STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (2019)
GENRE: Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Adventure
DIRECTOR: J.J. Abrams
WRITERS: J.J. Abrams, Chris Terrio
STARS: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Ian McDiarmid
PLOT: The remaining members of the Resistance renew the fight against The First Order and an even more dangerous enemy in the final instalment of the nine-part Skywalker Saga.
The following review does not contain any major spoilers for the new film as long as you’ve seen the trailers.
It’s amazing to think that just four years ago I was writing the review for The Force Awakens. Back then I mentioned how much pressure director J.J. Abrams was under to deliver a film that would get the Star Wars franchise back on track after the disappointing prequel trilogy and George Lucas’s abandonment of the saga. That pressure pales in comparison to that which faced the director with The Rise of Skywalker, however – completing an epic story that began 42 years ago, revolutionised moviemaking and created a pop culture phenomenon; bringing together the threads of a disjointed story whose last instalment angered a legion of keyboard warriors; and having to deal with the loss of Carrie Fisher, who was expected to play a major role in the final film before her untimely death in 2016. So whatever you think of the film, let’s give the guy some credit for being brave enough to grasp this poisoned chalice!
For the record, I am a fan of The Last Jedi, but I can see why some people weren’t, and one criticism I can agree with is that Rian Johnson’s film didn’t leave an obvious direction for the story to take in the final episode. Supreme Leader Snoke, the expected main villain of this trilogy, was killed off and Kylo Ren looked set to lead the First Order’s domination of the galaxy, while the Resistance had been reduced to a handful of plucky fighters whose best hope was a young lady with about three days of Jedi training. So what would Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio come up with for the conclusion of this epic saga?
As always, we try and keep spoilers to a minimum so we’ll only be divulging plot points that are obvious from the film’s trailers, but if you haven’t even watched those then you may want to stop reading now.
What is arguably the worst opening text scroll in the history of the franchise confirms what had already been rather dumbly revealed in the trailers – Palpatine is back! The former Emperor cheated death and has been lurking in the background for the last 30 years, building a new army to help him once again rule over the galaxy. The Resistance strives to gather information and forces to combat this returning threat, whilst also dealing with the ongoing danger of the First Order. Rey’s skills with the Force continue to grow and along with Finn and Poe she sets off on an adventure that will bring her to her destiny and continue to develop her complex relationship with Kylo Ren. New characters will join the fight, along with old smoothie Lando Calrissian. There are space battles, daring rescues, gunfights, lightsaber duels, emotional farewells and everything else you’d expect from Star Wars.
The first ten minutes of the film flies by at a dizzying pace as a number of short scenes set up the story, giving Abrams the chance to quickly explain away several of the decisions made in The Last Jedi. Some of these are perfectly acceptable whereas others are awkward to say the least, and for a while it seems like he’s intent on virtually ignoring Rian Johnson’s film. To be fair though, he does embrace one of the concepts that was introduced in Episode VIII – the trans-galactic ‘Force bridge’ between Rey and Kylo Ren, which actually becomes a very useful plot device in this film. It is pretty obvious early in the film though that Abrams wouldn’t have made the decisions Johnson did if he’d been in charge of the middle film in the trilogy, and as a result this should generally please detractors of the previous movie.
Once things calm down and we get into the main story, we see Rey, Finn and Poe working together for the first time in the trilogy as they hunt for an item that will help them locate Palpatine. This is where the film really gets going and it’s good to see our three heroes finally working as a team along with series stalwarts C-3PO and Chewbacca, both of whom are given far more meaningful roles than in the previous two episodes. From here its full steam ahead with the story as we’re taken from one location to another, with chases, fights and several surprising revelations along the way (and some that are less so).
The movie really shines when we see Rey and Kylo Ren on screen together, and the latter’s journey is one of the highlights of the film, with an excellent performance from Adam Driver. Their showdown on the ruins of the second Death Star is a fantastic spectacle and is one of the best lightsaber duels in the entire saga, with a pivotal climax. It helps that the setting for the battle is stunning, and in fact all the locations and the production design in general are absolutely fantastic.
The film gives us a final chance to say goodbye to the beloved Princess Leia, with Carrie Fisher’s scenes made up from deleted footage from the first two movies combined with some use of CGI and body doubles. Some of these work better than others and undoubtedly Leia doesn’t feature in the film as much as was intended, but it is gratifying that she still has a notable part to play in the story. Moments like this make the film an emotional journey and there are a number of scenes that will definitely tug on the heartstrings and even bring a tear to the eye of long-time fans.
It is hard to say much more about the film’s positive moments without revealing the plot, so let’s move on to the criticisms. The story is pretty predictable and does feature a lot of pandering to over-sensitive fans. There isn’t a lot of character development. New characters are introduced and barely used, and even the returning Lando has very little to do. Sub-plots are begun but not fully explored. Ian McDiarmid’s Palpatine is as hammy as ever. The film’s title is, in hindsight, a bit silly. Other reviews have dissected these problems in minute detail and I don’t necessarily disagree with them.
But you know what? None of those things really matter. This isn’t Shakespeare, it’s Star Wars, and when I go to watch Star Wars I want to feel that sense of wonder from my childhood and see good versus evil, lasers, robots, aliens, spaceships, adventure, excitement, laughs and a bit of dysfunctional family drama, all set to John Williams’ iconic score. So there may be issues, but none of them stop this being a whole lot of fun that delivers all those things along with one last nostalgic look at the heroes I grew up with and even some sadness that the whole thing is finally over. If you can’t get enjoyment out of this final episode of the saga then you probably need to question what drew you to Star Wars in the first place.
Before the film was released, Abrams hoped that fans would be satisfied with this conclusion to this generation-spanning story. It was an impossible task to deliver a film that would please everyone, and this may not exactly be the film I wanted, and probably not what the director wanted either, but upon leaving the cinema last week the first thing I said to my wife was “I’m satisfied with that.” I think that’s mission accomplished, J.J.
Review by Mat Corne
So that’s it, the Skywalker Saga is over and with it ends Disney’s sequel trilogy. When looking at the trilogy as a whole, it was never going to compete with the original three films – nothing ever will. However, I think the majority of fans would agree that while the prequel trilogy had the better overall story, this new trio of movies beats it in every other aspect – characters, effects, acting, pacing, humour, nostalgia and the overall feelgood factor. There is a strong argument that it was a trilogy that didn’t need to be made, and even that it diminishes the original six-movie arc that George Lucas oversaw. The counter-argument is that it revived a franchise that was going nowhere under Lucas and gave us one more chance to see the characters we loved as children, so overall the sequel trilogy can be considered a success for Disney.
That said, what we actually got was three enjoyable films in their own right, but not a good trilogy – the disjointed nature of the three stories definitely hampered the final outcome, and the blame for this lies squarely at the feet of Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy, who gave the writers of each episode free reign to take the story wherever they liked with no overarching plan for the trilogy as a whole. The result was a narrative mess that was largely redeemed by the characters and action, although many fans would beg to differ.
So what next for Disney and Lucasfilm? They’ve delivered a conclusion to the Skywalker saga, so the galaxy is their oyster for future films in the franchise. The success of The Mandalorian suggests that the immediate future for Star Wars lies on the Disney+ streaming service with series that focus on smaller, character-driven stories away from the more epic story that the main saga portrayed. Sooner or later though the franchise will return to the big screen, maybe even with a new trilogy, and my only hope is that we get something truly original with no mention of Skywalker, Palpatine or even the Force. One thing’s for sure though – as long as there’s money to be made we’ll be visiting that galaxy far, far away for a long, long time…
You can get more Star Wars chit-chat from the MovieMuse team by checking out the following MovieMuse podcasts…
A satisfying if predictable end to the Skywalker Saga that hits the notes you’d expect from a Star Wars film and should please all but the most cynical of fans.
User Review( votes)
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