‘Rise of Skywalker’ produces familiar narrative in new ‘Star Wars’ installment
This week Garrett Schumann returns to Arts and Leisure. From 2002 to 2006, Garrett’s reviews were regularly featured in this column with his Reel Dad, Mark Schumann. Today, Garrett is a composer, arts entrepreneur, and faculty member at Washtenaw Community College who lives in Ypsilanti, Mich.
I have been a passionate fan of everything Star Wars for a long, long time.
When I was a student at Ridgefield High School, my friends and I would gather once or twice a year to watch the three prequels and the three original films in narrative order, a feat that consumed the whole day. You may think I’m setting myself up as a die-hard fan who can’t stand what Disney has done to the franchise, but that isn’t the case. I’ve seen all five Disney “Star Wars”’ films, and “The Rise of Skywalker” is definitely not the worst.
The story is familiar, but it is otherwise beautifully produced and well-acted. The movie delivers the galactic grandeur we expect - there are different planets with distinct environments and mysterious, otherworldly powers the main characters must confront. With respect to the new trilogy, “The Rise of Skywalker” arguably makes the best use of Disney’s only real innovation in the lore: Rey and Kylo Ren’s psychic link. In a trio of films critiqued for their wild narrative inconsistencies, this element is brilliantly used in “The Rise of Skywalker.”
Disney’s “Star Wars” movies are famous for the derision they’ve received from communities of self-serious “Star Wars” fans. This discourse can be troubling - especially when it has targeted John Boyega’s race or Daisy Ridley’s gender identity - but, all in all, has always seemed silly to me. Leading up to “The Rise of Skywalker” release, I saw news pieces describing how the series’ directors, J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson, did not plan out a meta-narrative structure, nor even committed to maintain certain narrative continuities between episodes.
To me, this sounds an awful lot like George Lucas’s approach. He didn’t know where the first movie was going to go (if he did, why would he set up romantic chemistry between siblings Luke and Leia?) and his narrative building was often internally inconsistent (remember midichlorians in “The Phantom Menace”?). Another common critique of the Disney movies is that they recycle material, but George Lucas did this, too (after all, the Death Star is rebuilt in “Return of the Jedi”). It may be unsatisfying that “The Rise of Skywalker” inexplicably brings Emperor Palpatine back to life, but it is certainly not blasphemous.
I agree with everyone who says “The Rise of Skywalker” and Disney’s other “Star Wars” movies don’t reach the exhilarating heights of the original trilogy. I’ve found the anthology films - “Rogue One” in particular - stronger than the main-stage productions, perhaps because they are somewhat free from the gravity of “Star Wars’” messy narrative canon. But, we also need to remember Disney’s goal is not to tell amazing stories, only stories that are good enough to make money. This, too, is relatively consistent with the franchise’s history, as the earlier “Star Wars” films have always been intensely commercialized.
“The Rise of Skywalker” is only fine as a movie, and didn’t realize my hopes, but that doesn’t mean it won’t meet Disney’s expectations.
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is rated PG-13 for “sci-fi violence and action.” The film runs 2 hours, 22 minutes.