leia as a human prop. The dialogue scenes built around existing footage of her are so awkwardly constructed that they call attention to themselves and just wind up feeling like one more noticeable slip in the movie's bumbling plot machinations. Leia's death hits Chewbacca harder than the audience. I never knew a Wookie would sink to its knees in anguish like that.

As I said, I don't begrudge anyone their enjoyment of this movie. If it works for you, then I hope you didn't bother to read this far and get all angered. Nothing I say here can ever take away from your own personal relationship with Star Wars. I can only try to express how I felt and what I observed and then you're free to disagree.

The Circle Is Now Complete from 1999 to 2019

I came out of The Rise of Skywalker feeling like I had just watched the worst or second to worst Star Wars movie ever made. Though I've worked myself up into a giddy state writing this, it gives me no pleasure to write that. I was excited to see this movie until that old leaden WTF feeling set in and I realized I was watching a hot mess.

It's weird how déjà vu works, isn't it? I can't be the only one who shifted in my theater seat on opening night, thinking, "I sense something, a presence I've not felt since ..." 1999. I'm still not sure if The Rise of Skywalker is better or worse than The Phantom Menace, but I haven't actively disliked a Star Wars movie this much since then, and I think I would be inclined to skip both of them in a rewatch of the Skywalker Saga. Just lop off the first and last episode, skip straight to Anakin as an adult (if you're feeling charitable), and end with Luke's death. As for the spin-offs, Rogue One is a keeper and Solo is expendable. Make mine Mandalorian?

Before I go take my soma and Exegol tablets and flush the memory of this movie out of my frazzled brain, there's one comparison to another recent blockbuster that I forgot to make. In The Rise of Skywalker, when all hope is lost and Lando's voice suddenly radios in to say, "But there are more of us, Poe. There are more of us," the mind goes drifting back to eight months ago when Anthony Mackie's Falcon radioed in and said, "On your left," right before the portals opened and the cavalry showed up in Avengers: Endgame. It only hammers home how much better that movie was at sticking the saga landing.

The Rise of Skywalker resolves its uninspired mishmash of conflict by telling us that "people are rising up all over the galaxy," but it's meaningless to hear that, because those people and the ship's in Lando's miracle armada have been forever idling in offscreen limbo, waiting to be conjured when convenient. They were apparently too cowardly to join the fight at the end of The Last Jedi. When the credits rolled in 2017, the Resistance was small enough to fit on the Millennium Falcon. Two years later, in the span of one scene, The Rise of Skywalker balloons it back up to unbeatable size.

Practical effects enabled the original Star Wars trilogy to remain tethered to some semblance of physical reality, even as our imaginations became untethered in the fantasy narrative. The Rise of Skywalker yips about, wagging its mutt tail and rewriting the laws of the Star Wars universe such that death can be undone with a simple wave of the hand (as opposed to a snap of the gauntlet fingers). The franchise is no stranger to howlingly bad operatic moments, but when the voice cameo cavalcade swells, imparting stilted Jedi wisdom like, "Bring back the balance, Rey, as I did," I had long since checked out mentally and could only cock my dimples in a flat-mouthed show of unimpressed movie-watching.

This week will go down in history as the one where the 45th U.S. President was impeached and Disney brought the Skywalker Saga in for a Hindenburg-level crash-landing. There's probably a link in there somewhere between those two events and the culture at large, but after having so many of my brain cells killed by The Rise of Skywalker, I'm not sure I even have the capacity to remember what I was just talking about the sentence before this.

Legend tells of a war that was once fought in the stars. The war ended in 1983 but occasionally, light skirmishes and even a few good battles still break out. The Force is weak with this one.