The Force will be with you. Always.
This review makes a concerted effort to avoid story-specific spoilers but everyone’s thresholds will differ so if you have not yet seen the film and want to go in completely blind, perhaps read this review following your experience.
Do. Or do not. There is no try.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker brings the saga that began in 1977 to a close for the third time if you count Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith. While most directly serving as the closing story of this latest trilogy, it also tries to honor what came before as well as attempts to right perceived wrongs of the past. As a result of trying to manage all of these goals, it doesn’t quite do any of the three things expertly, but it still makes for a fun and entertaining final chapter.
J.J. Abrams returns to the franchise after introducing many of these characters and story arcs in The Force Awakens. But stepping away from The Last Jedi meant that his potential long-term plans for some of these elements changed. Following the divisive response to the previous film, Abrams doesn’t entirely push it aside but he certainly seems more focused on returning to the story that he had in mind originally. As a fan of The Last Jedi, I found myself rolling my eyes at the moments that went out of their way to address fan criticisms, and not just of Rian Johnson’s film. There are many instances – that some will consider fan service – trying to address alleged issues going all the way back to the original 1977 film. It was as if Abrams found a Buzzfeed article listing “the greatest sins of Star Wars” and tried to address them one by one with a meta line of dialogue or reference. I have no doubt a portion of the audience will enjoy them, but they almost always felt like they were addressing things that vocal critics in the audience cared about, not the characters in the galaxy far, far away.
But again, Abrams and co-screenwriter Chris Terrio (working from a story by Derek Connolly and original director Colin Trevorrow) honor enough of the ways in which The Last Jedi continued the story that in order to serve as a sequel to that film as well as the unexplored threads introduced in The Force Awakens, much of the film’s first act rushes through a lot of information without really giving it enough time to breath. There’s an early sequence that features the characters “light-speed skipping” through three or four planets within a single minute that perfectly illustrates the opening portion of the film: bouncing from moment to moment while failing to appreciate any of them to any worthwhile extent.
When given time to breathe, the second act features some wonderful moments with this trilogy’s core trio of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe (Oscar Isaac) and their foil Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Anytime any combination of these four are sharing the screen is filled with delightful chemistry that skillfully captures their charm, fears, doubts, and strength. Anthony Daniels’ C-3PO is worthy of a special mention as well, turning in some of the film’s best moments. As the only person to have appeared in all nine films in the saga (and the Rogue One and Solo spinoffs), it seems fitting that the often put-upon character be given a few great moments in this final outing. Abrams and company even manage to believably weave in the late Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa, despite her passing prior to filming, utilizing a combination of stand-ins and unused footage. But the film also introduces a bevy of new or returning characters that draw the focus away from the central cast. Eliminating some of these side diversions might have made for a more focused outing.
You do have your moments.
Despite many of these issues, The Rise of Skywalker is still a fun and compelling Star Wars story. The action is often wonderfully exciting, with multiple scenes showcasing the ingenuity of the characters and the technical expertise of the film’s creators. The aforementioned “light-speed skipping” scene, for example, certainly plays out as a thrilling few moments of action, even if its pacing could have been savored by slowing it a bit. One of the lightsaber duels in the film is particularly inventive but saying too much might spoil the fun of it. And the climactic third act we’ve come to expect from Star Wars does a good job juggling its different planes of action and giving all of the characters a chance to shine.
Abrams also capitalizes on some of the visual risks that Johnson introduced into the series providing a wide array of incredibly stunning images, like that of Rey facing off against a ship from the first teaser trailer of the film. As with The Force Awakens, a premium is placed on practical effects like a new droid D-0 or the small creature Babu Frik. The scenic design, from the ships to the planets to the interiors feels equal parts familiar and new. The same can be said of the costume and sound designs, which continue to feel authentically Star Wars, while the John Williams score predictably excels as it celebrates themes and musical cues from across the series.
The Rise of Skywalker feels as though, upon realizing this was going to be his last chance to spend a couple hours playing with all of the toys in the Star Wars toy box, J.J. Abrams decided to live out his fantasies one last time on the screen. Sometimes this works beautifully but other times it comes across as though he was just one more angry fan on the internet in recent years trying to explain away decisions he didn’t agree with. The chief difference of course being that Disney gave him a couple hundred million dollars to do just that. As fan fiction goes, it certainly could have been a lot worse, but the final product also winds up almost desperately seeking approval from very specific segments of its audience at the expense of time that could have been better spent fleshing out some of the narrative beats or at least letting them breathe a bit.
7.5 / 10
That Good Film
- Charming cast
- Beautiful visuals
- Iconic score
- Fan service feels too directed at the audience rather than the characters
- Rushed plot
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