Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
3 out of 5 stars - Spoiler free review
Author: Founder of Reel Dialogue - Adrian Drayton
How do you close out a saga that has spanned 42 years that given us a unrivalled pop culture phenomenon and characters we love?
In a word — carefully. That was the behemoth task set for J.J. Abrams when he began in 2015 with The Force Awakens.
Fast forward four years and he is bookending his directorial duties and making up for what many believe was a misstep with the much derided The Last Jedi.
One thing you can’t do is displease the rabid Star Wars fan base. This is a group of people for whom the mythic proportions of Star Wars is a quasi-religion.
At the moment Baby Yoda from the spin off series The Mandalorian has more fan love than the most recent Star Wars trilogy that has been criticised as either pandering to fans, or trying to make bold choices that fall flat.
Hard to please seems like an understatement.
I grew up with Star Wars. I saw the first film in 1977 at the formative age of 12. It shaped my love of storytelling and film and the possibilities that galaxies in far, far away places offer us.
In many ways the Star Wars films shaped a generation of filmmakers – one of them J.J. Abrams. He saw it when he was 12 as well and every storytelling choice he has made since has been informed by George Lucas and his iconic characters.
So we come to the end of the most iconic family story in filmmaking.
Perhaps the most interesting choice made in the current trilogy was its obvious reliance on legacy characters — Siblings Luke and Leia, scoundrel made good Han and the beloved Chewbacca, R2D2 and C3PO — which has proved more problematic with the death of Carrie Fisher after The Last Jedi in 2016.
Her well publicised inclusion in The Rise of Skywalker with the use of unused footage was thought to be a masterstroke. Abrams has said that the footage fit well into the storyline and it doesn’t feel like the cut and paste job it could have been. Her presence is felt through the entire runtime of the film and in fact drives a major plot point.
There won’t be any spoilers in this review, so what we can reveal is that Abrams succeeds in giving this iconic franchise the send off it deserves even if it feels overstuffed and feels, at least for the first hour, like the plot is on fast forward and like the audience has missed out on some important details.
Rather than jettison the ideas from The Last Jedi, it builds on some important story beats. Rey and Ben’s connection is explored and deepens in unexpected ways that ultimately delivers the climax of the film.
In a galaxy far, far away...
As the titular text disappears into the horizon we discover an old evil returns from beyond the grave. No spoiler, this is evident from the trailer.
Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) — now Supreme Leader of the First Order — goes in search of this ancient threat. On his tail are what’s left of the rebellion: Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaacs), Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Chewbacca, with their trusty droid buddies in tow.
A galaxy-hopping MacGuffin quest across different planets ensues that includes speeder chases, searching dusty tombs for clues that lead to a mind-breaking showdown.
The themes of fear and hope are perhaps even more fleshed out than the films earlier reliance on the light and dark. In an age where black and white has definitely given way to grey, this trilogy is dealing with the consequences of those politics.
If the film missteps, it is in the area of new characters and some timeline meddling that will have fans scratching their heads. Some interesting characters have been added to the roster and they are simply plot drivers rather than fully fleshed out characters. When the film works best it is focussed on the characters and their motivations.
The big answers the film delivers will have us all analysing how this could be possible. More on this when a more spoilery review is possible.
Also — and this may be a personal gripe — there are a couple of legacy characters who are given short shrift by the desire to move the story along at a cracking pace and eliciting a “wait what?” response. Elsewhere a major sacrifice is played for laughs.
Once the film hits the second hour and allows a narrative breather, the film changes gears into something resembling a plot and not a world-hopping scavenger hunt. So long as you don’t dwell on some of the story logic the film concludes with all the puzzle pieces of a generation of Skywalkers in place. This might feel like fan service, but how else do you conclude a saga without pleasing its fans?
As someone who grew up with these films and am now enjoying it with my own children, I enjoy these films for what they are — entertaining sci-fi rollicking adventures full of iconic characters we have grown to love.
What would you want to see in a final Star Wars film? For me it’s epic space battles – check. Thrilling reveals – check. Intense lightsaber duels – check. Universe ending climax – check. Plenty of aliens – check. Humorous banter between our favourite characters – check.
So what more could you ask for?