Review- Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (spoiler free)
This is it, the finale of one of the most celebrated franchises of all time! It’s certainly been a choppy ride for the most casual of Star Wars fan, The Force Awakens reignited the fandom while The Last Jedi split them like never before. So how does this closing chapter wrap it all up?
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker sees our heroes Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac) sent on a mission by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) to find and end the sinister dark force that is fueling The First Order. Meanwhile, Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) galvanises his forces to find The Resistance, while also discovering more about the dark powers of The Emperor.
It's always tough to review a Star Wars movie, heck it’s even hard to rate them, especially when you are a fan. While many franchises or films can be rated purely on the film’s effectiveness and entertainment value, Star Wars has always had so many elements, it means fans can take away a lot of different pros and cons. One thing this sequel trilogy has always succeeded in is pumping out nostalgia, supplying visually enticing imagery and hammering home that theme of good vs evil. The Rise of Skywalker does all of that, to make a satisfying finale, but is certainly not without its flaws.
The main issue this film has to overcome is the entire trilogies lack of direction. The Force Awakens while enjoyable, set up a lot more questions than it answered, while The Last Jedi led into a whole new array of stories and questions. This leaves The Rise of Skywalker without a lot of purpose other than to just get a very thin story finished, which is especially apparent in the first half of the film.
The first 10 minutes zoom straight into all our key characters, bouncing from one scene to the next. While this isn’t as jarring as other movies, it does make you miss the opening set pieces that made the originals so great. 30 minutes into Empire and Return of the Jedi we were only just getting into the opening battles on Hoth and Tatooine. While that may speak about the pace of films today, these set pieces are always a big part of opening a successful Star Wars film.
Many have cited issue with the opening being somewhat of a retcon and answer montage for parts of The Last Jedi/ The Force Awakens. I don’t disagree with this, but I do appreciate when a film is able to get these questions and subplots out of the way to focus on the main part of the story. However, the rest of the film and especially major parts of it, do try to make up for some of the character decisions in The Last Jedi which do come off as very pandering and simply ignorant, while other scenes even come across like fan fiction. While the script does a good job with certain emotion and tying things together, it doesn't seem to be written by a true fan of the franchise, evident in the lack of lore, which is frustrating.
The biggest problem in The Rise of Skywalker comes in its lack of character development and the character's chemistry. While it is great to have the team of Rey, Finn, and Poe together on an adventure, the emotion and bonds we are meant to feel simply aren’t there. The film builds on the romantic elements of Rey and Finn, but then doesn’t go anywhere with it. Putting Rey at odds with Poe just continues to alienate her from everyone else. As great as the original characters are, they also cause a lot of the problems with chemistry, by making certain sequences overcrowded and confusing as to who is where in the story.
A lot of fans and critics have praised C3-PO, and yes, he is fun and probably has most of the laughs in the film. But his place in the team with those he considers his “friends” just feels wrong. He cites R2-D2 as his best friend but yet they leave him behind. Having two characters so deeply linked to Han, Leia and Luke means Threepio’s place with this new group just feels unjustified. Especially when you have BB-8 and a new droid D-O, so why not make them be the bigger stars of the movie, or bring in a new protocol droid to mirror R2 and Threepio? The Star Wars spin-offs are rife with unique droids that showcase how effective new ones can be (K2-S0).
That being said, the legacy characters certainly bring a lot of the highlights to this film. Lando has a great introduction, in a more action-orientated sequence, rather than reverting to the cliche of revealing a familiar face sat behind a curtain. Billy Dee continues to play him as confidently as he always has and is given some of the best lines in the film, especially concerning the importance of teamwork when the old gang battled The Empire.
Carrie Fisher also has a surprisingly big role in the film, and though there are many moments that may be clear she wasn’t there or was lifted from other footage, I commend the production team for fitting her into the story and still telling Leia’s arc in a meaningful and convincing way.
The original characters unsurprisingly bring a lot of the heart and emotion in this film and while the first half may be somewhat clunky, the tour of cameos and heartfelt sequences really do bring a tear to the eye and convince you of some of the decisions the story goes in. Two sequences in particular mirrored previous moments in the saga excellently and are a great example of the writer and JJ Abrams understanding those key moments.
Our new characters are likable and do a good job and would be too easy to write off as simply not adding to the story. Keri Russell does a great job as Zori Bliss, helping to show a new side of Poe, while Naomi Ackie is a breath of fresh air as Jannah. Just as Zori helps in building Poe as a character, Jannah helps complete an arc for Finn, but both still point out how undeveloped this cast was in the first place and unfortunately continue to make it overcrowded.
As for the villains, Richard E. Grant has some great moments as General Pryde, while Domhnall Gleeson brings about a somewhat satisfying resolution for Hux. The biggest sin, however, is the Knights of Ren. If you are going into this expecting the mysterious group to be fleshed out and given some kick-ass action sequences, then don’t. They’re nothing more than background characters and serve little to no part of the story. Just like Phasma in the previous installments, I don’t know why the creators bothered to include them.
The biggest elements of this film are of course Kylo Ren, Rey, and the return of The Emperor. All of which are pretty successful. Adam Driver brings an emotional and convincing performance, with a character arc that may disappoint some, but did convince me due to how well it fitted different pieces of the story together. Daisy Ridley is far better in this film than The Last Jedi, seeming to blend with Abram’s direction a lot more. Her story is somewhat convoluted and emphasises the problems of the mystery parents, but eventually, her story-arc does wrap up nicely and she has one of the most memorable moments of the film. As for Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine… Its Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine, of course, he’s great!
The final half of the film gives us lots of Star Wars action, plenty of emotion and set pieces with a few moments of fan service sprinkled through-out. John Williams as always does a lot of heavy lifting with his music-making a huge impact on the film. The sets and visuals are a spectacle for the eye, with some mighty impressive digital and practical work. Some visuals are touching, while others are downright offensive (Disney really needs to stop queer bating). But while some fans may complain about nods to the past or unresolved questions, I do need to question why the likes of Marvel of live-action fairytales get away with it…
The Rise of Skywalker may not be a perfect film but considering the problems this sequel trilogy has faced before it still does a good job of honouring the past and giving audiences memorable action, visuals and laughs. The twists and turns can be weak, and the characters just don’t have the room to flurry as they did in previous installments. Hopefully, the lessons learned from this trilogy will see the franchise come back again someday, but as something completely new and inventive in the wake of The Rise of Skywalker, that pays tribute to its past.