A quick look into Episode IX’s production will tell
all you need to know about its problems. Carrie Fisher’s untimely passing, the
divided fanbase left from The Last Jedi, and original director Colin
Trevorrow and the script he’d been writing thrown out in late 2017. Thrown into
the deep end with no script, no real idea of an ending for not just this
trilogy, but for the entire ‘Skywalker’ saga, no main cast member who this
entry was going to be about, and the polarisation after The Last Jedi’s unique approach to a Star Wars story, The Force
Awakens director, J.J. Abrams was dealt one of the most challenging hands
to deal with.
And here we are. Star
Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has Rey (Daisy Ridley), our
apprentice-Jedi protagonist, heading off on a new adventure with friends Finn
(John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac), leading to a final battle against the
Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the remains of the First Order. The
struggling Resistance is ready for the fight, but behind the scenes, Emperor Palpatine
(Ian McDiarmid) has returned and the ancient conflict between Jedi and Sith
will reach its climax, bringing the Skywalker saga to a definitive end.
I attended the midnight screening of this final entry in the
long saga, and even with all my excitement painting a picture of what I think
this will be after The Last Jedi totally worked for me as an exciting
and challenging push forward, I found myself after it in a strange place. Never
in my entire life of loving and growing up with Star Wars have I felt so conflicted by one movie – Star Wars or otherwise. A follow-up a
second viewing on the Friday night left me still conflicted, but leaning more
This review is a story of a Star Wars fan who had two
completely different reactions walking out of seeing the final Skywalker saga
chapter twice, and how I can completely agree with most major criticisms of
this film, yet I still feel positively about it nonetheless. Please keep in
mind that this review will contain spoilers.
There are certain reveals that occur throughout The Rise
of Skywalker that easily could speak to a lack of cohesive vision about
this sequel trilogy, or some that seem to directly undermine the twists of The
Last Jedi for an attempted cohesion to the wider narrative of nine films.
On one hand, it’s unfortunate that one major reveal happens , that Rey is
Palpatine’s granddaughter, without a logical explanation, but I can see why it
happened anyway and accept it as such. It’s hard to do, but we can mostly
accept Luke and Leia being brother and sister, right?
J.J. Abrams is trying as hard as he possibly can to finalise
everything, to tell the final story in the Skywalker saga, and make something
meaningful to all the fans, young and old. It’s impossible because this is a
42-year fantasy series where fans have already made whole narratives that must
be adhered to or else, so perhaps in that attempt to please everyone they
instead ended up pleasing only a few, like some twisted balance. Yet, in Abrams
ambition and attempt to make something fun, wonderous, dark, and at times
challenging, he succeeds.
The bond felt between Rey, Poe and Finn is what meant the
most to me. At first it has all the tensions, in-jokes, and general messiness
that comes with friends and family, but as things get heavy, we see how well
they all work together and how fantastic it could have been if we had gotten
their trio adventure earlier. Abrams feels like by having these three main
characters on this adventure together he’s making up for not doing so in The
Force Awakens, and through the fantastic performances, which I’ll get on
to, we feel the everlasting joy and sadness at having had these three together
and that this will be their last time. That hug they share in the final
celebration, with Finn having his two best friends and loves in the world by
his side, tears in his eyes, while Rey and Poe are holding hands behind Finn’s
back, that is an all-time Star Wars moment for me.
After Finn’s attempt at a sacrifice in The Last Jedi, he is questioning whether he has the strength to
follow Rey to the very end, or if he should let her go so she could face these
challenges on her own. Maybe Finn should have been sacrificed in the last film,
even if Boyega does still provide a charismatic and energetic performance that
carries genuine emotions so easily, making him an easy to love actor.
Poe continues to grow as a man who is still unsure of how to
lead properly. He has learned so much about the importance of not being a hero,
and Oscar Isaac presents him as a character who is settling better into a
stronger team dynamic, one who will be prepared to fall into the role of
Resistance General. Poe’s difficult past is explored here, and it’s because of
Isaac’s ability to create an engaging and captivating presence on screen that
works, especially thanks to the radiating chemistry he has with Boyega’s Finn.
Lando Calrissian is back and Billy Dee Williams’ charisma
and warmth has not aged a day in 36 years. Chewbacca (Joonas Suatomo) has more comedic
scenes to play with, more people to hug, and has what is without-a-doubt one of
the most heartbreaking scenes in the whole film after General Leia passes away.
Jannah (Naomi Ackie) is a welcome addition to the galaxy, giving Finn a new
ally to connect with about a shared past as First Order stormtroopers
Richard E. Grant eats up the screen as the more threatening
and ruthless First Order General Pryde, while Domnhall Gleeson has some fitting
things to do for his rather pathetic character. Keri Russell does well enough
behind a mask as new character Zorri Bliss, and Ian McDiarmid returning as
Palpatine is still a joy to watch, even if his inclusion causes narrative
The whole subplot of C-3PO’s memories goes nowhere so his
character feels almost overused, the underuse of Rose Tico, a main character in
The Last Jedi, cannot be forgiven. While Rose has things to do, sure,
it’s the offhand way in which she’s jettisoned from the main adventure that is
most egregious, but I will never cease to smile at just seeing Kelly Marie Tran
Mark Hamill is back as Luke Skywalker and, even if his story
was finished in the last film, he still fits well into that spiritual mentor
role like Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda before him. Carrie Fisher’s presence, life,
and energy is felt through every moment of The Rise of Skywalker as well.
Even if you can easily tell that she isn’t there in her scenes, how the story
uses Leia means so much because she is the most important Star Wars character.
It hurts that she could never get the massive character arc she was destined to
have in this film seeing as Force Awakens was Han’s movie and Last
Jedi was Luke’s, but by these fleeting appearances, characters reacting to
her passing, characters speaking through her, her own lightsaber being wielded
by Rey, and finally joining her brother in the netherworld of the Force, that
made me hold my Mum’s hand and put tears in my eyes
The biggest point of praise I can give this film (and indeed
the whole of this sequel trilogy) is with the characters of Rey and Kylo Ren,
and the performances of these characters by two wonderful actors.
The revelation of Rey’s parentage at first feels like a
backpedal and erasure of one of the best parts of The Last Jedi, and
while so much of it doesn’t make sense on paper, it is Daisy Ridley’s
performance that sells the moment as something beyond some apparent
When I first
saw it, the twist frustrated me endlessly. How does Palpatine have a son?
Doesn’t that make the “Rey is no-one” idea from The Last Jedi useless?
Questions flooded my brain with no real answer or logic given by the movie. And
while I do think that it’s a glaringly silly idea to drop on us that Palpatine
had a son sometime around the Clone Wars, I began to ignore it as something to
potentially be explained elsewhere. What mattered more was what this Palpatine
twist actually means for Rey, and for me, it still makes her a great character
because of how far she has come and the strength she finds through this great
conflict in the end. This twist means that she is born from the Sith, and Ben
Solo was born from the Jedi, thus the two of them become the balance in the
Force, as Anakin Skywalker was prophesised to eventually bring.
This idea puts Rey into a horrible downward spiral, making
her think she is inherently evil, that all her work to become a Jedi and honour
the teachings of Luke and Leia is for nothing, that she is stronger than what
some man tells her. Rey can handle herself, and inside her lives a thousand
generations of the Jedi, telling her to rise up and do what so many could not
before her. The evolution of Rey’s character across three films, with Ridley’s
performances and John Williams’ scores, is something beautiful to reflect on,
even if certain reveals might leave a bad taste in the mouths of fans.
The yin to Rey’s yang is Kylo Ren, perhaps the best
character from these sequels. Here, his own journey begins with him as the
Supreme Leader, cutting down innocents left and right on a path to destroying
any threat to his power. Rey and Ren share a connection, and the chemistry and
life that illuminates the screen when Ridley and Adam Driver are together
brought a smile on my face and tears in my eyes. He gets less screen time than
his appearances in either of the previous films, but he is no less important,
and with this and other performances in The Report and Marriage Story
this year, Driver is proving to be one of the most versatile actors of this
Like all the Star Wars films under the Disney banner,
The Rise of Skywalker is another impressive technical achievement. More
puppets and practical effects are used here than either of the sequel films,
including making Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) a puppet instead of a CG character
like in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. There’s one
practical explosion that I couldn’t help but marvel at the artistry behind it,
even if the situation around it, another Death Star laser strapped to a Star
Destroyer, was a massive eye-roll.
Dan Mindel’s cinematography has improved since his time on The
Force Awakens, implementing stronger colour grading, more flourishes of
70’s techniques like zoom lenses and intricate Spielberg-like shot-structures,
and thanks to the CGI, there’s many scenes of visual terror and wonder that are
destined to become all-time Star Wars moments. The editing from Maryann
Brandon and Stefan Grube is a step-down compared to The Force Awakens
and The Last Jedi, with the opening 20 minutes cutting so rapidly to
characters and new locations that it’s taken me two viewings to fully
comprehend what was going on.
What may be the shining star and irrefutable point of brilliance
about The Rise of Skywalker is John Williams’ score. How he evolves
Rey’s theme, the “Jedi Steps” piece, bringing back the “Imperial March” and
“Emperor’s Theme”, throwing in the traditional end-credits theme for Star
Wars n the middle of the climactic action, and creating two new and
wonderful themes called “The Rise of Skywalker” and “A New Home”, it’s clear
that Williams wrapped up his Star Wars
tenure on a high-note. Listening to these new movements will instantly make me
cry without question.
If it seems that I’m gushing praise about The Rise of
Skywalker, please note that I am still quite mixed on most of the film’s
choices and executions.
There’s several leaps in logic that might be explained in
extended universe comics or books, with many feeling like egregious oversights
in the writing and direction that the filmmakers hoped we might not notice. Narrative problems like how did Zorri
Bliss survive Kijimi being destroyed, why couldn’t Chewbacca’s fake-out death
last longer and serve a greater purpose, why did C-3PO have to have his memory
wiped after sitting on this emotional beat of saying goodbye to his friends
only for everything to be fine two scenes later, and the lack of clarity
surrounding the MacGuffin-heavy plot in the first half are all major errors
that the movie offers little explanation or ease from.
The Rise of Skywalker
has structural, tonal, and storytelling problems throughout and these could
have been fixed with a more cohesive overall narrative surrounding the trilogy,
or a longer runtime akin to the flexibility given to Avengers: Endgame,
or a tightening of emotional beats in the writing and editing. But, for every
major criticism, I can accept them, agree with them, and still find positivity
and beauty in this, the last Star Wars we’ll see for a while, because
everything in this franchise counts and is valid, as hard as that may be to
Star Wars is what it is, flaws and all. It’s
hard to watch sometimes, even harder to defend at others. What The Rise of
Skywalker gave me a film that my family could watch all together, laughing
and cheering and smiling at the moments that worked for all of us. It gave me
so many moments to openly cry at and feel the emotions I resisted out of active
processing during my first viewing. I was holding my Mum’s hand so tight in the
last scene because I didn’t want it to all end. It’s been a long and bumpy
road, full of mistakes and moments which have made me question my love for this
This is the
final chapter in the Skywalker saga, the last Star Wars film we should
be getting for a long time. I connected with its message in such a strong and
powerful way in the end, I accepted its twists and turns and resolutions as
permanent. Rey and Kylo Ren will live on as all-time great Star Wars
characters, many of the scenes in this movie will be in my list of favourite
moments, surprise appearances made my heart soar, and while it’s a messy ride
for the most part that needed more time and clarity, Star Wars: The Rise of
Skywalker means something special to me. It always will.
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