“Movie Review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”
After all the hub-bub, The Rise of Skywalker has arrived, and the Skywalker Saga is at an end. Of course, the Disney machine won’t REALLY let this be the end, but for now, it is, and what an end it is. Chock full of more revelations, more characters, more lightsaber battles, and more droids and weird aliens, The Rise of Skywalker honestly feels less like a closing to the saga and more like another chapter, right until the halfway mark, where the film suddenly remembers to wrap everything up. In short, it’s a movie that feels like a pretty good ending to the sequel trilogy, an okay ending to the saga as a whole, and a movie that attempts to appease everyone and no one at the same time. And after the thrill ride fun of The Force Awakens and the daring and polarizing risks of The Last Jedi, it comes up a little short.
Now to really address this film, I need to go into SPOILER TERRITORY, so if you you still haven’t seen the film, I really suggest you stop reading now. Seriously. I’m gonna spoil stuff.
Still here? Okay then.
Rise of Skywalker gets a lot of stuff out of the way in pretty quick succession. Right off in the opening crawl we learn the Emperor Palpatine has returned, and Kylo Ren is going to take him out so he isn’t overpowered. In order to stop this new threat before it’s too late, Finn, Poe, and Rey head off to find the mysterious “Sith Maps” that will lead them to Palpatine’s lair so they can stop the “Final Order” from rising.
This kicks off a first act that contains arguably enough plot for a single film, and while I didn’t feel like the film was moving too fast, it definitely could have stood to breathe for a little bit. The rapid pace continues on as the film introduces us to characters and planets new and old, and sidelines a majority of things from the previous films in order to set up the things from this one.
Perhaps that’s one of the big things about Rise of Skywalker that rubs me the wrong way. Despite my love for Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, there was always something that felt a little “off” about this upcoming film. Maybe it was the surprisingly polarizing reaction to Last Jedi, or maybe it was the fact that I knew too much about the troubled production around this film, which initially had Jurassic World director Colin Treverrow hired only to be replaced by JJ Abrams (who directed Force Awakens), but the entire marketing behind this being “the end of the saga” always rang a little false to me, and since it was pretty widely known that this trilogy was kind of being made up as it went along, the big reveals in this film felt less like a surprise and more like an attempt to appease every fan and give them what they would want out of a “final” Star Wars film.
This sounds like I’m being negative, but aspects of this film are really fun. Seeing Poe (Oscar Isaac), Rey (Daisy Ridley), and Finn (John Boyega) team up and go on a few missions together is a blast, and all three have great chemistry together, Isaac especially. It’s a lot of fun seeing this crew team up and search for a Macguffin, something that hasn’t really been done in the sequel trilogy before this point, and makes you realize how we missed out on some fun moments between all of these characters. There’s also some great moments with the new character Babu Frik, an adorably weird alien that works on droids, D-O, a small one wheel droid that will instantly melt your heart, and Kari Russel’s Zarii Bliss is arguably the most deserving of the new cast of a Disney+ spin off. Billy Dee Williams’ makes a fantastic return to the series as Lando, showing some signs of age but still down to fight, and Naomi Acklie’s Jannah makes a memorable impression as a new member of the Resistance.
But all of those characters can only have so much time devoted to them in a two and a half hour movie, and that means that some of them get sidelined for the entirety of the film. One of those characters is Carrie Fisher’s Leia for obvious reasons, but the fact that Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose is basically relegated to serving on the Resistance base for the entirety of the film is a surprising and annoying move, especially when she was facing the brunt of the Last Jedi backlash. While it was probably a move to help the actress in regards to further torment online, it unfortunately makes it seem like Disney and Lucasfilm catered to the worst elements of the Star Wars fandom.
Speaking of Leia real quick, the repurposed scenes from the Force Awakens are pretty seamless, and while Leia isn’t in the film nearly as much as she should be, the amount of screen time that Carrie Fisher gets is pretty surprising. Yes, you can clearly tell there’s a stand in with when her back is to the camera, but the rest of the scenes she’s in are so well done that it was next to impossible to tell that this was footage shot over four years ago. While it’s a shame we have to wonder about how this story would have played out if she was alive, the fact that the film was able to use her for a final time is pretty special.
Speaking of Leia, there’s one character I haven’t mentioned yet, Kylo Ren. Big bad Ben Solo gets probably the most screen time in this film of the characters, and as always, Adam Driver absolutely sells the performance. While the decision to recreate his helmet has a plot purpose, it’s also a little annoying given that Kylo smashing his helmet was a powerful symbolic moment for the character in Last Jedi, and the tease in the opening crawl about Kylo Ren wanting to “kill Palpatine to protect his power” is kind of dropped after the first act. But fans of the character will probably be pretty surprised at how his arc plays out, although maybe not in the way they want. As one of my favorite characters in the new trilogy, I was fairly content with his story, with one aspect that I thought really should have been given a little more thought.
The counter to Kylo, Rey’s story is brought into even more focus in this concluding chapter, including her actual lineage. Again, I’m going to throw out that SPOILER warning again, although even if you made it this far I’m assuming you’ve either A) seen the movie, or B) don’t care. Rey being revealed to be a Palpatine is fine, and probably what Abrams had in mind for the character from the beginning. And while he works around the revelation in Last Jedi that her parents were “nobodies” (aside from one of them being Jodie Comer from Killing Eve), the revelation is a little strange when it comes to the plot. While the idea of her fighting against a destiny to join the Dark Side is interesting (and goes well with Kylo’s struggle to go against the his tendency for the Light Side), you could really still have Rey be from no one special and get basically the same results in this film. Having her be a member of a named character in the Star Wars legacy feels like fan service at best, and at worst makes your head hurt trying to figure out just when the Emperor was getting down with someone (sorry for the mental image). As someone who never really cared about where Rey came from the revelation didn’t move the meter for me in any way, but it did irk me a little bit, especially when JJ Abrams has mentioned in interviews that one of the things he loves about Star Wars is how it reinforces the idea that “anyone could use The Force”.
There’s a weird bit of poetry in the fact that Ian McDiarmid is once again the main villain in the third entry of a Star Wars trilogy, and after doing so originally in Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith, he’s definitely still got the goods, and enjoying his time back in the hood and gross old man make up. Maybe it’s because I read so many Expanded Universe novels and comics as a kid, but seeing a gross, zombie-techno Palpatine was a legitimate surprise, not unlike when I see something in a Marvel movie that I read as a kid and never anticipated seeing on the big screen. Those elements of the film worked surprisingly well for me, even though the need to retcon the previous films to fit under the Emperor’s “Master Plan” felt a little half-baked.
One of the things I appreciated a lot about The Last Jedi was that it took a lot of crazy risks that the franchise hadn’t done since Empire Strikes Back. After watching that film, I was struck with the feeling that it was the first time since I was a kid that I didn’t know where Star Wars was going to go next. The prequels had a clear story they were getting to. The sequels were obviously going to bring back some characters, and we knew that Rey was going to be trained by Luke. But one of the frankly annoying things about this installment is how it seems to make bold narrative choices, only to almost immediately walk them back. The first time Skywalker does it, I accepted it, mainly because I had seen the trailers and knew we hadn’t seen a certain scene from the trailers yet. The second time it happened, I was a little annoyed. When it happened a third time, I had pretty much caught on with what Lucasfilm was up to with this film: they wanted to appease everyone and not rock the boat like The Last Jedi. In wanting to find the middle ground between the people who loved The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi and those that didn’t, the movie got lost, and while there are some absolutely thrilling moments to be had, the end result is a bit of a mixed bag that, while better than most movies this year, still needed more time to work out the kinks. Hell, even eschewing tradition and splitting this final movie into two parts probably would have made more sense.
It’s also tragically clear with this film that there was no real plan for this new sequel trilogy, other than not using whatever George Lucas had come up with. That lack of planning really shows with Skywalker, as it does have a lot of heart and a story to tell, but has to spend a lot of the runtime setting up that story, as opposed to having that story play out over the course of other films….like a trilogy. While it’s well known that JJ Abrams and Rian Johnson knew about the story plans that each other had for their respective films in the franchise, it really doesn’t seem that way with how much of this film is devoted to setting up stuff for the second and third act. In the end, Lucasfilm really should have just gotten someone like Kevin Feige to help them make sure this got the right treatment it deserved. Say what you will about the Marvel Studios films, but you can’t deny that their connectivity lead to a big success for them overall. The fact that Disney and Lucasfilm didn’t copy that strategy here is pretty shocking in hindsight.
In the end, The Rise of Skywalker is just okay, and as a major Star Wars fan, I was really hoping to love it. And while I had fun with it, and the lightsaber battles are some of the best in the series, I got a sense that this was being made more out of obligation than true passion, and it shows at some parts of the story. Rise of Skywalker isn’t quite the “end of the saga” that it’s being touted as, it’s more of a pretty good conclusion to the end of the sequel trilogy. Now that that is out of the way, I’m curious to see what is next for the franchise, and I know that I’ll still be there for it.
May the Force be with you.