Star Wars is about balance. Light versus Dark. Jedi versus Sith. One versus one. Should the Force fall out of balance, chaos ensues.
The Rise of Skywalker epitomizes balance — balance in story; balance in heritage; balance in its namesake.
This will not spoil. It is intended to be read after viewing the film. This is due to a balance in context versus content.
It is fun to watch J.J. Abrams play in the sandbox of Rian Johnson before him, as it was fun to watch Johnson play in the sandbox of Abrams before him.
Abrams built up what Johnson tore down, and thus Abrams is challenged to rebuild from those pieces. To construct a cohesive narrative, Abrams must construct something cohesive from the rubble Johnson laid before him.
Like Empire after Hope, Johnson laid waste to the monomyth laid before him. He’d done away with nearly every construct setup before him. Rey’s parents are nobodies. Snoke was an easy kill. Luke’s saber means nothing. Like an angsty teen, Johnson throws away legacy. He wants to define his own path. The Last Jedi is punk.
By blowing The Force Awakens to hell, the return to its author had to be nothing but a challenge. Abrams is forced to not only to piece together loose ends, but also tie it up with a satisfying bow.
If Kylo’s helmet is a symbol for this third act, The Rise of Skywalker is the valiant effort to salvage the pieces it was born from.
Fast vs. Slow
The Rise of Skywalker is fast. Maybe a little too fast. Fast to the point where it feels like it’s doing its best to ignore The Last Jedi. It simply wants to snap into The Force Awakens, working as it’s own Star Wars trilogy second and third acts in a single film. But as soon as one feels that way, there are questions and weight from The Last Jedi that must be answered — Jedi books, helmets, and Force ghosts, etc.
The Rise of Skywalker is slow. This is a third act that feels like a single film full of third acts. It’s relentless, but moves at a slower pace than that of The Last Jedi. There is less plot than there is filling gaps or doing the grunt work of attempting to reconstruct Johnson’s deconstruction. By the end, I had a hard time remembering the beginning or even caring about it for that matter.
Big vs. Small
The Rise of Skywalker is big. This film above all other Star Wars films feels massive. The scale of the fleets. The cinematography of the ships. The velocity of light-speed chases. The variety of planets. The sheer magnitude of the shots is breathtaking. Impossible odds haven’t felt so impossible since the first front on the Death Star in A New Hope.
The Rise of Skywalker is small. The relationships feel small. Where The Last Jedi expands familial, friendly, and sexual bonds, The Rise of Skywalker contracts them into a focused few. The stakes stay within the family. The stressors are on individuals. Our heroes and their connections to each other and themselves are at the heart of this story.
Fan-service vs. Familiar
The Rise of Skywalker is fan-service. Every “I” dotted”. Every “T” crossed. The Rise of Skywalker pays tribute to the series to date as a whole. Yes, to the point of eye-rolling, but that could be seen in The Force Awakens, between the Death Star 3.0 (Starkiller Base) and the new Cantina band. The Rise of Skywalker goes above and beyond these callbacks by embracing Johnson’s (or even Gareth Edwards’ (Rogue One)) ideas and even playing them up every now and again. Anything seems possible in the Star Wars universe, and if I surrender to the idea that this is all make-believe, I’m ok with that.
The Rise of Skywalker is familiar. While the fan-service is welcome, we’ve seen this story before. None of the encounters feel magical. None of the cameos feel surprising (save for one, maybe two). The Last Jedi and The Force Awakens before it did a great job shocking the audience with unexpected moments, be it live-action puppeteering or reappearances of deceased characters. The Rise of Skywalker has plenty of fun, but it feels like we’ve been there before.
Rise of Skywalker
Between these three aspects — fast and slow, big and small, fan-service and familiar — it may be the speed that gets in the way the most. I struggled to care about the characters. I remember them from the previous films, but I did not have time to reconnect with them. If The Rise of Skywalker has shown anything, it’s that Johnson is the gravity to Abram’s lightness. The Last Jedi made us feel the depths of characters and the internal demons they were facing. The Rise of Skywalker seemingly doesn’t have time to dwell on that and tries to race to the finish line, soon realizing it still has another hour of story to tell.
Where The Rise of Skywalker shines is in its balance. There is balance in how Abrams and Johnson handle the saga. There is balance in the pace of each of the films. But speaking to The Rise of Skywalker in particular, the title speaks to balance most of all.