Star Wars Episode IX Review: The Rise of Disney. The Fall of Star Wars
Five years ago, I walked into the Savoy with my friend Mark to go see The Force Awakens. To say we were as excited as kids on Christmas Eve is an understatement. After all, we were going to see the first Star Wars film in over 10 years. Fast forward to 2019 and it’s amazing just how little I was looking forward to The Rise of Skywalker.
The hype surrounding Star Wars since Disney bought the rights to the franchise from George Lucas in 2012 has gone from red hot to lukewarm to chillingly cold, all within the space of less than a decade. In 2015, when The Force Awakens was released, there was a buzz surrounding the franchise that has quickly dwindled, mostly because of bad writing, poor character development, less than stellar acting, and the creation of characters whose sole purpose is to sell toys.
That isn’t to say that Star Wars has been all bad since Disney took over. The Force Awakens was actually a very good film that opened up new storylines for the franchise to go down. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was also a surprisingly enjoyable film, despite it being a spin-off nobody asked for. And just recently, The Mandalorian has got everybody talking because of its top-quality storytelling, and of course…Baby Yoda.
Unfortunately, the negatives far outweigh the positives. What had initially started out as a good effort by Disney to continue the franchise quickly turned sour. The Last Jedi decided to ignore and abandon a lot of the new storylines set up in The Force Awakens. During this time, Solo: A Star Wars Story was also released and became one of the most expensive films ever made. It also became the first Star Wars film to be considered a box office bomb, grossing only $398 million worldwide against a budget of almost $300 million. At this stage, Disney had released four Star Wars films in the space of three and a half years. People started to suffer from Star Wars fatigue.
I will admit that when “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.…” appeared on the screen, I did start to get excited. After all, it isn’t everyday you get to see a new Star Wars film for the first time. However, that is where everything went downhill for me.
Rather than spend countless paragraphs seemingly complaining about the film, I’ll give a quick summary of the problems I encountered watching The Rise of Skywalker. These include;
Poor Opening Crawl – The opening crawl is iconic for its fantastic storytelling, but the crawl in The Rise of Skywalker was dull and just seemed like a great way to shift the story in a complete 180-degree direction after the negative backlash to The Last Jedi.
Pacing – The opening hour of the movie felt all over the place with a lot of things happening without much explanation as to why or how. If anything, it just felt rushed. It was only during the films third act did things finally settle down and flow.
Locations – Every Star Wars film released usually shows new locations in the Star Wars universe and in true fashion, The Rise of Skywalker did the same. Unfortunately, it did so times ten. The movie seemed to change location more than James Bond in Quantum of Solace. Blink and the characters were somewhere new. Both the original and prequel trilogies gave a lot of time to new locations so fans could take them in and enjoy them. How else would the ice world of Hoth or city planet of Corussant have become so popular amongst the fanbase. There was not much time for such similar enjoyment of locations in The Rise of Skywalker. Merchandisable Characters – Star Wars has always been famous for introducing characters for the sole purpose of selling merchandise, so this is nothing new. However, unlike the original or prequel trilogies, many of the new characters feel out of place and very much that they only populate the world so fans can see them and want to buy their figurine. Wasteful Opportunities – A lot of the complaints that came out of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi was the sheer amount of wasted opportunities. Despite being marketed heavily, Captain Phasma was nothing more than a side character, and the Knights of Ren didn’t even feature in either film with the exception of a flashback. This made fans wonder what big payoff either would get in The Rise of Skywalker. Unfortunately, none. Captain Phasma was confirmed to have been killed in The Last Jedi, despite fans believing she had probably survived the fall and destruction of The First Order’s dreadnought. As for the Knights of Ren, they served simply as lackies of Kylo Ren in the film and the first time we see them in combat against him, they are simply dispatched. Another frustrating aspect is that while it is hinted that they were killed, their fate is left up in the air as only one or two were shown to be killed on screen. Other characters like Maz Kanata, General Hux and Rose Tico also saw a frustrating lack of screen time, especially considering the roles they played in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. It’s Been Done – There is a frustrating lack of imagination to The Rise of Skywalker. Much like The Force Awakens, it is a rehash of the original trilogy in so many ways that it is sad. It pays lip service to the fans in bringing back Billy Dee Williams and Ian McDiarmid to play Lando Calrissian and Palpatine/Darth Sidious respectively. Aside from that, it was the same old recycled storyline that Star Wars fans are now all too familiar with, including a supposed villain turning their back on the Dark Side and becoming a hero, a battle where all hope looks lost until the cavalry evens the odds (Avengers Endgame, anyone?), and the emergence of the Force Ghosts to give the lead character a much needed kick up the ass to spur them on to do something.
There were aspects to the film which I did enjoy such as the incredible visual and sound effects, the on-screen introduction of the new class of Stormtroopers, and the subtle nods to the Old Republic folklore. I was even surprised at just how seamlessly Carrie Fisher’s scenes as General Leia Organa fitted into the film considering they were unused footage of her filmed during The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, prior to her death. While it was obvious that her death impacted the way Leia’s story would conclude, it didn’t end in a bad way and was fitting to the character.
While The Rise of Skywalker supposedly ends the Skywalker saga, it doesn’t end the Star Wars film franchise. There is a new trilogy set for 2022 and while that is only two years away, perhaps it is enough time for Disney to learn from the many mistakes they made during this trilogy and finally produce a series of films worthy of the universe which George Lucas created. However, for the time being, it will be nice to have a break from Star Wars, something which I never thought I’d hear myself say as a child. For me, The Rise of Skywalker was more a powerful demonstration by the Disney merchandise marketing department than a glorious ending to the saga which I had hoped for.