Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is directed by JJ Abrams, written by JJ Abrams & Chris Terrio and stars Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac. This review contains spoilers.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker had a difficult job from the start. Rather than just completing a trilogy, this film had to wrap up a saga that has been going on for over 42 years upon which many people have different opinions. That is a daring job for anyone to have, and director JJ Abrams can be commended for that. But did they succeed?
The first third of the movie consists of setting up the plot, which happens at a rapid pace. We’re immediately told in the opening crawl that the villain from the previous trilogy (Darth Sidious/The Emperor) has returned and he’s planning to take his revenge. We see Kylo Ren find him on the Sith planet Exogol and we get our first look at Palpatine, looking like a rotten corpse just being alive using a medical apparatus. The matter how Palpatine returned after being thrown in a pit by Anakin Skywalker on the second Death Star which afterwards blew up, is not properly explained in the film. It is mostly told that he returned by ancient Sith magic. This is something I both like and dislike. On the one hand, it fits with Palpatine’s nature (he told both in this film and Revenge of the Sith that the dark side is a pathway to unnatural abilities), but on the other hand it undermines Anakin Skywalker’s sacrifice at the end of Return of the Jedi.
The following storyline of the film consists of our heroes finding a wayfinder that will help them to find Palpatine. This part of the film was great for character interactions between our three main heroes (Rey, Finn and Poe) which we haven’t really had so far in this trilogy. It felt very reminiscent of the original trilogy. The quest itself though felt very rough, with many different objectives following after the other. The group searches for a way finder, a Sith dagger, a kidnapped Chewbacca and a droid workshop all in the first half of the film. All these quests made this part of the film feel very rushed and like two films into one.
During this quest, the group interacts with Kylo Ren, who has become the very best character (and performance) of this new trilogy. Lucasfilm struck gold when casting Adam Driver in this role, since he is a phenomenal actor and even is rumored to be nominated for an Academy Award for his role in Marriage Story. He shines throughout this whole trilogy as the conflicted Ben Solo/Kylo Ren. His scenes in this film with Rey (played by the equally great Daisy Ridley) were some of my favourites. The concept of the force connection they had in the previous entry, The Last Jedi, is further explored in this film. Their first lightsaber fight in this film that uses this connection they have was an interesting scene which we haven’t seen before in the Star Wars saga. His redemption in the middle of the film was really well done and was the emotional highlight of this film for me. The fact that a princess of Alderaan was involved with this, made the scene even better.
With the passing of Carrie Fisher in 2016, many people wondered what would happen to Princess Leia in the last Star Wars story. Luckily she’s still a part of the story, using previously cut scenes and alternate takes used during The Force Awakens. Whilst the argument that it’s obvious that the scenes weren’t usually meant to be in this film are understandable, it is better than not having her in the film at all for me. The CGI work to make this possible is fairly well done and her being in the film let to the films best moment for me. In the middle of the film, Leia uses the force one last time to connect to her son in order to turn him, which in turn leads to her death. She dies in a similar vein to Yoda in Return of the Jedi. After this connection, Ben Solo finally returns but is fatally stabbed by Rey. After seeing what she’s done, she heals him and leaves him on the wreckage of the second Death Star, where they were battling for the way finder that would lead them to Palpatine. Once Ben sits there, a memory of Han Solo (a surprising return of Harrison Ford) appears which finally convinces him to return to the light. I love that it was Leia’s doing that made him realize the wrongs he was doing and it was a great tribute to Carrie Fisher. The scene where Chewie learned of Leia’s death broke my heart though.
One problem I had with the film was its connection to the previous entry, The Last Jedi. I’m personally a big fan of this film and love the choices it made for the story and characters. Rey being a nobody worked for me. Unfortunately, this film changes that story, Rey is now the granddaughter of Palpatine. This reveals didn’t really work for me, mainly because of the fact that it was never previously established that Palpatine had any offspring. It felt like fan service to connect her to a pre-established character. The undermining of The Last Jedi continues however with the substantially reduced role of Rose Tico (played by Kelly Marie Tran). After being a main character in the previous film, Rose is nothing more than a resistance background character in this film, which felt especially insulting considering the harassment the actress received after the release of The Last Jedi. This felt like approving this harassment. I was also expecting a bigger role for Billie Lourd (Carrie Fisher’s daughter, she plays lieutenant Connix), since she had significant screentime in the previous film. It would be a nice tribute, but unfortunately she has a similar role to Rose in this film.
I really liked Finn, Poe, Chewbacca and C-3PO in this film. They worked great as supporting characters and as comic relief. There are even multiple hints that Finn might be Force sensitive, although it isn’t fully explored. BB-8 felt less noticeable than in the previous two entries and unfortunately the tradition of severely underusing what I consider to be the icon of Star Wars (R2-D2) continues. It was great to see Billy Dee Williams return as Lando Calrissian, but I felt there wasn’t a proper explanation why he wasn’t in the previous entries. He was just as good as he was in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Luke’s scene on Ach-To was also one of my favourites in the film, especially when he lifted the X-Wing out of the water.
Despite being the end of a trilogy and saga, the film introduces two new characters as well. The first one is Zorii Bliss (played by Keri Russel), a mercenary and old romance of Poe Dameron. I really liked this character, Russel gave her a hard personality but also shows she had a soft spot. I really liked her and would love to have more stories with her, like a Disney+ series. The other new character is Jannah, who runs a deserter First Order Stormtrooper group on one of the moons of Endor. Whilst I liked her in the film, I feel like her role wasn’t really necessary when it came to the final act of the film. She was good during the story on that planet and connected well with Finn since they were both former Stormtroopers. However, when it came to the final battle I would have preferred to see Rose or Connix by Finn’s side instead of Jannah.
The ending of the film consists of two battles: the resistance fleet vs the Final Order (a combination of Palpatine’s new Sith fleet and the First Order) and Rey and Ben Solo vs Palpatine. The battle between the resistance and the Final Order was pure Star Wars and the moment when Lando shows up with many ships from all previous entries (I even saw The Mandalorian’s ship and The Ghost from Star Wars: Rebels). Whilst the battle is good, it was similar to previous ones so I don’t have much to say about it. The more interesting of the two battles was the one between Rey, Ben and Palpatine. Ian McDiarmid is still great in the role of Palpatine and his best scenes in this film are during this battle. The moment where Rey hears voices from past Jedi was a joy for fans like myself. When I first heard it, I noticed Anakin Skywalker, Obi Wan Kenobi, Qui Gon Jinn, Yoda, Luke Skywalker and Mace Windu, but the credits showed that there were even more voices. After defeating Paplatine, Rey dies. Ben decides to give his life for her, just before he passes they share their first kiss. Whilst I would have preferred that Ben Solo survived, I like the way his sacrifice was handled in this film. I also loved that his body vanished alongside his mother Leia.
The ending of the film felt very reminiscent of Return of the Jedi. We see the downfall of the First Order on several planets (including a fun cameo by Ewoks). We see the Resistance celebrating at their base and even see the first same sex kiss in the franchise. The final scene of the film sees Rey burying Luke and Leia’s lightsaber at the Lars homestead of Tatooine. When a stranger asks who she is, she declares herself to be Rey Skywalker and stares into the binary sunset. I personally liked this ending, although I expected it as well (at least that the final shot in front of the sunset).
The Rise of Skywalker is a film that will certainly entertain many fans, but will also disappoint some. For me, the positives outweigh the negatives. To me, the film felt as a definite conclusion to the saga. My main issue with the film was the lack of backstory on Palpatine’s return and offspring and that it sort of negates the sacrifice and conclusion of the previous trilogy. Although it can be said that this sacrifice was already undone when The Force Awakens was released since the Dark Side returned. The characters shine in this film, I loved that we finally had so much interaction between our main trio. I liked the film, but it does stand as my least favourite of this new trilogy.
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