It was hard to set your expectations for Rise of Skywalker, the latest and final chapter of the Star Wars Saga. Not so much because of the quality of The Last Jedi and The Force Awakens but rather because they are such different films that share common DNA. There difference made it quite apparent there was little in the way of an overarching ‘plan’ driving the trilogy forward. Rise of the Skywalker for better or for worse seeks to conclude the story of Rey, Finn and Poe whilst boldly declaring itself a conclusion to all nine movies. The result is a bombastic, action-packed yet flawed sometimes dull, sometime illogical that somehow magically gets us where we need to go as an audience providing us with entertainment and emotional chills along the way.
The story picks up sometime after the events of The Last Jedi where Rey is in training under the tutelage of Commander Leia. Rumours of a resurrected Emperor and a greater First Order army put both Kylo Ren and the Resistance on similar paths which will lead to a final confrontation between them all.
Let’s get this out of the way, Rise of Skywalker does a whole lot right and is for the part entertainment. Action is JJ Abrams’ forte and on this he never lets you down. From lightsabre duels on a sinking and decaying Death Star, to chases in the deserts to impossible battles against a legion of Star Destroyer it all feels epic and spectacular. If you’re looking for a comparison point this is the final act of Rogue One but throughout the whole running time. It’s a feast for the eyes and every shot is filled with detail.
The film also makes every effort to put our main players together Finn, Rey, Chewbacca and Poe essentially go one a road trip for the first half of the film. Clearly at the heart of Rise of Skywalker no matter what your bloodline is you make your own family. There are wisecracks, impossible situations, and warm emotions. These to me are the DNA of Star Wars and whatever you may think of the new trilogy this cast has invested a lot in making these characters lovable and I think they largely succeed. They even manage to give C3PO some brilliant character moments.
Yet I also have complex feelings about this film. To set up this road-trip of sorts a lot of weird and convoluted plot details must be explained which results in a chase for a person or a device or both. None of which is necessary and ultimately involves looking for a map. The forward movement is fine but if every fifteen minutes or so you must create exposition that justifies the next planet to travel things actually slow down and dulls the movie especially in its first half.
The contrast with this is things just happen without a whole lot of explanation. Oh of course, Lando is here, the Emperor, he has been in the shadows the whole time. Abrams is notorious for making films that look and appear cool with just enough heart but here with so many moving pieces it all tends to fall down around itself at times. It feels like fan-service and is meant to elicit a response for the fans, but it often does not make sense. The last shot of the movie is a wonderful throwback and that John Williams score and the imagery of it all, but it doesn’t make a lick of sense why it is happening.
This is perhaps where things get a little bit meta and we deal with The Last Jedi ‘controversy’. To say it is a divisive film is an understatement, but it exists right, it is part of Star Wars cannon. Yet Rise of Skywalker virtually ignores it all and given some of ‘the press’ that has sold that movie under the bus for a dollar. Oh sure, you knew that Rey’s parents were still a thing. But think of those wonderful conversations questioning the self-righteousness of the Jedis or that amazing moment where Luke sparks the fire of the rebellion. Nah, don’t worry about it. The only thing that manages to survive is that weird connection between Ren and Rey and makes for some of the most Last Jedi moments in the film.
You become aware perhaps the emperor had no clothes all along. Usually you have to be a real enthusiast of the movie industry to see these things but its readily apparent on the screen here.
The problem is that in relentless action, fan-service, retconning past movie and then deciding to make the final chapter of nine movie things begin to feel haphazard. Lovely character moments are many but often swept away in noise. Cool minute details are swept aside by the next explosion.
But at the end of the day Rise of the Skywalker feels more than the sum of its part. I can’t get it out of my head. It might be the weakest of the modern trilogy but it also has so much going on I think it demands multiple viewings more so than the other films. Star Wars for me (and I think for many others) is about a childhood feeling and the nostalgia of that itch has been both scratched and exploited in these new movies. Both exploitation and celebration are present here yet still somehow, I liked my time with this film despite its flaws.
Rise of the Skywalker Review Cheat Sheet.
I find myself coming away from Rise of Skywalker like a filling meal with friends. The company was good but not every piece of food and drink was of the same quality. Questionable and overwhelming plotting, a failure to slowdown and an almost complete abandonment of what came before it makes you question whether it was worth showing up at all. But then the highlights come out space battles and lightsaber duels, cryptic force speak and friendship and love and redemption and you know this is still Star Wars. JJ Abrams may have had an impossible task (albeit one he is at least partially responsible for creating) and while he may not have perfected it, Rise of the Skywalker is a solid effort and a satisfying if at times shaky conclusion.