Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker - a clunky and convoluted conclusion to this beloved saga.
Updated: Dec 23, 2019
4 out of 5
Where to start? The story of the Skywalker family, Luke, Anakin and Leia concludes with this film, Episode IX of Star Wars. There are many questions to answer, many loose ends to tie-up. I'm pleased to say that JJ Abrams has created an entertaining end and there is not a lens flare in sight.
I was twelve when I saw the first Star Wars film in March 1978 at the Savoy cinema in Dublin's O'Connell Street. Back then it had no "episode" number, They were introduced with the sequels and prequels. With George Lucas' sale of all things Star Wars to Disney, JJ Abrams took the reins and gave us Episode XII four years ago. The Force Awakens introduced us to new characters and updated the stories of our favourite heroes. Rian Johnson divided fans in 2017 with The Last Jedi.
I believe JJ Abrams had an impossible task to do. He gave it his best shot and missed, mostly. He has heard the criticisms of The Force Awakens and has scrambled to answer those along with ignoring most of the arcs set up in The Last Jedi. Indeed this new film acts more like a sequel to The Force Awakens than the concluding episode of a trilogy. Rian Johnson set the Star Wars story on a new trajectory, a new road. JJ Abrams has switched lanes and largely ignored the previous outing.
Episode IX has our heroes and villains running errands around the galaxy, collecting clues, totems and information in the ultimate battle for good and evil. Along the way there is spectacle, lots of laughs and a few tears. For me, there were two emotional hearts to this film and two key story arcs to resolve. The first is the relationship between Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley). Their story, their relationship gets a satisfactory conclusion involving love and sacrifice.
Episode VII killed Han. Episode VIII killed Luke. So for Episode IX the last Skywalker was Leia and as the last remaining Jedi and the last remaining pillar of the franchise, she should have been the centre of Episode IX. However, the tragic and untimely passing of Carrie Fisher scuppered those plans. The team decided not to use CGI or to recast the role but instead to use unused scraps and out-takes from Episode VIII and craft a story around them. I think this was misguided as Leia now appears weaker, a mere cypher of her former strong character. I get it that the producers had a tough decision to make but for such a central character, I believe they made the wrong choice.
The film itself is beautifully shot by Abram's cinematographer of choice, Dan Mindell. The score is simply wonderful, penned again by John Williams. The magic of Williams score is his composing musical themes for each of the key characters. Musically, you always know where you are. It is a magnificent score and the use of his theme from Episode IV, the twin suns where Luke stared off into the setting of Tattoine's twin suns was as inspiring as it was emotionally wrenching.
The story, as mentioned revolves around Leia Organa, Kylo Ren and Rey, so much so that every other character is reduced to bit-part players. Oscar Isaac is left with jokes to tell and little else. John Boyega hardly does anything - it is such a waste. And no one really dies. As you may have seen in the trailer, the Emperor is back from the dead. We know the Jedi can come back as force ghosts and C3PO does the same resurrection trick as also shown in the trailers. Our own Domhnall Gleeson is treated terribly, reduced to comic relief, having been introduced in Episode VII as a believable evil General. Oh, and Richard E Grant turns up as Gleeson's boss.
The film has the feeling of being created by lists, lists of things fans want to see, and so it feels mechanical. One can almost hear the gears grinding away as boxes get ticked. It's also painfully clear that when the creators and producers of The Force Awakens launched that reboot, they had no clear plan or arc as to how it was going to be concluded. Rian Johnson had a different vision which has been ditched. This makes The Rise of Skywalker all the poorer. For all its many flaws, and somewhat by necessity, at least George Lucas’ prequel trilogy had a clear idea of what it wanted to be and where it was going (and I’m conceding that as someone who didn’t much like them). This new trilogy just seemed to make things up as it went along – and while that was certainly true of the original trilogy to some extent, there’s a reason it’s generally considered wise to have an endgame in mind. To that end, The Rise of Skywalker chooses to marginalize and sideline characters and themes The Last Jedi established in order to pivot to its new destination, choices that will surely be viewed as a vital course correction by some and fearful pandering by others.
The Rise of Skywalker runs the gamut, with sequences ranging from scary to saccharine, from very cool to very corny. It’s just a whole lot of movie packed into a two-hour and 22-minute run-time (10 minutes shorter than The Last Jedi) but more doesn’t always mean better. The final act comes perilously close to playing like the finale of a lesser superhero movie due to its reliance on overwhelming visual effects that do their best to drown out the more ham-fisted moments. The creative choices made in Act Three – the most clumsily executed section of the film – will undoubtedly prove divisive and the subject of hot debate for years to come. Nostalgia and poignancy ultimately help the film cross the finish line but not without a lot of rough spots along the way.
It is at best, a 3 star film but nostalgia and the fact that it made me cry (twice) pushes it to 4 stars.