Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the 9th and final installment in what Lucasfilm is calling the Skywalker saga. Directed by J.J. Abrams, the film concludes the story of Rey, Finn, Poe and Kylo Ren, while at the same time putting an end to the longstanding conflict between the Resistance and the First Order. It’s the end of the classic story of light vs dark, Jedi vs Sith. Naturally, expectations have been high on Abrams to deliver a satisfying conclusion to a franchise that has lived on for 4 decades. It’s also coming off of many production issues, like with the firing of Colin Trevorrow, the previous director attached to Episode IX. So, with all the hurdles that the film has faced, is it worth it? That’s the big question, isn’t it?
[Note: The following review of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker contains spoilers in the middle section. Please jump to the verdict after reading the non-spoiler section]
The short answer is: maybe not. Let’s dial back for a moment. It’s 2017, and The Last Jedi has just released. Fans have been waiting for this sequel for months, waiting to see Luke Skywalker return. They’ve also been waiting to get many of their questions answered from the previous film. Instead what they get is a new take on the Star Wars mythos. Rian Johnson has changed the way in which many people perceive Star Wars, taking it in a bold new direction. Luke is a jaded old Jedi who has lost his way. Rey’s origins don’t hold any significance. The Force is presented as something that doesn’t need royal parentage in order to tap into it. Hope in the galaxy comes from not people using lightsabers, but people who fight for it on any ground they can. While the initial fan reaction is mixed, critics love it.
And then comes The Rise of Skywalker, a film which just about undoes the biggest themes from the previous film. The result? A fan-centric story which is so easily predictable, so pandering, that it forgets to be a good movie first and foremost. Most of the screentime in the film is dedicated to “correcting” the “missteps” that The Last Jedi took. Gone is the slower, more meditative pace of the last episode, replaced by a plot that is presented in break-neck speed. The opening crawl itself is such a departure from what The Last Jedi set out to do, that you’ll be forgiven for thinking you missed an entire film in the middle to set this one up. As such, most of the first act is dedicated to setting up new plotlines, conflicts and reveals, which would have benefitted from an extra film in the middle. Or at the very least, a different Episode VIII from the one we got.
At the start of the film, we’re immediately told that Emperor Palpatine has returned. It’s not that it’s a mysterious reveal. Instead, it’s revealed in the laziest way possible, which only hurts the believability of this universe and its stakes. When Darth Vader threw Palpatine over the reactor shaft, the prophecy was fulfilled. Anakin Skywalker brought balance to the Force. So, when you tell me that the evil Emperor has returned without any justification, what does that tell me about the legacy of the previous trilogy? Anyway, let’s get back to the film. I’m trying to give it the benefit of doubt wherever possible, if only because I so desperately want to enjoy the film.
Back to our main characters, Rey and Kylo/Ben have always been the strong point of the sequel trilogy. Their struggle and conflict with each other have been at the forefront of this new trilogy. Both actors (Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver) give terrific performances. Driver’s Kylo Ren is probably the strongest here than in the previous films, and Rey finally gets some closure on what exactly are her fears. The answer though again goes against what was presented in The Last Jedi.
Two words- Rey Palpatine. That happened. Although this was one of the biggest fan theories out there, The Last Jedi quite gracefully did not address it as many fans would have hoped it would. Instead, it was clear in the themes and message of that film that Rian Johnson wanted Rey to come from nobody. The idea that a hero can come from nowhere and still be able to harness the power of The Force is pretty bold and progressive. That is until J.J Abrams had to change it. Star Wars has been primarily about the conflict within a single family, that of the Skywalkers. That is quite evident in the original trilogy and even addressed in the prequels. However, to return back to the same conflict, only flipped on its face here is somewhat derivative.
It seems like Disney caved into fan demand more than it was necessary. “Rey’s parentage should be linked to previous films!” – They got Rey Palpatine. “Why does Rose have such a big role?” – Rose gets sidelined in TRoS. “#Reylo!” – Alas, Kylo and Rey share a kiss, regardless of logic, character arcs or even morally clear reasoning. It’s also pretty clear that after Colin Trevorrow was fired, Abrams was brought in for damage control more so than delivering a well-thought-out ending.
These are the biggest decisions that I, along with many other fans, have a problem with. Instead of pushing the film in a bold new direction that Rian Johnson pointed towards, J.J Abrams takes it back to where it began. And while it’s not a blatant vis-a-vis remake of something like The Force Awakens, it isn’t anything excitingly new either. Even Luke’s cameo feels like a jab at his character arc in The Last Jedi.
Let’s go back to some of our other main characters then. Finn and Poe again make a great pairing, and it’s especially fun to see all three of our heroes finally working together. The banter between Rey and Poe is interesting, but Finn’s longing for Rey is again as tiresome as it was the last time around. As for Rose, she gets sidelined here, only contributing to the war in a background capacity. We do get to meet some new characters, all of which only exist to further Poe and Finn’s character arcs. Keri Russel’s Zorii and Naomi Ackie’s Jannah make for great additions to the cast, although they could have done with either more screentime or a little independence. We also have Billy Dee Williams return as Lando Calrissian, although it isn’t as big a role, or as important, as we might have hoped it would be.
As many people will know, Carrie Fisher passed away well before the shooting of the movie began. While that posed a big creative challenge for the filmmakers, I have to say they handled the situation quite well. Previously unseen footage was used to put Carrie Fisher’s Leia Organa in new scenes, and for the most part, it blended in pretty well. While it is sad that we didn’t get a proper goodbye for her, I do like how she was used in the story, as well as for furthering Kylo Ren’s arc. Long live Princess Leia and Carrie Fisher who embodied her so well.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is not the finale you’re looking for. Its superfluous fan pandering along with unjustified retconning of story beats from previous films is moot. However, despite the many problems it has, it does make for an enjoyable ride in the galaxy far, far away.