STAR WARS EPISODE IX: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER Review
It’s finally here. The end to Star Wars. The third ending to Star Wars. Until The Mandalorian Season 2. Or the Obi-Wan Kenobi TV show. Or The Clone Wars returns. Or Cassian Andor’s show. Or Rian Johnson’s trilogy that is definitely happening. Or the comics and books and video games continue. It’s Star Wars All The Time! Cause that’s not going to get old. Optimistically though, at least The Rise of Skywalker isn’t the definitive end to Star Wars, cause Avengers: Endgame this is not.
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is the conclusion to the Sequel Trilogy, and supposedly the entire episodic Star Wars films, a.k.a Skywalker Saga. Rey, Finn and Poe finally work together to defeat Kylo Ren on an Indiana Jones style quest, with the fate of the galaxy at stake. And the Emperor is back. Cause this movie is nothing, if not fan service. Specifically, for the ones angry at The Last Jedi.
The film’s biggest downfall is the return of JJ Abrams to the directing chair, who is on a mission to right the supposed wrongs of Episode VIII and wrap up the story of characters he established. In doing so, he makes a film that feels incomplete. It isn’t a sequel to The Last Jedi based on how much it disregards it, and it doesn’t work as a sequel to The Force Awakens because it feels like there is a story between the two that brings the characters to that point. His and Chris Terrio’s script drags in characters like Palpatine with no set-up and frustrating retconning, and takes massive leaps in logic to fit whatever mystery box ideas JJ originally envisioned such as certain characters origins or their moral alignment.
Something The Last Jedi is either criticised or praised for is the subversion it has with characters and expected fan moments. The Rise of Skywalker swings in the other direction and gives gratuitous fan moments, whether it be returning characters, places or ships. It pulls you out and asks you ‘Hey, did you get that? It’s from the thing you like!’ instead of telling a unique, character driven story, like The Last Jedi.
Structurally, the film feels more like an Indiana Jones film with the crew travelling to one sandy location to collect an object, to find a ship, to fly to a snowy place, to translate some words to open a thing to get to another place and so on and on and on. Once the crawl fades away, the film launches into hyperdrive and expects you to catch up. It dumps too much information that you can only let it wash over you and piece it together later when it becomes relevant.
There are some positives to the movie, in particular the cast and story elements. Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver are the heart and soul, respectively of this trilogy. Daisy is a perfect blend of the original three heroes; the ferociousness of Leia, the wonder of Luke and the charm of Han. She helps to elevate dud moments to become emotional or interesting, which unfortunately happens a lot. It’s also satisfying to see the trio working together and their interactions together brings some of the film’s funniest moments. Even C-3PO gets his moment in the sun, in his best use in the saga. Adam Driver is once again excellent as Kylo Ren and really gets to show his acting range, particularly in one heartfelt scene. His character arc is the one that almost feels complete across the trilogy, but requires some external material for it to line up. He is what George Lucas imagined Anakin’s story in the Prequel’s to be; sullen boy turns evil. Just done with more nuance and better directing.
The film is also brimming with action sequences and more lightsabre fights than you can shake a dismembered limb at. Thankfully, they are wonderfully choreographed that each feels unique and fresh, not just within the film but across the saga. John Williams, surprisingly, is a maestro composer and in his swan song to Star Wars conducts a melodic journey through his 40 years, with obvious references and subtle nods for keen eared fans.
The Rise of Skywalker is disappointing as a conclusion to a trilogy, yet is satisfying as a stand-alone story. There are some incredible visual moments, action sequences, and fist-pumping moments for fans, yet a rough screenplay is the films undoing. Ridley and Driver are the true stars in this war of ideas between two director’s vision for the franchise.