Opening December 18, 2019
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Writing credits: Chris Terrio, J.J. Abrams
Principal actors: Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Mark Hamill
It has been 42 years since Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) introduced audiences to Luke Skywalker and his discovery of his heritage and the war between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance. The story of the Skywalker family reaches its conclusion in this latest entry into the franchise and with so much history behind it and story threads to conclude, it is no surprise that the result is a bit of a mixed bag. It is the culmination of both the best and worst aspects of the franchise so far, and while audiences get answers to many questions, an inadequate screenplay fails to make it a classic.
In many ways, Rise of the Skywalker feels not so much like a conclusion of an arc spanning nine films, but rather a direct response to the controversies of The Last Jedi (2017). It almost seems like everyone involved was happy to pretend that much of the previous film didn’t exist. Themes and characters are disregarded, injuries which were major plot points are no longer important, and even the destruction of most of the rebellion due to the direct actions of one of the leads is practically ignored. For fans of the The Last Jedi, this is likely to be a disappointment, but the one benefit of this action is that Rise of the Skywalker is able to go back to the formula which was so enjoyable in previous films. However, while the return to old themes and character interactions is often beneficial, the inclusion of excessive fan service ends up being more annoying than amusing, resulting in a rather detrimental effect.
Where Rise of the Skywalker really struggles, is in its attempt to try to fill in all of the gaps that the previous two films left open. It is rather obvious that there was no real plan for an overarching story between the three films, and the results of this are clearly felt here, with its slapdash introduction of Emperor Palpatine and inadequate conclusions for all of the main characters. There is at once too much and too little going on. Rey (Daisy Ridley) gets a backstory which we spent all of The Last Jedi being told she didn’t have or need, there’s a ridiculous amount of exposition about Palpatine and how to stop him, and Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) gain little in character development despite the addition of two very forgettable sidekicks. Add to this the sudden inclusion of a massive deus ex machina and the whole film begins to sag under the weight of trying to do too much with not enough plot or character growth over the trilogy.
All of that being said, Rise of the Skywalker still feels more like the type of Star Wars film that audiences expect and enjoy, making it an adequate enough conclusion to the trilogy and to the story of the Skywalker family. With their complicated character interactions, Ridley and Driver do much to propel the film forward and are a real highlight. In addition, the cinematography and CGI make for a rich and oftentimes beautiful viewing experience. While it might not become one of the more beloved films of the franchise, there is still much to appreciate and at the very least it is a must see for everyone who wants to know how this epic story ends. ()
It’s hard to imagine that any review, good or bad, would change anyone’s decision to see a new Star Wars movie. The franchise holds such powerful place in pop culture that no individual episode can make or break it (as proof I site the meh prequel trilogy, films I can’t imagine would have stood up without the beloved first three to support them). So if you’ve seen the others you’ll see this one, and if you haven’t, well, number one, where have you been, and number two, yes, the plot will be lost on you. The now-iconic introductory rolling scroll can’t begin to cover the backstory, so I won’t try either, but neither will I spoil any surprises.
Any movie, even a historical one (and this one presumable happened “a long time ago”) reflects the period in which it was made. The original Star Wars was essentially a traditional cowboy-and-Indian western, set in a galaxy far, far away. Over time they’ve come to more closely resemble computer games. There’s a quest for an object that, once found, reveals the next steps that must be taken, which involves another object, etc., and everyone, good and evil, is on the hunt for these things, and when the characters encounter one another, they fight. Everybody keeps things fresh and urgent by repeating and repeating that if they fail this time, everything that came beforehand was for nothing. Actually, there are often references to the past episodes, which initially heighten the sense of continuity, but then the action begins to feel a lot like a rehashing, a kind of re-enactment of a best-of-Star-Wars reel. Even the characters notice: “This happened to me, and now it’s happening to you, ha ha!” Okay, maybe that’s not the actual quote, but close enough. But no one ever watched Star Wars for the snappy dialogue. You can even make a guess-the-next-cliché game of it, as I did: charmingly roguish good guy looks out window, sees enemy hordes approaching, says (A) “I don’t like the look of this” or (B) “Looks like we got company” or (C) “Hey, guys, you might want to see this.” It’s fun!
All snark aside, this movie starts with a bang, screaming reels of high-speed action that made me wonder if all 142 minutes would be like this, then gets better. It’s not the best of the series but it’s far from the worst. I’d recommend seeing it on a big screen because it relies quite a bit on high-velocity-and-volume oomph to sustain its running time. Whether or not there are surprise deaths is debatable, because you never know who’s going to turn up after all or reanimate or reappear in spirit form or what. Of course the real surprise death was that of Carrie Fisher, whose Princess Leia is brought back best as possible through previous outtakes and awkward CGI. It’s handled with bittersweet good taste. And there’s a cute new robot. Everything is wrapped up at the end, so that’s satisfying. Despite earlier rumors, Disney has announced three more episodes to come. We’re already lining up. 142 minutes