STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (2019) FILM REVIEW

RELEASED: December 20th 2019
DISTRIBUTED BY: Disney
DIRECTED BY: J. J. Abrams
WRITTEN BY: J. J. Abrams & Chris Terrio
PRODUCED BY: Kathleen Kennedy, J. J. Abrams & Michelle Rejwan
MUSIC BY:  John Williams
STARRING: Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams & Ian McDiarmid

When I first walked out of The Force Awakens‘ midnight showing, I was quite disappointed by what I had seen. I later came around to enjoy the movie, but it took quite some time. Similarly, leaving The Last Jedi, I found myself with a sense of melancholy. It has since become one of my favourite Star Wars films, but my initial feeling was perhaps one of shock.

Conversely, The Rise of Skywalker left me elated. I was emotional and satisfied in the conclusion of the saga, but am very aware that the film, under closer inspection, will probably not hold up to criticism as well as its precursors. There are a few plot holes and some genuinely bad decisions. 

The Rise of Skywalker sees the final battle between the Resistance and the First Order, as the long-thought dead Emperor Palpatine has returned, bringing with him a hidden ‘Sith Fleet’ of immense power. As Rey, Finn, Poe and the gang rush to discover Palpatine’s location and stage one final attack for the fate of the galaxy, Kylo Ren must decide whether to vanquish this new threat to his supremacy or form an alliance that could mean doom for everyone he once loved.

The main thing that stood out for me at the beginning of the movie is how evident it is that the people behind these films had no real idea what the fuck they were doing (stay with me here). The Force Awakens was an overly safe blockbuster. The Last Jedi was a thoughtful change of pace but started to seed the idea that there was no real plan here in place. The Rise of Skywalker confirms that from the moment it kicks off by highlighting that Palpatine isn’t returning. He’s already back. How? Who knows. He just is. Making it seem like, going into this final chapter, we’ve missed out on a lot.

From there, the movie seems to straggle the line between continuing The Last Jedi‘s story and trying to just start over. Some plot threads are continued. Some are toyed with and changed slightly. Some are just completely overhauled. Now, before any Last Jedi haters speak up (and I’m not one of those people who will badmouth your dislike of the film, that’s totally fine), this doesn’t seem like a reaction to The Last Jedi so much as it is just a panicked splurge of a movie after the realisation that no one thought this through at any point. Thus, the film ends up being quite bloated, occasionally messy, and heavily reliant on nostalgia.

It’s far from the best written Star Wars film, as those behind the camera seem to be more focused on other things.

Also, charming as it is to see Carrie Fisher reprise her role as Leia, all of her scenes look a bit off.

BUT, because there’s so much going on here, like The Force Awakens before it, The Rise of Skywalker speeds you on from your initial doubts and scepticism, throwing a barrage of new adventures, relationships, characters and additions to the lore at you in an effort to distract you. And if you’re able to let yourself be taken on this ride… it kind of works.

It’s a fun movie, designed for people who like Star Wars. It gives a lot of closure to the franchise (even to parts of the story that doesn’t necessarily need it). It has some amusing moments and there’s a ton of things that have the potential to make you emotional (I spent pretty much the entire third of the movie teary-eyed).

Our core cast finally gets the attention they deserve, as classic characters like Lando, Leia and Palpatine play important roles, but in the background. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega give perhaps their best turn as Rey and Finn respectively. Joonas Suotamo proves once again to be an excellent Chewbacca, while Anthony Daniels gets some amusing little bits in. Adam Driver continues to be the best part of the new trilogy in terms of performance.

But the real stand-out for me was perhaps Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron. Not because he was the best, but because he’s the character who takes the biggest leap forward. Unlike the prior films, Poe gets right into the thick of the adventure in Rise of Skywalker, and while I liked him well enough before, seeing him as an integral part of the main story, learning about his past and seeing him really getting to put his chemistry with John Boyega to good use made him seem much more appealing as a character, even if at times his journey seemed to ignore some of his development in The Last Jedi.

New characters like Jannah and Zorii Bliss proved their worth in the limited time they had, and overall I liked the majority of the character work we got, even if it was sparse at times. There were exceptions though. Due to the introduction of characters like Naomi Ackie’s Jannah, Keri Russell’s Zorii and Richard E. Grant’s General Pryde, older characters like Hux and Rose get very little screentime and often feel rather superfluous to the film. I would even go so far as to say both characters, but particularly Hux, were wasted; more so than some believe he was in the prior movie. Similarly, Dominic Monaghan’s character has no character beyond being someone who delivers exposition in small bursts, to the extent that his presence actually annoyed me. Like, who is this guy? Why does he know that? Oh, he’s gone.

As is to be expected by a J. J. Abrams movie, everything (bar, perhaps, Carrie Fisher’s insertion into the film) looks wonderful. The film is filled with colourful new planets, exciting new situations and a wealth of blink-and-you’ll miss them creatures that grab your attention for the fraction of time they’re on the screen. There was this weird red robotic elephant thing on the screen at one point and I found myself genuinely wondering what its story was. It had absolutely no importance whatsoever but I dug it.

The action is also quite well done. Although the stakes often don’t seem that high, there’s a lot of variety in the film, including several lightsaber duels that I found to be particularly interesting and different from what we’ve had before. Although I do feel the final clash will leave some fans disappointed.

I do have more thoughts on The Rise of Skywalker, and I will probably do a spoiler review like I did for Avengers: Endgame (where, similar to that film, I’ll decide on my score). But for now, I will say this: people who have enjoyed the previous two entries into the Skywalker Saga will probably have a good time here, but those with any doubts will probably be in for a rough ride. I think a lot of people are going to dislike this film. But such is the nature of Star Wars now. It’s a divisive franchise, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change.

Personally, though, I’m happy enough that I’ll probably attend the midnight showing after work tonight. It pulled on all the right strings for me to be up for a repeat viewing. It delivered what I wanted, albeit in some weird ways, and some things I didn’t want, but in ways that I was okay with them.

I should probably note though, that I saw several spoilers prior to seeing the movie. While in any other instance that would be a bad thing, here I think it prepared me for some of the weird directions this film took, so bear that in mind.

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