Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is an entertaining and satisfying end to the controversial third Star Wars trilogy, and brings an acceptable conclusion to the Skywalker saga. It sees the return of J.J. Abrams to the director’s chair and not only answers all the questions posed in his first film — The Force Awakens (2015) — and ignored by Rian Johnson’s second film, The Last Jedi (2017), but corrects some of the problems created by the latter.
The film picks up where The Last Jedi (2017) left off. Here, Rey (Daisy Ridley) trains furiously with Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), learning to become a Jedi. Later, the film explains how she became such a powerful force-wielder so quickly. Soon, she must answer a new threat brought on by the return of Palpatine/Darth Sidious (Ian McDiarmid), while fighting off Ben Solo/Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
This is with the aid of pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), who is the commander of the Resistance, former storm trooper and now Resistance fighter Finn (John Boyega), and protocol droid C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), who has the funniest lines in the film. Speaking of the humour, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the most amusing of the new trilogy. There are many hilarious moments that remind me of the original trilogy. Unlike the other two films, these jokes don’t come at the expense of the characters, or the lore of the Star Wars universe.
The Rise of Skywalker answers all of the questions posed by The Force Awakens and attempts to fix the problems created by the story of The Last Jedi
J.J. Abrams also cleverly uses old, unused Carrie Fisher footage with some help from a double to fill her role surprisingly well. While some of the limitations because of her passing are obvious, J.J. Abrams does a good job. It’s a fitting and moving tribute to the iconic actress. Without giving too much away, other old favourites from the trilogy also show up and are characterised more in line with their roles. As someone who found it difficult to accept Rian Johnson’s decisions in The Last Jedi in line with what I knew about these characters from the various films, books, graphic novels, and video games, I found these scenes satisfying.
Unfortunately, the course correction by J.J. Abrams comes at a price. Daisy Ridley said that Rian Johnson threw out J.J. Abrams’ ideas for the next two films when he came on board. The Last Jedi ignored J.J. Abrams’ narrative threads about Rey’s parentage, the force-sensitive abilities of her friend Finn (John Boyega), and more. It also turned Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) into a coward without a satisfactory explanation. This frustrated fans that had been waiting for answers. It also frustrated people who had been waiting to see Luke Skywalker on-screen for over 30 years.
Because The Rise of Skywalker has to answer all of the questions posed by The Force Awakens and fix problems created by the story of The Last Jedi, the film feels rushed. Its 142 minutes runtime could have easily done with 20 more minutes.
This is an action-packed film that doesn’t let its characters breathe as much as it should. As a result, despite the moving fan service, the film isn’t as deep as it could have been. The most moving scenes in the film are when Rey accidentally hurts an ally, and when Leia finally reaches out to her son because J.J. Abrams allows them time to develop.
Of course, this isn’t all Rian Johnson’s fault. To be fair, Rian Johnson is better at telling character-driven stories than J.J. Abrams. Some of The Rise of Skywalker pacing issues are like The Last Jedi. The film also plays it too safe, just like The Last Jedi. There are ways for filmmakers to be creative while still respecting the legacy of the fiction.
All of this gives the trilogy an uneven feel. Producer Kathleen Kennedy had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a cohesive trilogy starring old and new characters, and she fumbled. Even the much-derided sequel trilogy felt more connected than this.
Despite its problems, The Rise of Skywalker is still the best of the new films. The imagery, action and special effects are worth the ticket price alone. While the prequels used modern filmmaking and technology to feature the best lightsaber fight scenes, the new trilogy uses technology to showcase the power of the force. The Rise of Skywalker isn’t perfect, but it could have been worse. Let’s hope that Disney takes a breather and comes back with a better plan for Star Wars.
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action
Published in Dawn, ICON, December 29th, 2019