Synopsis – The surviving Resistance faces the First Order once more in the final chapter of the Skywalker saga.
My Take – Ending a series which started about 42 years ago, was never going to be an easy job. Released back in 1977, Star Wars, directed by George Lucas (who later re-titled the film to Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, to fit into the prequel chronology) drew instant acclaim upon release, giving birth to an enigma which has, arguably, over the years grown on to become the world’s biggest franchise, with a vast merchandise attached to its brand name, along with a set of ongoing TV series, comics and games to keep the rush alive.
However, along with the growth also came a rabid fan base, who seem ever ready to backlash anything and everything which didn’t maintain the themes and essence of the original trilogy (1977-1983).
While director J.J. Abrams‘s Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), the first live action film to release after a 10 year gap, found a generally positive outcome for embracing fan nostalgia, it also saw the handing over of the story-line to a new generation of young heroes, while keeping the originals in check.
Unfortunately, its follow up Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), directed by Rian Johnson, saw instant back slash, as it delves into darker themes and openly asked viewers to accept that the series was evolving away from the Skywalker lineage, the most important factor of director Lucas’ original film trilogy. With detractors varying mostly blaming the message, the execution, or both, returning director J.J. Abrams, no doubt, had an uphill task to deliver.
Having seen the film, I must admit director J.J. Abrams does manage to concludes the Skywalker saga in a suitably epic fashion, by driving straight back to the nostalgia-courting approach that served him so well with The Force Awakens. Here, director Abrams steers away from the fascinating path writer-director Rian Johnson took and returns to the safer route, with concerns of lineage and legacy, where one’s family name is the most important element.
The duels are more elaborate, the Force powers are more bizarre, and the space battles are grander than previously seen. In fact, this finale leans so heavily on nostalgia and humor that it even tries to tie up loose ends, some that weren’t even all that loose. Whether or not that’s a deal-breaker will be up to the individual. While I personally felt the film to be a severe step down from its predecessor, ultimately I did find the finale entertaining, affecting, and a safe close to a massive long story line.
Taking place sometime after the events of the last film, the story follows Rey (Daisy Ridley), who is continuing her Jedi training under the guidance of the Resistance Leader, General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), while her team mates, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) stumble upon an information via a First Order spy that Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), is still alive due to his unnatural use of powers from the Dark Side, and has been playing an instrumental part in the rise of the First Order.
With the Resistance army crumbling around them, Rey, Poe and Finn are convinced that finding and killing Palpatine is the only way left to win the war, even though Rey continues to grapple with her intense connection to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the current Supreme Leader of the First Order, who is continuing his effort to lure Rey over to his side, while also being on his own mission to kill Palpatine, who may or may not threaten his hold on his current power. Leading to a race across the galaxy towards a final battle which will determine a victor between the light and the dark.
That’s about as much plot info as can be divulged in a review, but suffice to say that by the film’s end, all the big questions, especially about Rey’s parentage and her special bond with Kylo Ren, will be answered. As one can expect the film is as visually lush and action packed as you would expect from any Star Wars film. The dialogue is clever, the pacing is brisk and best of all, and it leaves audience members with that inimitable glow that can only be felt after being immersed in a genuinely entertaining story.
Here, writers Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow (originally slated to direct), Chris Terrio, and Abrams seemed intent on giving each beloved character their moment, as a sign of appreciation for their contributions to a legacy that covers a period longer than the lifespan of some of the biggest Star Wars fans.
There are satisfying resolutions for the character arcs of Rey, Poe, Finn, Kylo, Chewbacca, and even the droids C-3PO and R2-D2. Much has been speculated about how Carrie Fisher‘s role as Leia will be handled. Archival footage, combined with special effects and camera angles, allows her to be present throughout, and yes, she gets the send-off she deserves.
By contrast, all the surprises and plot threads in the film serve a purpose and make sense. When we finally learn the story of Rey’s parents, it is logical given the power that she has displayed and her origins as a scavenger who had been abandoned as a child.
But the reason why this one works according to me, is because of the emotional connects it creates with us. You feel for our old pal C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) as it yanks hard at its memory banks. You are anxious when the furry Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) is taken prisoner.
But most of all you feel for the two people who are at the heart of this film, Rey and Ren, as they clash, come close, pull apart, exploring the strange bond between them. Both are still conflicted and attempting to come to grips with who they are. Rey especially is struggling with her identity and roots. One of my favorite elements from The Last Jedi was inner-head conversations blended with cross-dimensional physical interactions between Kylo and Rey, and it’s used beautifully here.
The film is also skilled at bringing back familiar locations for reasons other than stimulating nostalgic affection. Scenes that take place on Endor, Tatooine and other locales in which the earlier films were set don’t feel shoehorned, nor do the reappearances of certain key characters from the saga.
This is still a Star Wars film, though, so despite its nearly two-and-a-half hour run time, there is simply too much crammed in. Too much story and too many characters and too many things that get a glimpse or mention, but no real development. There are times we aren’t sure where the characters are or what they are doing or why they are doing it. We do know that everything good is dependent on ‘this mission’, a mission that seems to change direction about every 12 minutes.
Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) is also grossly underutilized, a subplot in which Finn seems ready to reveal key information to Rey is abandoned by the writers, and characters are a bit too on-the-nose in the beginning when discussing how Palpatine was behind the First Order’s machinations the entire time. In a similar vein, while McDiarmid is fantastic as always in the role of Palpatine, his character’s reintroduction is particularly rushed. You can catch how he was able to be revived if you pay attention closely, but this should have been a big revelation in the film, and instead is handled in a perfunctory fashion.
However, the biggest complaint from me is how it unsatisfactorily retcons almost everything set up in The Last Jedi. When you view this film directly after The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, you feel like you’ve watched a three-act play in which the second act was crafted by an artist with a drastically different vision than the ones who wrote Act One and Act Three, which ends up giving the sequel trilogy a weirdly inconsistent tone.
The complete performance of the cast also works well here. Daisy Ridley continues to impress with her captivating turn, which is well supported by Adam Driver, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac, three of the best male actors working today. Among newer additions, Keri Russell and Naomie Ackie stand out.
In other roles, Anthony Daniels, Domhnall Gleeson, Billie Lourd, Richard E Grant, Matt Smith, Dominic Monaghan, Joonas Suotamo, Lupita Nyongo, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Billy Dee Williams are effective. On the whole, ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ is an entertaining sci fi opera which despite a few let-down moments, manages to act as a satisfying conclusion to the Star Wars saga.
Directed – J.J. Abrams
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 141 minutes