Director: JJ Abrams
Writers: Chris Terrio, JJ Abrams
Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac, Richard E. Grant
Emperor Palpatine is back!
Although our heroes succeeded in stopping Snoke in The Last Jedi, it has since been revealed that Palpatine was the true leader of the Sith revival all along and he was using Snoke as a puppet to lure Kylo Ren to the dark side. In this final chapter of the new Star Wars trilogy, Palpatine unveils the Final Order – a gigantic armada of Star Destroyers – who have the firepower capable of wiping out the Resistance and restoring power to the Dark Side. Its up to Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron to try and save Kylo Ren’s soul and somehow find a way to stop Palpatine’s fleet.
In recent years, Disney has absolutely steamrolled the movie industry box office takings with their awesome portfolio of Marvel superhero films, lucrative remakes of Disney classics and sequels to flagship titles such as Toy Story and Frozen. Their film industry dominance almost feels absolute, but for the noticeable exception that has been their handling of the Star Wars franchise. Star Wars has had troubled creative development (The Rise of Skywalker had three different directors), mixed results at the box office (The Force Awakens soared but Solo disappointed) and a rocky relationship with both fans and critics alike.
The Rise of Skywalker was an opportunity for Disney to deliver a crowd-pleasing closing chapter. To iron out the kinks and draw a clear through-line in the new trilogy artistically and thematically.
Did they stick the landing? Not really.
I’ll focus on the positives to start. I loved The Force Awakens and I think Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) are fantastic modern day Star Wars protagonists. I find the actors to be inherently likeable and all three have earnest and endearing qualities that I strongly connect with and want to cheer for. To varying degrees, those three characters were surprisingly sidelined or marginalised in The Last Jedi, so I’m pleased that in The Rise of Skywalker, they’re back where they should be – front and centre in the heat of the action.
The same goes for Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. He’s a terrific screen presence and although its a difficult act trying to follow up Darth Vader, one of the most iconic screen villains of all time, I think Driver does an admirable job of it.
So what we get with The Rise of Skywalker is an incredibly slight, modestly crafted closing act that skates by on the bare minimum of what it should deliver. Of course the heroes save the day, the Final Order is defeated and Rey fulfils her destiny. Taken on its own merits, the movie is okay-ish action adventure fare.
When you look at the trilogy as a whole however, The Rise of Skywalker is a crushing disappointment.
Where to start? I can’t believe someone paid a billion dollars for Star Wars and apparently didn’t have the foresight to plan for any sort of cohesive narrative to tie these new movies together. We can see the competing visions of the different directors tug and pull the audience in different directions. Rian Johnson gave Finn a love interest in Rose Tico and in The Rise of Skywalker she is unceremoniously benched and left out of the adventure almost entirely. In The Last Jedi, Luke Skywalker wisely intones to Rey that her unremarkable family history is not important because anyone can become a Jedi. TROS tosses that notion out of the window and explains away that she’s powerful specifically because of her family lineage. It’s insane. Can you imagine if Frodo suddenly stops being friends with Sam in The Return of the King or if Han Solo suddenly loses all interest in Princess Leia in the original trilogy? Because thats the level of inconsistency we’re getting with the characters here. None of this holds together at all.
Even new ideas introduced within The Rise of Skywalker itself don’t go anywhere. There’s a mole inside the First Order who is secretly helping the Resistance but its a side story that doesn’t go anywhere. Finn constantly tells Rey he has something urgent to tell her and then…never does? It’s like the loose ends and half-developed ideas of former directors and screenwriters somehow made it into the final edit.
The Rise of Skywalker walks and talks like a Star Wars movie but it desperately lacks soul. I don’t believe a single line in this film will endure in pop culture memory. The story lines in Star Wars has always been unashamedly pulpy melodrama and what made the original material work was the groundbreaking special effects complimented by the fantastic banter between the characters. In 2019, there is nothing unique about the look of Star Wars any longer and unfortunately, the film feels like 80% exposition/20% character dialogue.
In short, the whole production has been a disjointed mess. Worse still, the series has inflamed some of the worst corners of internet fandom and driven the likes of Daisy Ridley and Kellie Marie Tran offline with their vitriolic abuse.
So where to from here? Despite the catalogue of problems Star Wars has had, its improbable to expect Disney to give up the ghost. There’s too much money riding on it. There’s talk of giving the franchise a breather. Moving away from trilogies to focus on stand alone films instead. You can bet the producers have sat up and taken notice of how well received the marquee Disney+ tv show The Mandalorian has been. Maybe they’ll just go all in on a Baby Yoda movie next?
Summary : A strange concluding chapter to this Star Wars trilogy. Taken on its own terms, its a totally serviceable sci fi adventure film. But its hard not to consider the hard right turn it takes from the events of the previous film.