TL;DR – This is a film that feels both incredibly safe but yet also incredibly weird and that dissidence is really odd.
Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Well, it is an interesting time for a new Star Wars film, for maybe the first time in a long time. The last film Solo had a lacklustre reception and had issues in production as did Rogue One, and indeed as did Rise. To add to this, the discourse in and around Star Wars films has just been wholly unpleasant for quite a while. So for the first time in a very long time, I walked into a Star Wars film with a lot of trepidation. Now while thankfully a lot of that trepidation was unneeded, unfortunately, some of it was.
So to set the scene, at the end of The Last Jedi everything is in flux. The Resistance has survived annihilation but has been stretched to almost breaking point as The First Order storms across The New Republic. However, all is not dandy for The First Order as well, as their leader was assassinated by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and their main battle cruiser was destroyed. The game is set for the final* battle between the light side and the dark with the whole galaxy’s future is at stake. However, just at the cusp of this, a dark voice from the past pierces into the vale. For it appears that Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) has come back from the dead and is gunning for Rey (Daisy Ridley). Now with this review, we will try to be as general and non-spoilery as possible but there will be a section towards the end that will explore three big story points that will have spoilers but we will clearly label it for you (also if you don’t want spoilers maybe avoid the cast list at the bottom).
Now while not everything worked for me, the one thing that is very clear is that when you go into a Star Wars film you can expect a level of quality in the production and The Rise of Skywalker does not disappoint on that front. Visually this might be the most stunning Star Wars film to date with the wizards at ILM making every moment count. The ships are stunning, the locations are beautiful, and the creature design is the best in the business that combines digital and practical elements. Those moments that soar, soar high because they are just so beautiful. A good example of this is a fight between Rey and Kylo on a pylon under siege from the sea. There are practical sets including a whole ton of water being mixed in with digital extensions and it is gorgeous to watch. To add to this, any film that has John Williams providing the score is going to be a good time for your ears and even though there is not as much new score here as I was expecting it still all sounds amazing.
To add to this, one thing that really stands out in this film is the chemistry between the core cast. Watching Rey, Finn (John Boyega), and Poe (Oscar Isaac) interact was one of the real joys of this film as it has in the past. There is this bond there that I have rarely seen replicated and it is one of the things that elevated the film for me. You see it most often in the banter between the three that has a weight of old friends that are used to playfully sparing with each other. What this bond allows them to do is to expand on Rey and Kylo’s force connection from the last film in a really interesting way that works its way into the narrative and is the one big change-up that really lands. This joy also radiates out into the rest of the cast with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) getting both moments of comedy gold but also maybe the most touching moments in the film.
However, for me, even though the production was beautiful and the cast was clearly there for it, it didn’t quite land for me and that had a lot to do with the story. Right from the start, it felt jarring like it was having to rush through a lot of plot to realign the film away from The Last Jedi and to the direction where J. J. Abrams wanted it to go. Now, that is not necessarily an issue, if it all comes together in the wash, but for me, it didn’t. The frenetic way the film rushes through its story makes it feel like it is repaving over a road that has already been done rather than taking the road on further. We have very little connecting tissue between the two films and that comes off as jarring. All of this means that a lot of the emotional beats from the first half of the film just did not land for me.
To add to this, it really felt like they were really struggling to add Leia (Carrie Fisher) back into the film and to create a through-line in which her dialogue made sense in the new context. Now this might be something that is less of an issue on a second watch, and I have been reliably informed that the start flows a lot better a second time once you can just take it all in, but it did impact my viewing. Overall, it did feel like the story was trying to be on the one hand super weird, and there are these truly weird moments and acting beats, like whenever Richard E. Grant was on screen, that make the film quite odd. However, on the other hand (and we will get into this more in the next paragraph) the story was also incredibly safe. For example, there is a shocking moment in the film that they start backtracking on within about thirty seconds, undercutting the very point they were making.
Now when we dig down deeper into the story there were three main plot points that really held it back for me and of course, this means that we will be exploring [SPOILERS] at this point onwards. Back in the day, I gave The Force Awakens a bit of a pass with it just being a re-tread of A New Hope, given everything it had to do as a film. However, it was frustrating to see this film chart a very similar course as The Return of the Jedi, with some of the plot beats being almost the same just with no Ewoks… okay, fewer Ewoks. To add to this, Emperor Palpatine never worked for me as the main villain. His return just felt forced and no amount of hand waving that he was the secret behind it all made it work for me. Well, of course, this leads us to the biggest and for me the most frustrating reveal in the entire film, which means [Serious SPOILERS incoming] looking at who Rey’s parents are… exasperated sigh. There was a lot for me that didn’t work with The Last Jedi and I am not going to go through it because the discourse in the intervening years has been truly toxic. However, if there was one thing that film nailed it was that Rey’s parents were no ones. This was really important because the film series (and a lot of fans) had become obsessed with bloodline and it needed that reminder that anyone could have the force. That it could be anyone is what makes characters like Spider-Man so powerful and it has been a dream of many a young one. However, not only does this film retcon that whole thing to dust, they do it in the most ham-fisted way that I felt honestly shocked at how nonsensical the whole thing was. All of this impacted on what would have been a really emotional ending to the film, though thankfully the power of Dasiy and Adam helped mitigate this a lot.
In the end, do we recommend Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker? Yes, I think I still would, even though there are a lot of problems with it. This is because, when the film is working it is phenomenal, and the production quality alone is worth a watch. Now is it a good conclusion to the new trilogy of films? Well, I think that is going to be a very personal question for every person. For me, it felt like the safe ending, and I kind of wished they had double-downed on weird.
*Sooooo not the final one
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Directed by – J. J. Abrams
Story by – Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow, J. J. Abrams & Chris Terrio
Screenplay by – J. J. Abrams & Chris Terrio
Based on – Star Wars by George Lucas
Music by – John Williams
Cinematography by – Dan Mindel
Edited by – Maryann Brandon & Stefan Grube
Production/Distribution Companies – Lucasfilm, Bad Robot Productions & Disney
Starring – Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, 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, Ian McDiarmid & Billy Dee Williams with Denis Lawson, Dominic Monaghan, Billie Lourd, Jimmy Vee, Greg Grunberg & Nick Kellington and Andy Serkis, James Earl Jones, Freddie Prinze Jr., Liam Neeson, Frank Oz, Hayden Christensen & Harrison Ford
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: na; Germany: 12; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 12A; United States: PG-13