In December 2014, I turned on AC/DC’s recently released Rock or Bust for my father. His smile and laughter were infectious. With each new, crunchy riff his laughter got louder. He could not believe they were still cranking out the same ridiculous stuff all these decades later. Was the actual songwriting great? Probably not. Was it a great album because it sounded like they went into a studio and said, “Let’s make the most AC/DC sounding album possible”? Yeah. It had that feel.
There is something to be said about “that feel,” to borrow a turn of phrase from Tom Waits and Keith Richards. Nothing is going to evoke something in you like that feel. Is it just simple nostalgia in this case? Probably.
A flawed movie that highlights Kathleen Kennedy and Lucasfilm’s utter failure to successfully map out a plan for this Star Wars trilogy, The Rise of Skywalker has that feel. My immediate reaction to TROS was: 70% awesome, 20% dumb, 10% influenced by shitty fan fiction.
Was it a great movie by an objective filmmaking standpoint? Absolutely not. Was it a great movie by the fact it was obscenely fun and exciting and captured the spirit of Star Wars George Lucas originally intended – fun adventures for kids that also teach a lesson about right vs. wrong and honoring your friends? Hell yes.
This movie was not great, but it was fucking awesome. Each plot point felt as if it was decided by somebody throwing up the horns and saying, “Rock on, brother.” There’s something inherently compelling about that.
Once I made peace with the fact this entire trilogy is a mess and has undone the original series for no actual reason and we’re stuck with this new story for better or worse, I was prepared to go wherever JJ Abrams took me. I stopped waiting for a Star Wars I hoped for and decided to sit back and be entertained by what is.
On the heels of The Last Jedi, a dumb movie packed with overwrought dialogue to make it seem really smart, TROS is a dumb movie that wastes no time trying to strive for anything greater than being fun and I loved it. It is like they said, “We have no idea what we’re supposed to do with this trilogy, so let’s just rock out and make the most Star Warsy Star Wars there ever was.”
I think TROS did the best it could, though trying way too hard at times, to tie up this trilogy while also connecting it to the original and prequel trilogies. I don’t like what has become of the larger story of the Star Wars universe, though I am satisfied with how everything wrapped up (until the next trilogy in 15 years).
And let me just note – this is not some Rian Johnson vs. JJ Abrams thing. All of the blame is squarely on the shoulders of Kennedy and Lucasfilm. Marvel had a 10-year plan and they executed it to near-perfection. Meanwhile, it is like the movie folks at Lucasfilm sat around a table saying, “Star Wars, right? Gotta love it. Let’s sell some toys.”
When you tell different writers and directors to make it up on the fly, you’re going to have a disjointed, insane narrative for a trilogy. People can blame JJ Abrams or Rian Johnson for this or that, but the corporate heads have to rubber stamp everything.
Whoever was rubber stamping this movie apparently said, “Here’s the merchandise we want to sell by the end of this movie. Get us there, and let’s have a ton of fun along the way.”
Backed into an insanely difficult corner given Lucasfilm’s horrendous mismanagement of the franchise and the fact Carrie Fisher died, TROS tried real hard to salvage everything and tie up the many loose ends left dangling in the wind. It is mainly a story built around a collection of action-packed moments to make you remember why you love Star Wars, and that worked for me. There are moments so insanely implausible, even for a movie about space wizards, but they’re done with this attitude of “hey we are sprinting toward the finish line, it’s gonna move quick and we’re gonna to try to make you smile along the way” and I admire that.
I found myself grinning ear to ear, even through a cheesy final act that also bizarrely copied one of the most famous movies ever.
JJ keenly played to the greatest strength of this trilogy – a main cast with tons of chemistry. Rey, Finn, Poe and Kylo Ren are great characters. Letting the heroes unite for a big adventure finally was a smart move that gave the film life and heart. However, while I haven’t been sucked into the whole “JJ just wanted to blow up what Rian did!” debate, I do find it unfortunate that Rose is minimized big time. Keri Russell’s Zorii Bliss joins the long tradition of cool looking characters who don’t do a whole lot, but she was good in her limited time. New puppet Babu Frik is not quite on the Baby Yoda level but was magical.
A big tipping point in my enjoyment of this movie was the increased role for C-3PO. I think 3PO is hilarious and always have. The red arm moment in The Force Awakens was magnificent, and he provides similar moments of levity and humor in TROS that solidify his place as a top Star Wars character.
This was also the best score out of all the sequel trilogy movies. John Williams has given us so many iconic pieces of music, and he smashed it one final time for Star Wars. It was music befitting an epic adventure. The Knights of Ren (hey they’re actually in this one!) have this leitmotif that sounds so ridiculous old school movie villain. I can’t stop smiling thinking about the moment we see the Knights standing together and this theme plays. It is such a brief moment, but on visuals and soundtrack alone it is a top 10 Star Wars moment for me because it, like this entire film, is metal as fuck.
Palpatine’s return – metal as fuck. They knew how popular prequel memes are these days and made sure those of us who find Palpatine to be quotable and delightfully evil were rewarded. I think Palpatine’s return is pretty dumb, but honestly the entire story of this trilogy was so chooched by this point I have no complaints that they went the fan service route by bringing him back. I get why people would be bothered, and it certainly could have been handled better, but I think overall it was a fine effort to connect all of the movies. It is also, again, metal as fuck.
The opening crawl – metal as fuck. I have never taken the time to rank the opening crawls of the Star Wars movies (TLJ is definitely the worst since it’s the same opening as The Empire Strikes Back) but if I had to, TROS would be the best.
The bottom line is pretty straightforward for me. While it influenced a lot of smart fiction, the Star Wars lore has always been messy and inconsistent. These stories, especially the Skywalker Saga, have more been about the moments and the feelings. It is about destiny, family, friendship, doing the right thing. It is a light, breezy adventure that can be enjoyed by 8-year-olds and 88-year-olds.
TROS captures that Star Wars feel. Sometimes preposterous, sometimes confusing, it leans into a strong cast to create one “final” exciting adventure. At the end of the day it is just a movie – a flawed one to be sure, but one I had an incredible amount of fun watching.