Review: Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker (spoilers)

!!! SPOILERS AHEAD !!!

This 2019 American science-fiction adventure, the sequel to 2017s ‘The Last Jedi’ and serving as the concluding film in the nine-part “Skywalker Saga”, is directed by J. J. Abrams. It stars Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Anthony Daniels, Joonas Suotamo, Domhnall Gleeson, Naomi Ackie, Keri Russell and Richard E. Grant, with Billy Dee Williams, Ian McDiarmid, Mark Hamill and the late Carrie Fisher.

When a distant transmission across the galaxy promises the revenge of the Sith with a destructive fleet, General Leia Organa (Fisher) and her band of small Resistance fighters know who sent it – the once thought dead Emperor, Sheev Palpatine (McDiarmid). Jedi Rey (Ridley), fighters Poe (Isaac), Finn (Boyega) and Chewbacca (Suotamo), along with droids C-3PO (Daniels) and BB-8 seek out the Emperor in the Unknown Regions to prevent him from launching his Sith fleet, with new (and old) heroes joining the fight. But First Order Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Driver) has learned a secret first-hand from Palpatine himself regarding his ultimate Dark Side plans. Kylo sets about to bring down Rey and the Resistance, as the galaxy pulls together to defeat Sith and First Order forces before it is too late…

The (third) conclusion to a (third) trilogy in the Skywalker saga – give or take ‘Rogue One’ or ‘Solo’ in that timeline – and over 42 years of storytelling in the making leads down to this relentless 2hrs 15min adventure across the stars. ‘The Force Awakens’ director J.J. Abrams returns to cap the new trilogy and close the curtain on a tale that began in 1977. For four decades of pop culture, countless books, toys, games and not to mention TV shows and ten movies, the Star Wars saga has created works that will divide fans and critics alike for generations. A film to round off all of this and more was never going to be easy, nor going to please everyone.

It’s just a real shame that ‘The Rise Of Skywalker’ sends this new trilogy out on an un-inspired whimper and closes the saga with a less than satisfying or memorable conclusion to the story we know and love.

The narrative plays out as an almost entry from anything laid down in Episodes VII and VIII. The continuation of themes, goals and character arcs and more is side-lined, ignored or rushed in favour of introducing new characters, new themes, goals and arcs. What is evident, sadly, is a lack of overall planning. Events are mentioned and hinted at from across not just this new trilogy but also the originals (IV, V and VI) that play a big part, but they are there as ways to try and connect dots, nothing more.

J.J had his hands full trying to link all nine saga films as well as the new stories and ideas both he and Rian Johnson planted. For most of the part, easily, he links the films with one man – Emperor Palpatine, with Ian McDiarmid seemingly changing little to embody the character he first played in 1983, and then across 1999 to 2005. The one man and his Dark Side plan is the fuel for events not just in ‘The Rise Of Skywalker’ but also ‘The Last Jedi’ and ‘The Force Awakens’. You just have to accept it, even though it sounds a ridiculous stretch and will leave you asking more questions about how and why than it does answer them.

Of course, we have familiar faces such as Billy Dee Williams return as Lando Calrissian who starts on such a high, it’s a shame we don’t get more of him leading the fight. Carrie Fisher returns from unused footage across her new films as Leia, and having to accept her journey rather than fight it due to the tragic circumstances of her passing before work could commence on the film, it’s hard to swallow when it’s too painfully obvious of the desperate attempt to weave dialogue and push forward the story around her lines almost four years out of date to where we are now. They tried, and it’s commendable given the circumstances.

John Boyega, Oscar Isaac et al do as expected as the Resistance fighters who try to deliver memorable humour and natural exchanges with others, but again it feels too forced and under-developed to now buy into it. New faces such as Richard E Grant, Keri Russell and Naomi Ackie add some new (if limited) characters to the mix, but again all feel under-cooked with limited reason to actually be on screen than just to serve a basic purpose. But speaking of “new” old faces, keep an eye out for a cheeky cameo by John Williams himself as a bartender, and the return of one Wedge Antilles. There could be other fan-pleasing (or annoying) cameos, visual and vocal, so be prepared.

The journey belongs to Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver – Rey and Kylo – bonded by both Light and Dark and popping up for countless lightsabre duels here and there, conversing by the Force and even taking items from each other via the Force to track them down. It’s convoluted and complicated, far more than it needed to be when these two fine actors do their best work when faced simply with hard words and emotions and a haunting John Williams score. It takes time, but their eventual climax – again, under-cooked and devoid of true development – does hit home more often than not, and gives them some real moments to shine. Rey stirs up the giddy excitement of how it has felt to play Jedi video game characters, with her new Force powers and deft lightsabre moves. She’s having fun being a Jedi in full prime, and it’s something also fun to see.

Of course, when things work, they work well.  Visual effects are on point, even if they are excessive now. The tug of heartstrings when we see those faces and emotions from the past are there to remind you of the journey these characters have taken. The dangerous and disturbing (and dark magic riddled) Sith lore is glimpsed which we never really have before. And Babu Frik, a scene-stealer greater than Baby Yoda if ever we needed one.

The conversation will continue with many fans either loving or hating this final chapter in a beloved series. Frustratingly though, with a number of rushed and forced plot points to try and make two previous films connect, the outcome is disappointing. Answers are left unexplained. Questions are left un-asked. Logic is thrown out of the window for audiences to just accept and say nothing so the climax can happen.

‘The Rise Of Skywalker’ is a conclusion to a trilogy we didn’t need and a story we didn’t want. The ending of ‘Return Of The Jedi’ swells far much more hope, passion, heart and joy than the fan-service we are treated to here. J.J sadly proves the constraints of keeping the Star Wars saga locked tight to the ‘Skywalker’ crux is not enough to expand beyond an already concluded story without harkening back again and again to themes, sequences and dialogue we’ve seen and heard before.

As much as tension, drama and fear are attempted, it soon fizzles out because you know what’s coming. You’ve seen it play out before, and there are no brave moves or shocking attempts to shake free some of those Skywalker saga expectations we’ve seen over and over again.

It’s a film that makes you glad ‘Rogue One’ and even ‘Solo’ exists away from the now desperate to please Jedi/Sith/Skywalker story, because this proves the saga, for me, should have ended then and there on the moon of Endor.

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