Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was directed by J.J. Abrams, written by himself and co-writer Chris Terrio, and stars Daisey Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Carrie Fisher, Keri Russell, Kelly Marie Tran, and Mark Hamill, with Ian McDiarmid reprising his role as Emperor Palpatine, and Billy Dee Williams returning as Lando Calrissian. In this conclusion to the Skywalker Saga, Palpatine has mysteriously returned, and our gang of heroes are searching for a way to get to him in order to destroy the Sith once and for all. But not everything is what it seems, and as lineages are questioned and connections are re-made and broken, the dark and light sides of the force swirl around Rey and Kylo Ren, both conflicted by their need to accomplish their missions, both on the cusp of becoming people they are not in order to fulfill those needs. And behind it all, the Emperor waits for his moment to make his triumphant final move to wipe out the rebellion and all for which it stands. As the last of the resistance begins to hope once more, so too do the forces of evil, and whatever happens, this may be either side’s last chance at survival.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, and everyone both or neither, the weekend has finally arrived. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has hit theaters as the definitive conclusion to what’s become known as the “Skywalker Saga,” and if you’re reading this review, you’ve likely either already seen it or are waiting for just one more critical analysis of the film before deciding to ignore the Rotten Tomatoes critics score and go see it opening weekend anyway, rather than attend another week or wait for it to hit digital store libraries for rental. Any way one puts it, we’re all very familiar with what this new and final chapter in the Skywalker Saga comes from, as well as the legacy of the franchise to which it is tied. The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams has returned after Lucasfilm’s fallout with Jurassic World and Book of Henry director Colin Trevorrow meant he would no longer be heading the project, and there is a lot on his shoulders – for starters, he has to wrap up a nine-movie saga with a cohesive ending that firmly seals all open plots and character developments (no pressure since it’s the single most iconic franchise of all time), conclude the very first of Disney’s new Star Wars trilogies, please both fans of his first film in this universe as well as those who preferred/liked Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, and stick the landing as a director who rarely ever concludes anything he’s rebooted/re-vitalized or created. “Enormous” doesn’t even begin to cover the amount of pressure on Abrams to pull this one off. So it’s kind of a minor miracle that, for the most part, he does, even if some of the decisions the movie makes regarding certain plot points and character arcs (or lack thereof) only get more frustrating the longer one considers them and their implications.
One of the things I was most concerned about in the lead-up to this movie was the return of J.J. Abrams to the director’s chair; I don’t think Abrams is a bad director by any stretch, and you don’t continue to be the #1 domestic earner of all time against the behemoth that is Avengers: Endgame without at least having some semblance of excellence in the movie you directed, but The Force Awakens was a near-perfect version of exactly what it needed to be at the time, keeping it in the pocket, playing it relatively safe, and being more of a celebration of the original Star Wars films that introduced a few new elements than a whole new story in its own right, and it accomplished that mission immeasurably well. The Last Jedi, conversely, went in an almost totally opposite direction, telling a brand new story whilst subverting expectations of where things were perhaps initially meant to be going as a way of telling its audience that the heroes they had come to know and love were still human beings, flaws and all, and that the lineage of those human beings wasn’t what ultimately mattered, but what they believed, what they stood for. Heroes make mistakes, and not every ultimate plan to save the universe is going to succeed solely on the hope that it will. Abrams is a safe choice for directing; Johnson would have been a risky one. And, unfortunate as this is to have to say, The Rise of Skywalker feels way too safe for it to be in any way remarkable.
There’s only so much I can say while remaining spoiler-free (and I may do a spoiler review of the film later), but suffice it to say, the things that work about this movie really mostly work because we’re already familiar with these characters and the actors are doing a far better job than any of us deserve for them to do, given the admittedly scattered material that they’re working with. Daisey Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, everyone is bringing their A-game to a script that’s not quite giving them 100%, and it’s these performances that make The Rise of Skywalker watchable, and at certain points, interesting. Abrams re-used old footage of Carrie Fisher that was shot during The Force Awakens in order to fulfill her storyline after her tragic passing back in 2016 meant that she would no longer be around to complete it herself, and even in that footage, Fisher is as good as she ever was, even if her dialogue doesn’t quite sound right given its placement in a film during which it was never meant to take place. The action sequences are also pretty fun to watch, although nothing will ever top the iconic throne room scene from The Last Jedi, nor the lightspeed ship-to-ship collision of Laura Dern’s Admiral Holdo character. They’re not filmed in a particularly interesting way, but they’re much more involved this time around, and some of the solutions to action problems in the film are some of the most inventive Star Wars has had to grapple with.
There are also things that happen with Rey’s character that I found interesting as he grapples with her training and learning the ways of the force, but the origin of those things I found actually rather disingenuous, as if Abrams was attempting to hijack Johnson’s storyline from The Last Jedi and “course correct” it in some way in order to make it fit back into a version of the mold he had originally planned for it. For all the good will put out by The Rise of Skywalker, there’s another ounce of bad thrown in, and the only reason this film doesn’t sink under its own weight is because of the performers giving their all to a story that doesn’t care to give its all to them. And in case you’re wondering if any of the other characters get developed in half as interesting a way as Rey does, well, you might just feel a great disturbance in the force.
Character arcs are introduced that never get completed, such as John Boyega’s stormtrooper conflict. There are scenes where he and Poe (as well as a few other characters we see that we never really get to know that well) are just mowing down other stormtroopers, but never is there any sense of danger, or that anyone might be able to catch him or that he would ever hesitate if he maybe had a friend among those ranks. Another character similar to his does get introduced, but the exposition-heavy dialogue quickly does away with any development they might have gotten in order to get the plot moving along quickly enough so we can get to the big finale. Oh, and Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico is basically not a character in this movie at all, seemingly only around because Johnson left her alive at the end of the last film and Abrams doesn’t want to piss off people who actually liked The Last Jedi, so he won’t kill her off, but doesn’t let her shine in almost any fashion either.
The plot to the film also moves so quickly that even if we were going to get any interesting character developments outside of Rey and Kylo Ren’s (whose development actually does go somewhere interesting, although it feels like a compromise by Abrams trying to throw Johnson a bone) are hindered by the need to move from place to place at such a break-neck pace the audience feels like the film itself is “hyper-skipping” (a term you’ll come to know in this movie). There are so many location changes in this movie that it might not hit you until about half an hour after walking out that hardly any of the scenes actually take place in space (y’know, where Star Wars likes to go), and any locations you do visit that could be interesting are left 5 minutes later because our characters need to go to this other planet to do something else to accomplish their mission that they were coming to this planet to do. It’s so much to process, requiring so many leaps forward in character ability and time that it honestly just hurts my brain to try to remember much of it. (And, as a side note, John Williams’ score is great, but definitely not as great as the other two for this trilogy).
There’s a lot more I have to say about The Rise of Skywalker, from its incredibly convoluted plot and lack of character development, to its uninteresting lightsaber battles, to some of the interesting ideas and concepts, to those ideas and concepts’ unremarkable origins, but that may all have to wait for a proper spoiler review in order for me to fully flesh out how I feel about each of those things. For now, what I’ll say is that it’s certainly watchable, and not nearly as bad as some critics and audiences are making it out to be, but it does feel compromised by a director attempting to restore his vision without alienating fans of Johnson’s, making it easily the weakest of the new trilogy. By attempting to please everyone Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker appeases almost no one.
I’m giving “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” a 6.8/10
- The Friendly Film Fan
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Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time. Writer for Bitesize Breakdown.