Ten pounds of Bantha poodoo in a five pound bag.
Okay, that's not quite the adage, but you get the idea.
Anyway, now you don't have to read the rest of the review! You're welcome!
But in case you're still here...
When I first heard JJ Abrams would be directing Star Wars: Episode IX, I cringed. JJ Abrams is a lazy writer who substitutes hare-brained McGuffins for coherent plots and character development, and who has a complete disregard and profound lack of understanding for established rules of pre-existing movie franchises. If this wasn't already evident in the first two Star Trek movies with their abysmally drab characterizations and idiotic plot devices like Red Matter and interplanetary transporter backpacks, then it should've been hammered home with Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Even though I largely gave that movie a passing grade the first time I saw it, the ridiculousness of the sun-sucking Starkiller Base and JJ's other tropes effectively ruined it for repeat viewings. It still has entertaining moments, but as a whole, the movie just falls flat. I don't watch it when it comes on TV, or go out of my way to watch it on iTunes. The movie is too self-consciously a movie, and not a story that I can lose myself in.
Episode VIII: The Last Jedi was far more divisive, with some fans hating the characterization of Luke Skywalker. That didn't bother me, since I liked seeing him in the state of a fallen icon, because it's when heroes are at their lowest that they can then rise to their highest. Far more annoying was the time wasted on the Casino planet, and most critically, director Rian Johnson's utter lack of regard for what happened in the previous film.
"Wait," you say, "I thought you didn't like JJ's film?" Well, I didn't hate it. I just thought it was largely unimaginative and unoriginal. But it did set up new characters and situations: Rey, Ren, Snoke, the First Order, and left mysteries in place that at the time felt like there was a clear payoff ahead for.
But with Episode VIII, that all went out the window. Snoke was dead, Rey was a nobody, Kylo was maybe not-so-bad for awhile, but then he was again, then Luke was dead (as dead as Jedis get anyway), and you could now use the Force for unlimited long-distance calling. So now there was clearly a new purpose behind all of this, right? Maybe?
Well, who knows? We certainly won't. Because under Disney, the Skywalker saga is a rudderless ship. I detested the prequels. I think they're all terrible films (in all fairness, it's mostly just the acting, writing, directing and horribly racist stereotypes... otherwise they're fine). But here's the thing - at least they were on a clear path. Whether you liked that path or not, George had a plan and he stuck to it. Conversely, the postquels (has anyone coined that word yet? Because I should totally trademark that. Shoot. Maybe next time.) have no oversight. No overarching plan. No goal. It's just, "Hey JJ, make a Star Wars movie." "Hey Rian, make a Star Wars movie." "Hey Colin, make a Star Wars movie. Never mind, you're fired." "Hey JJ, make another Star Wars movie."
And so it goes with Episode IX. JJ came in, ignored what Rian did, retconned a bunch of story and character arcs, and came up with another derivative retread that felt more like something made by a fanboy, or a four-year-old playing with his action figures - (breathlessly) "then Rey goes here and does this, an' then Poe does this, an' then the Millennium Falcon goes 'swoosh!!' an' saves everyone, an' then Kylo Ren gets mad, an' then they go here an' there's sand everywhere, an' then the Force does this, an' then they meet this girl, an' then they go here, an' then the bad guys do this..." etc. If you've watched little kids play, you get the idea. Now, do that for 2 1/2 hours, and that's this movie.
JJ tried to cram at least two movies worth of stuff into this film. Much of which, and I do mean much, could've easily been left out. Do we really care about Poe and Finn? No. This is Rey's story. Or it should be. A friend and I tried to recount the film just after having seen it, and it was hard for us to piece it back together. The pacing is hyperactive. There's no time to get involved with the characters, or dwell on anything that's happening. None of it feels like it has any weight or consequence to it. This is an overstuffed, discombobulated mess.
That may be the first time I've used "discombobulated" in this blog. I like saying that word. "Discombobulated." I should use it more. Maybe I have, but the blog software is so discombobulated right now, I doubt it would return it in a search. I like the word "pusillanimous" too. But I've been afraid to use it.
And then there are JJ's other problems. For one, his complete lack of originality or respect for the source material. He blatantly rips off the ending of yet another Star Wars film. Goes to yet another desert planet. Revisits the remains of the Death Star II. Dredges up old characters instead of creating a new threat, and as a friend of mine pointed out, actually ends up invalidating the Rebel Alliance's victory over the Empire. Guess what? The end of Return of the Jedi was all meaningless, suckers!
Then, of course, you have his McGuffins. Ugh. Please, someone stop JJ from writing anymore science fiction, ever again. How do I put this without spoilers? Well, remember Starkiller Base, and how derivative that was of the Death Star? Remember how it needed the power of an entire sun, and was the size of a planet? In Star Wars, blowing up entire planets is a big deal, and you just can't do that all willy-nilly, right? Well...
And then there's the Force. JJ started us on a slippery slope with Kylo Ren Force-stopping laser bolts in mid-air, and Force mind-reading, and so on. And then Rian Johnson came in and doubled down with Force projection, and Force touching, and Force space-floating-in-a-vacuum, and people got all up-in-arms about it. Well, JJ apparently wanted to actually make an Avengers movie instead of Star Wars this time, because in Episode IX he uses the Force as one-stop shopping for all sorts of ridiculous super-abilities that takes Star Wars completely off the rails. If any of it ever gets explained in the film, it's only through the briefest, throwaway lines of dialog that if you blink, you'll miss. JJ uses the Force as a crutch to get out of story situations caused by lazy writing. It's his Red Matter for Star Wars.
Then we have Carrie Fisher. I was saddened by her passing. (I had a huge crush on her when I was a kid.) When JJ said they were going to repurpose unused footage of her to add her to the film, I was skeptical. It works about as well as you'd expect. Her lines are vague enough to be shoehorned into the story, but there's little substance to it. There wasn't really enough to fully tell her story in-depth, and knowing how they added her in only called more attention to it and took me out of the movie. And as for the "we won't use CGI to bring her back" promise? Bunk.
Maybe the biggest issue with Episode IX is that in the end, it feels of no consequence. I felt no investment in the story, nor in the characters. The Resistance, the First Order - none of it ever felt like it had been explained, and there never was a sense of history or importance to them. In the original Star Wars, there was an evil Galactic Empire, and a small group of Rebels fighting for freedom. We got that in the opening paragraph and understood it immediately. Empire. Check! Rebels. Check! But in this trilogy, there's a Republic, a First Order, a Resistance, and you don't know who came first, how they rose to power, who has the most power, or why. And this is important, since we're invested in an entire galactic history by this point. And here again in Episode IX, so much (and I mean a massive amount) remains unexplained, I just couldn't buy into it. "Really, all that happened? And where did they get all of those matching bathrobes? Sure, whatever."
Finally, they threw up so many red herrings in the film like, "Oh, we're going to do this to so-and-so now! Just kidding, now we're undoing it!" that after awhile none of it had any meaning. Nobody or any of their actions really mattered anymore, and I didn't care about who made it through or what was going to happen in the end. There was also a ridiculous amount of pandering to the fans (I'm going to call it "fandering". That one's original, right? Shoot.) to the point of distraction, where you're aware you're being force-fed Star Wars tropes, rather than being allowed to get immersed in a story, or be captivated by characters. In the end it all felt... pointless. (And besides, JJ totally missed an opportunity to bring back Koo Stark. If you're going to pander to fans, how can you miss that one? Pffft.)
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is a disjointed, disconnected, cluttered mess. It's ten pounds of Bantha poodoo stuffed in a five pound bag. And it's recycled poodoo at that. It's an unsatisfying way to "end" the Skywalker saga, and more to the point, it all just felt like none of it really mattered. Sure there were a few moments of fun, and a few fan moments that connected with me, but it was all so contrived that it never felt genuine. The audience reactions were manipulated, not earned. The theater I was at was full, but there weren't any roaring cheers or spontaneous applause. That said, the movie wasn't prequel-level bad, it was just kind of... there. Uninspiring, unfocused, and inconsequential. I guess it's just as well the Skywalker saga is now over, because I'm now over the Skywalker saga.
I wonder what George would've done...
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker gets 5/10. A half-bag worth of Bantha poodoo.