Movie Review: ‘The Rise of Skywalker’
***I WILL ATTEMPT TO KEEP THIS AS SPOILER FREE AS POSSIBLE***
Plot: Approximately a year after the events of The Last Jedi, the galaxy is in chaos. The First Order continues to dominate the galaxy with Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) even more vicious than ever. Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) continues learning the ways of the Force under the tutelage of General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) as the Resistance is slowly rebuilt. When the long dead Emperor Palpatine mysteriously returns and begins broadcasting a signal throughout the galaxy, Kylo Ren seeks out the nefarious Sith Lord. Rey, Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), C-3PO, and BB-8 also begin a quest to find Palpatine hoping to destroy him and the First Order once and for all.
Review: As a lifelong Star Wars fan I have somewhat of a bias when it comes to these movies. The original trilogy was fundamental in shaping my perceptions of cinema at an early age. I’ve read countless Star Wars books and comics, collected the toys, and even made peace with the prequel trilogy. (Sidenote: I don’t hate it as many do.) When Disney acquired Lucasfilm several years ago and announced they were going to make more films I was ecstatic. Despite their flaws, I unabashedly love both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, however I understand and empathize with fans who don’t love those movies. All of this is a just a long preamble to state that this franchise is very dear to me and I’m self-aware enough to know that I can be myopic when it comes to Star Wars.
Having said all this I can categorically state that I both love and hate The Rise of Skywalker. It is a visually stunning and entertaining film that moves at breakneck speed and contains some of the best things fans love about Star Wars. In addition, The Rise of Skywalker is a ham-fisted, sloppy movie that contains enough plot holes to fill a Star Destroyer, offers way too much fan service, and narratively often feels like a Reddit thread. These statements may seem at odd with each other but much like Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi, I feel the conflict within me. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a movie that’s generated such diametrically opposed viewpoints within me that exist simultaneously.
I think it’s impossible to talk about The Rise of Skywalker without talking about The Last Jedi. In many ways J.J. Abrams’ latest film feels like a two-and-a-half hour long apology for Rian Johnson’s movie. Rey’s parentage in particular is walked back severely, although you could argue that Kylo Ren’s statements from The Last Jedi that they were nobodies is true – from a certain point of view. When Luke shows up as a Force ghost late in the film, his return feels like a giant middle finger to his initial appearance in The Last Jedi. The amount of fan service in this film also underscores a key problem with The Rise of Skywalker, namely that the film is trying to please everyone. Mad that Kylo Ren smashed his helmet? No problem he’s rebuilt it! Didn’t like Rose? Well she’s been regulated to the background! Upset that they killed Snoke? Hey guess what the Emperor is back! (If you’re hoping for a rational explanation for that last one you will be sorely disappointed.) So rather than dare to be original, The Rise of Skywalker chooses to be a slave to nostalgia.
What’s really frustrating about the film is how little the movie makes sense under even mild scrutiny. Major characters apparently die only to come back a few scenes later, new characters like Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell) are one dimensional and exist only in service to the plot, and many key moments feel unearned and contrived. Consequently, The Rise of Skywalker never feels like it has any real stakes which is baffling when the fate of the galaxy is quite literally on the line. This also may be John Williams’ weakest Star Wars score as most of it comes off very uninspired. (Perplexing when you consider that his Last Jedi score may be his best.) It’s almost as if Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, and the rest of Disney took the stance that as long as you slap the name Star Wars on the movie, that that’s somehow enough. It’s not. In a universe that literally has hundreds of excellent stories and artists to mine from, the fact that this was the best Disney could come up with is staggering in its implications.
Now lest you think I’m just some old Tuskan raider shaking his gaffi stick at a cloud, there are some things I really liked about The Rise of Skywalker. Daisy Ridley triumphs as Rey and evolves into the badass, wise Jedi we all hoped she would be. Adam Driver once again proves why he’s the best part of this new trilogy as his Kylo Ren chews the scenery. I loved the scenes between Rey and Luke Skywalker, particularly a part that pays off a key moment from The Empire Strikes Back. The lightsaber battles are also some of the best of the new trilogy. Finally, the last forty-five minutes of this movie are pure Star Wars gold. Equal parts thrilling and exciting, you can’t help but be enchanted by the grandeur that is Star Wars.
Overall, I really liked this new trilogy mostly because I’m a huge Star Wars fan and always will be. Both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi made my top ten movies of 2015 and 2017 respectively and I’ve watched them multiple times since then. Sadly, I can’t say the same will hold true for The Rise of Skywalker. I’ve seen it twice and while I liked the film better upon a second viewing I can’t say it’s a movie I’ll be revisiting on a consistent basis. If this new trilogy has taught the public (and hopefully Disney) anything, it’s that Star Wars needs that creative, guiding voice across all three films. Say what you want about the original trilogy and the prequels, George Lucas’ presence is consistently felt throughout those films. That was never the case nor the plan with these three new movies. You can’t just hope for the best. You need a leader. Now whether that leader going forward is Kevin Feige, or Jon Favreau, or Dave Filoni – there needs to be one.
For what it’s worth I’m still optimistic about the future of Star Wars. There’s plenty of great stories being crafted across a variety of mediums. In addition, there’s a myriad of great storytellers amid this universe. The key thing going forward will be utilizing these people and their ideas. If Disney instead chooses the Dark Side and relies too much on nostalgia then ultimately Star Wars is bound for the Sarlaac Pit. I don’t feel that that is Star Wars‘ destiny however.
When you get down to where the lightsaber meets the beskar metal, The Rise of Skywalker fails on many levels. However, that doesn’t prevent it from being an entertaining and enjoyable film that emphasizes that Star Wars is still very much alive and loved by many.
*NOTE: Since I have conflicted feelings regarding this movie I’ve decided to give the film two scores. One as a Star Wars movie and one as an overall film from a critical perspective.*
My rating System:
0-1 God Awful Blind Yourself With Acid Bad
2 Straight Garbage
4 Sub Par
8 Very Good
10 A Must See
As an overall film The Rise of Skywalker rates: 4/10
As a Star Wars film The Rise of Skywalker rates: 7/10
You can follow me on Twitter at CorryeAtTheMovies @VanCorrye