THE STORY – The surviving Resistance faces the First Order once more as Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron’s journey continues. With the power and knowledge of generations behind them, the final battle commences.
THE CAST – Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid & Billy Dee Williams
THE TEAM – J.J. Abrams (Director/Writer) & Chris Terrio (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 142 Minutes
By Matt Neglia
I want to start off this review by saying something I’ve never had to say before…I’m very appreciative that people care about what it is that I have to say about filmmaking, storytelling and just about everything pertaining to movies in general. I sincerely hope there is not a single soul out there who takes my word as gospel. That what I say goes. It’s never that simple. Part of what I love so much about this business is that we are discussing art and art will forever have many different interpretations. What I value and cherish may vary much differently from you, and that is totally ok. So when I say that despite some flaws, I overall enjoyed my experience of seeing the Skywalker saga come to an end with “Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker,” know that I very much look forward to hearing about your own experiences and how you ultimately feel about this closing chapter and this new trilogy as a whole. For now, my mind is made up. I have always enjoyed these movies. I was never what you would call a super fan though. Maybe that helped my overall view of the highly controversial “The Last Jedi” despite other issues I had with it at the time of its release. In the end, it was the “fans” who threatened my enjoyment of the series and never has that felt more apparent to me than with “The Rise Of Skywalker.”
Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is somehow alive after the events of “Return Of The Jedi” and ready to launch “the Final Order” which will wipe out the surviving members of the Resistance for good. Continuing her path towards becoming a Jedi despite having lost her master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Rey (Daisy Ridley) is joined by her friends Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels, who is the only cast member to have appeared in all nine films in the Skywalker saga) and BB-8 as they travel across the galaxy in search of a map which will lead them to Exogol – the hidden world of the Sith. However, the new Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), is hot on their tales as he has his own plans with the Emperor to turn Rey to the dark side. With General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) commanding the Resistance on the ground, it’s a race against time to see who will reach the Emperor first and bring about an end to the Star Wars.
On its own, “The Rise Of Skywalker” works as a standalone film. It has clear character arcs, with high-pressure stakes (despite one too may “fake out” deaths) that dramatically increase as the film progresses, culminating in a climax that is both intimate and epic in scope. It manages to find time to tell its own unique story set sometime after the events of “The Last Jedi.” However, speaking of Rian Johnson’s misunderstood entry into the saga, taken as a whole, “The Rise Of Skywalker” nearly makes the last 5 years not worth it in the end. Sure, we received a satisfying ending to the stories of Rey, Kylo Ren, Finn, and Poe Dameron, filled with nostalgic callbacks to the original trilogy which “fans” (going to keep using air quotes on this) love reminding people is sacred. But at what cost?
Well, the biggest fundamental problem with “The Rise Of Skywalker” is how much retconning it does to the bold storytelling decisions Rian Johnson made with “The Last Jedi.” Obviously, there is a portion of the fanbase that will be ecstatic to hear this, while others will claim that director J.J. Abrams, Disney and others working behind the scenes gave in to the same loud and angry fandom that bullied Kelly Marie Tran off of Instagram. Her romantic subplot with Finn? Not addressed here at all. Her screentime in general? A fraction of what it was in “The Last Jedi.” The identity of Rey’s parents? Yes, that storyline is brought back again in a major way. Other corny and way too convenient plot developments (which I won’t dare spoil here) acting solely as fan-service? They’re present too. It seems that the filmmakers wanted to try and please everyone and in the end, surprise surprise, fans, critics and pretty much everyone else will more than likely continue to debate the merits of this trilogy until the end of time. I for one, am not ok with filmmakers giving in to the demands of a toxic fandom. Giving fans what they want is one thing. But giving these “fans” this movie after how far they took out their frustration with “The Last Jedi” on the cast and crew just feels wrong to me on so many levels. It also hurts the overall impact of the trilogy, as the storytelling now feels more disjointed than ever before due to how much course-correcting J.J. Abrams and his team are attempting to pull off here. Where “The Last Jedi” felt bold and exciting in where it was taking the overall story, “The Rise Of Skywalker” feels predictable and safe.
However, not everything has turned over to the dark side. There is still a lot of fun to be had with the same characters we were introduced to in “The Force Awakens,” as well as returning characters from the original trilogy. It’s a wonderful joy to see Billy Dee Williams back as Lando Calrissian. Carrie Fisher also makes her final on-screen performance posthumously as General Leia. The filmmakers utilized unused footage of her from the last two films to inject her into the story despite her unfortunate passing in 2016. Although you can tell it’s older footage, it’s still well integrated into the story and gives the character and actress a fitting sendoff.
Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver continue their committedly strong work as Rey and Kylo Ren respectively. Whether it’s in the physical lightsaber dual scenes, or in their more emotionally stirring moments both big and small, these phenomenal actors have given us two profound characters, filled with depth and relatability. The relationship both of them share with one another is also something that will, I suspect even now with “The Rise Of Skywalker,” continue to be debated, studied and analyzed for as long as cinema exists. Despite what others may think, I believe they are more than worthy to stand alongside Luke, Han, Leia and Darth Vader as iconic cinematic treasures.
It’s also a delight to see the main characters together through a large chunk of this movie as they race towards their next destination, working collectively as a team. The chemistry, comedy and natural charisma from all of the stars as they bounce off of one another makes this final journey feel wholesome in a way that pays off all of the time we’ve spent becoming invested in these characters. When C-3PO tells the group that he’s taking one final look at his friends, so are we. Abrams knows how to perfectly tap into our love of these characters and pulls off a number of satisfying moments for all of them that will have audiences cheering and clapping when they head to the cinemas.
There are a few side characters in “The Rise Of Skywalker” who I wanted to see more of such as Jannah (played by Naomi Ackie), a female warrior who joins Finn in aiding the resistance or an old flame from Poe’s past named Zorri (played by “The Americans” star Keri Russell), whose face is mostly concealed by a helmet. I was thrilled when I heard that “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” Oscar nominee Richard E. Grant would have a role within a “Star Wars” film but he too is given very little development or much of anything to make a significant impression on us. Abrams keeps the focus down to the core group of main characters while adding in some fun cameos and nods to the original trilogy. This proves to be a wise decision as it neatly satisfies the arcs of the characters we’ve spent the most amount of time with while incorporating other characters from older films who we’ve spent even more time with.
While the visuals and action setpieces of “The Rise Of Skywalker” are a slight step below “The Last Jedi,” one thing J.J. Abrams carries over from “The Force Awakens” is its incredible sense of pacing, which is something I personally felt Johnson’s film struggled with. For a near two and a half-hour-long film, “The Rise Of Skywalker” hits the ground running and never lets up. It speeds its way through all-new exposition, mythology, and lore, while never getting lost and jumps from one action sequence to the next, without us feeling fatigued. I also admire that Abrams still favors practical makeup and puppetry work over a heavy reliance on CGI. Such a decision helps tremendously with our immersion into this world, helping it to feel so tangible. The visual effects are of course always spectacular, with one sequence involving large amounts of CGI water that looked absolutely stunning and lifelike. This is all backed by the vast and detailed production design which is still finding new worlds for us to explore and get lost in. The sound design of “The Rise Of Skywalker” is also full of singular moments that will make you audibly gasp. After not being a fan of his score on “The Last Jedi,” John Williams comes roaring back with a score for “The Rise Of Skywalker” that incorporates all of the themes from the original trilogy and this new one as well (Prequel themes are not present, sorry “Duel of Fates”) that I greatly savored. By bringing all of the legendary themes together, it really accommodates in selling this as a gratifying finale for a vital body of work that stretches back decades. And before you even ask, yes the patent J.J. Abrams lens flares are back in full swing, though they’re never as distracting as they have been in the past.
Technically well made, well performed and told with great respect and love for the series and its fans, the Skywalker saga has finally after 42 years come to an end. If this final film’s destination was the plan all along from when Disney launched the new trilogy in 2015, I would probably view “The Rise Of Skywalker” in a much more favorable light. However, we know for a fact that this is not the case and a lot of my final thoughts are tainted by this knowledge. We know that J.J. Abrams laid a strong foundation with “The Force Awakens.” We know that Rian Johnson took that foundation and subverted our expectations and challenged us with “The Last Jedi.” We know that it divided the fandom. And now we know, that for good or bad, “The Rise Of Skywalker” will forever be seen as a final installment that attempted to fix that divide instead of committing to being something different and extraordinary. Much like how several people correctly pointed out that “The Force Awakens” was just a re-telling of “A New Hope,” Abrams’ second film in the saga borrows heavily from “Return of the Jedi” resulting in a final chapter that feels reliable and uninteresting. “Fans” refused to let the past die, even though Kylo Ren urged them to do so in “The Last Jedi” and this is their reward. May the fandom be divided…always.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – The cast are all just as good as ever. A very quick pace filled with dramatic, shocking and satisfying moments. All around excellent production values.
THE FINAL SCORE – 6/10