[WARNING: This review contains spoilers. Turn back now if you haven’t seen the movie!]
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the penultimate movie in the “Skywalker Saga” (Star Wars episodes I-IX) and is the final film in the Star Wars sequel trilogy. Like the previous two films, it stars Daisy Ridley as Rey, Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, John Boyega as Finn, and Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron.
I feel that it is impossible to review this movie without first talking about The Last Jedi, this movie’s predecessor. That film, needless to say, is one of the most divisive movies of the last few years, and split Star Wars fans down the middle. While some found it to be a masterful reimagining of the franchise, full of messages regarding failure, deifying heroes, and learning from the past, some found it to be awkward, tonally inconsistent, and inconsiderate of past lore and character arcs. I personally find myself wedged between these groups; I don’t love The Last Jedi, and have a lot of issues with the construction of that film, but also find some portions incredibly moving and inventive. Regardless of how one feels about that movie, it is crystal clear that there was no actual plan between Rian Johnson, the director of Last Jedi, and J.J. Abrams, the director of The Force Awakens and now The Rise of Skywalker. Rian Johnson tossed lots of setup from Force Awakens out of the window, making surprising decisions that arguably contradicted what was implied in Awakens, such as making Rey’s parentage of no significance rather than having her be related to larger-than-life characters like Luke Skywalker or Han Solo. Because of these decisions, I was curious as to whether Abrams would undo Johnson’s decisions in this movie to fit his original vision and please unhappy fans, or whether he would build on them to make something entirely new.
Unfortunately, as someone who has enjoyed Disney’s sequel trilogy thus far, I was not a fan of The Rise of Skywalker for many reasons. I found it to be a jumbled, rushed, and unsatisfying mess that failed to bring its characters’s arcs to earned and emotionally resonant conclusions. It also ignored and undid several decisions and reveals from Last Jedi, solely to please fans who were unhappy with that movie, making it feel disjointed from the rest of the trilogy. However, I am far from the type of fan that rants about how a movie destroyed his childhood and is a disgrace to the Star Wars name; I find that type of thinking obnoxiously narrow-minded and unconstructive. This movie certainly has elements that I really enjoyed, but is overall a disappointing end to the saga.
One of my main issues with the film is its use of Emperor Palpatine. When I first heard that this character would be returning from his explosive death in Return of the Jedi, I was optimistic but slightly concerned. I’m not usually a fan of movies bringing characters back from the dead to please fans, but I also feel that it makes sense to have Palpatine in the movie, since it easily ties all 9 movies into a nice bow. Regardless, I was hoping that his role in the movie would be subtle and satisfying. Unfortunately, this is not the case. First, the movie sucks all of the intrigue out of his character’s return by immediately announcing it in the opening crawl, followed by showing him in the flesh in just the second scene. During my viewing, there was no longer any mystery surrounding Palpatine after that; I just knew that he was unceremoniously sitting on some remote planet, doing nothing. The film also never truly explains how exactly he returns; there is some hinting at cloning technology and ancient Sith powers, but it never really gels into a logical explanation. The character is also abrasively over-the-top; rather than being a simple yet wonderfully evil presence like in the original trilogy, he now has absurd abilities, especially showcased in the final battle, when he destroys hundreds of ships by blasting lightning up into the air. His character made the film feel goofy, cartoonish, and ridiculous, and I would’ve preferred a wispy, tempting ghost that attempts to seduce Rey and Kylo through force messages and hallucinations. This would’ve been more subtle and believable, and would’ve made the character feel less like he was straight out of a video game. Not only this, but the writing for the character just feels… off. In the second act, it’s revealed that Rey is his granddaughter (I will discuss this more in a bit), and it’s later revealed that Palpatine wants Rey to become an empress that he can… live inside her somehow? Not only is what exactly this means left unexplained, but it is also wildly out of character and bizarre that Palpatine would offer the throne to anyone else, especially how his character was previously shown to eradicate anyone who stood in his way of power in the other movies.
Another major issue with this film was its construction. The film is incredibly rushed, and jumps between a number of different locations within a short amount of time, especially during the first act. This is the first Star Wars movie that I’ve actually had trouble following; Rey and friends spew an enormous amount of exposition regarding various planets, new characters, traitors and spies in the First Order, and loads of various trinkets necessary to complete their mission. The movie did not need to be so convoluted; the best Star Wars movies are always the most simple. One of the reasons why I enjoy Force Awakens so much, despite that movie feeling quite derivative, is its simplicity. Characters do jump from place to place throughout the movie, but the audience is always given time to breathe, and there are plenty of quiet character-building moments. I felt that the first hour of the movie was lacking in these; characters go from place-to-place-to-place without stopping to have emotional conversations or explain just what the hell it is that they are doing.
Another issue that I have with this story is its lack of character development. This trilogy has been gifted with wonderful actors that consistently do a phenomenal job; Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac stand out as being charismatic and hilarious when they need to be, and always completely sell the more emotionally impactful scenes as well. I was fine with Rey’s arc in this movie, but do take issue with her new lineage. After it is revealed that she is Palpatine’s granddaughter (which is, again, left mostly unexplained), she begins to fear herself and her own powers, and finds herself seeking vengeance and being shockingly aggressive. I actually really like her hallucinatory fight with her dark self, harkening back to when Luke fights Vader in his cave vision in Empire Strikes Back. I like the idea that Rey is feeling that she is going down a dark path, similarly to Luke’s arc in Return of the Jedi.
However, I am not a fan of the fact that she is related to Palpatine whatsoever. One of the things I loved about Last Jedi was its message that anyone, even those who do not come from some grand lineage, can be a hero, companied by the reveal that Rey was the child of junk traders who sold her away. However, it’s clear as day that, based on all of the hinting in Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams was always planning on having Rey be from an important family. He undoes the dramatic reveal from VIII by having the even less dramatic and highly predictable reveal in this movie. I feel that J.J. somewhat misinterprets why people like the idea that lineages play a role in Star Wars; when Vader revealed he was Luke’s father in Empire, it wasn’t just to please audience members. It was to progress the story and give a truly shocking reveal that completely raised the stakes of the trilogy; not only was Luke not strong enough of face Vader yet, but the evil in Vader was also a part of him. It was terrifying, and one of the greatest movie twists of all time. In this movie, there really is no reason to make Rey a Palpatine other than to appease disgruntled fans who did not like Last Jedi‘s non-reveal, and it feels lazy and pandering.
Finn and Poe also receive virtually no character development in this movie- they hint that Finn has some sort of force sensitivity, but that is all we get. I am quite disappointed, especially given Poe’s phenomenal development in Last Jedi. These characters feel thrown to the side and forgotten. They each have some funny and badass moments, but the movie could’ve done so much more with them, especially given how good Boyega and Isaac are in their respective roles. Rather than introducing unnecessary new characters like Zori Bliss, the movie should’ve spent more time on Poe and Finn.
While I do like the idea that Kylo Ren is redeemed, the execution of it is highly questionable. I do not feel that the movie built up to his eventual turn nearly enough; it felt very random. I do like his conversation with an imaginary Han Solo, and am actually quite surprised that Harrison Ford signed on to appear in another film. However, that scene could’ve basically occurred after any other scene in the movie; it’s an instantaneous change that is not earned. I do recognize that Leia dying Rey saving Kylo out of compassion likely shifted him back to the light, but why would these events alone make him completely change his allegiance? It’s not like Kylo never faced the idea of Leia dying before; his attack on Crait in Last Jedi would’ve likely left her dead had it been successful. I feel like I just needed more build-up to have bought this change.
Carrie Fisher’s tragic passing prior to IX‘s filming left J.J. Abrams in an extremely tough spot. It would’ve hurt the trilogy to write Leia out of the movie completely, and no fan wanted to see a fake CGI Carrie Fisher artificially carry on her legacy. Abrams decided to insert unused clips of Leia from The Force Awakens into scenes in this movie; some of those scenes work, and some don’t. I feel that her dialogue doesn’t really line up with the characters she interacts with or the situations she’s in, and her death feels forced and doesn’t really make sense. I do love seeing her as a Force ghost with Luke at the end of the movie, but in general I was disappointed with her scenes. However, I do feel that Abrams did the best that he could have with a very unfortunate situation, and her presence is not so off-putting or awkward that the movie derails.
The movie is also plagued by bizarre and nonsensical choices that made me roll my eyes. I think a majority of people, even those who enjoyed Force Awakens like me, would argue that Starkiller Base felt a little ridiculous and unnecessary. That was my biggest criticism towards that movie; if the Empire built two failed Death Stars during their reign, why would the First Order build ANOTHER?? It felt corny and fan-fictiony, but I figured there was no possible way the sequel trilogy filmmakers would make the same mistake for a fourth time. However, against all odds, J.J. does exactly that, and in even more absurd fashion. It is revealed in the movie that EVERY SINGLE SHIP in the Sith fleet has the capability to blow up and entire planet. Seriously?? It’s honestly like it’s out of a parody. I simply don’t understand why J.J. made this decision- it does not raise the stakes at all, and basically has no impact on the movie since they only blow up one planet that is uninhabited, and for basically no reason.
Another decision that makes no sense to me is the fact that Hux turns out to be a spy. Sure, Hux and Kylo had plenty of differences in the previous two films, but Hux seemed genuinely committed to the First Order in both of those movies. This was especially apparent during his grand evil speech on Starkiller Base in Force Awakens. I simply do not buy him betraying the First Order purely out of petty vexation towards Kylo. The film also takes no time to explain his decision, and kills him off rather quickly. This, again, feels like it is meant to undo Rian Johnson’s decisions; many people, including myself, did not like that movie treating Hux like an idiotic, incompetent rag-doll for Kylo to throw around in comedic moments. J.J. replaces Hux with General Pryde, played by Richard Richard E. Grant (and quite well, I may add) in order to introduce a more serious and menacing leader in the First Order, and it is unnecessary. They could have changed the use of the character rather than killing him off in such a senseless way.
It is the third act of the movie where it really falls apart. Rey and Kylo’s confrontation with the Emperor is prequel-esque and too over-the-top, Rey and Kylo’s kiss is cringeworthy and out of left field, and none of the moments that should have been impactful are actually impactful. I do not like the idea that the Force can be used to resurrect people; I find that to be a lazy storytelling device, and I do not like that Kylo uses it to bring Rey back. The ship-on-ship battles are entertaining enough, but everything involving the Emperor falls completely flat in the finale. I also find it ridiculous that Rey defeats the Emperor single-handedly by deflecting his lightning blasts- why didn’t he just stop firing his lightning??? Also, Kylo Ren turning good ends up having virtually no impact, since he doesn’t help Rey defeat the Emperor and is sidelined for most of the fight. Towards the end, Chewie receiving a medal like Luke and Han did was similarly cringeworthy, and turns a fan-created meme into a moment that is supposed to be emotional, when it really has the opposite effect.
While I had no short of issues, there were also plenty of aspects that I liked in this movie. As mentioned, the performances were all solid- even the actors playing characters whose roles I did not like, such as Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor, did fabulous jobs. The movie is visually stunning, as are all of the action sequences. There are several great lightsaber duels, my favorite being the trippy and bizarre fight that Rey and Kylo have through the force despite being in two different locations. Their fight on top of the Death Star ruins is also suitably epic, with enormous waves crashing agains the sides of the wreckage. John Williams’s music also does an amazing job enhancing scenes, and there are some wonderful and touching musical moments in the movie.
The use of other Original Trilogy heroes is also fantastic; despite not playing a huge role in the story, Lando is a welcome sight, and Billy Dee Williams steps back into the role as if he had never left it. The character has all of the swagger and charisma that you are expecting. I also LOVED Luke’s appearance as a force ghost; sure, him catching the saber and exclaiming “A Jedi’s weapon deservers more respect!” was an on-the-nose jab at Last Jedi, but I honestly don’t mind it and found it funny. The reveal that Leia once trained under Luke also makes a lot of sense, and I love that idea. Given that Leia is very powerful in the force, why wouldn’t she have owned a lightsaber and trained? The flashback utilizing a de-aged Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher also looks great, especially the CGI replication of young Luke- it is virtually unnoticeable. I also greatly enjoyed when Luke lifted the X-wing out of the water, bringing his arc from Empire full-circle. The final shots on Tattooine are also highly satisfying and very enjoyable.
All in all, I was very disappointed with this movie. It reminds me of the final season of Game of Thrones in the sense that it is rushed, unfocused, lacks a true vision, and does not resolve its character arcs in a satisfying fashion. It rips off the curtain and shows that there was no true plan regarding the direction that this trilogy would end up going. As a result, this trilogy now does not feel like a fluid, cohesive, and emotionally resonant story, and there are plenty of unanswered questions that will forever remained unanswered. As a massive fan of this franchise, I truly wish that the filmmakers in charge of this trilogy had planned out the story beats in advance, rather than sloppily putting it together as they went along.
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