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 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.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

“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.

Star Wars The Rise of Skywalker

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.”


“A feeling.”

“All that matters is the Wayfinder, finding Exegol.”

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About the Author

Joshua Meyer is a Tokyo-based freelance writer who contributes to /Film and WDW News Today and has also contributed to GaijinPot and Japan Today. You can join his growing legion of 100+ Twitter friends @TheGaijinGhost.