The RIse of Skywalker is a whole lot of Star Wars for one movie. Packed to the rafters with both fist-pumping highs and confounding lows, it’s a messy, emotional, frustrating and exhilarating conclusion to the decades-spanning saga.
*Minor spoilers spotted jumping from lightspeed ahead!*
To misquote Padme Amidala, “so this is how progression dies…with thunderous applause”. Within minutes, director/co-writer J. J. Abrams sets about backtracking on the boldest of Rian Johnson’s storytelling decisions in The Last Jedi. An about-face which should, in theory, delight those disappointed by the direction taken by Johnson, but in practice, Abrams makes a rod for his own back. As if wrapping up a nine-film series weren’t enough, he’s seemingly intent on realigning the story to the vision he started out with in The Force Awakens, rather than running with the more forward-looking course that Johnson steered the franchise in. By the time he’s done retconning The Last Jedi’s biggest controversies though – Snoke, Rey’s parents, even Kylo’s helmet – it leaves him with much to do, and little time to do it.
The blame here does lie partially at the feet of The Last Jedi, a film often more interested in introspective character study than the machinations of the greater war at play, which no doubt halts the drive of the overarching story and leaves more to tie up this time around. Meaning that here, large pieces of the puzzle are left to be put (or, at times, crammed) into place still before we’re able to hurtle towards the mostly satisfying conclusion. Even at its breakneck pace, you can still feel the narrative cogs of The Rise of Skywalker’s machine turning, much of the opening act (and even beyond) chock full of exposition.
The short version: The dead speak! Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) has returned, and as is his favourite pastime, he’s set about converting the increasingly powerful Jedi Rey (Daisy Ridley) to the dark side of the Force, with the help of her frenemy (frenemesis?) Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). While McDiarmid is, as ever, deliciously evil, this is ultimately Rey and Kylo Ren’s film and trilogy, and it’s when focussed on each of their internal struggles that The Rise of Skywalker shines brightest, both putting in their best performances in the roles to date. A lightsaber duel between the two atop the remains of the Death Star will stand as one of the entire series’ most compelling, perfectly combining emotion with spectacle to incredible effect.
Swirling around this trio is the battle between the Resistance and the First Order. A swarm of Star Destroyers dredged from the depths of the oceans stacks the odds insurmountably against the Resistance, who are led from the front by Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Leia (Carrie Fisher). Finn and Poe’s combined charm offensive continues, both getting their fair share of laughs and heroics. And with Leia, the best is made of an impossible situation. Footage Fisher shot for The Force Awakens is repurposed and composited into the film, and while Leia “interacts” with her fellow rebels, the execution is not the smoothest. Her lack of actual presence is felt, but it’s certainly better than her not being involved at all. Elsewhere, C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) is giving room to shine, but with so much to squeeze in, the likes of Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), R2-D2, BB-8 and even (albeit to a lesser extent) Billy Dee Williams’ Lando Calrissian are underserved to varying degrees.
And yet, although the lack of breathing room restricts the film in many ways, it also allows for a barrage of thrilling setpieces, gorgeous imagery and crowd-pleasing moments; Palpatine raising the Empire’s fleet, cross-space lightsaber duels, waves crashing aside the battered debris of the Death Star, Lando piloting the Millenium Falcon. It’s like there’s a big old Star Wars wishlist, and Abrams is revelling in ticking it off. It might get a bit hectic, but it sure is exciting, every moment tailored specifically in an attempt to provide closure for each of the beloved characters. Sure, this isn’t Star Wars at its most elegant, but it works where it matters most: emotionally.
Concluded, the Skywalker saga has.
Rating (out of 5):
Sidenote: I do have one massive – and massively spoilerific – question heading out of The Rise of Skywalker. I’ll keep it to a second page, but click on through to find the largest entry yet in the Star Wars mystery box…