After 42 years the end to the Skywalker saga has finally arrived. It has been a long journey, one that's been full of emotion ranging from happiness, sadness, elation, shock, sadness and even anger. During this time George Lucas' space opera has become a behemoth that's affected the world over.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the ninth and final installment and a direct sequel to 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens and 2017's divisive Star Wars: The Last Jedi. J.J. Abrams, the director who helmed The Force Awakens, returns to the franchise as director and co-writer (Oscar winner Chris Terrio also co-wrote), replacing Colin Trevorrow (who left this project due to creative differences). With a rumored budget of $250-$300 million, there is plenty of pressure to produce a “winner” that will appease everyone since debates continue to rage over The Last Jedi. That means questions abound because there is so much to conclude with this epic 142-minute space adventure.
I will be honest – it's difficult to watch any Star Wars film without considering my feelings and expectations. I'm a fan of The Last Jedi and with the vitriol that followed it seemed inevitable that Rise would be a course-correct. After seeing Rise my suspicions were confirmed – Abrams and Terrio went all in to correct the “wrongs” stemming from TLJ. Almost all the seeds (TLJ director & writer) Rian Johnson planted have been erased; meaning they drafted a safe and unimaginative script that takes absolutely zero chances.
In addition to trying to placate the bruised egos of angry fans, the film's (and the entire Sequel Trilogy's) lack of balance is now the elephant in the room. I'm referring to wrapping up storylines for the Original Trilogy's major players – Leia (Carrie Fisher), Luke (Mark Hamill) and Han (Harrison Ford); and juxtaposing those legendary characters with the sequel trilogy's main group – Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). It's now evident the new characters haven't been developed as much in their 3 films as the original characters were during their 3 films of the Original Trilogy. That makes for a less effective conclusion here, although the relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren is fantastic.
That relationship is what drives Rise and it's what keeps Abrams' latest effort from falling apart. Star Warshas consistently provided special bonds between characters with the Force. This, though, is the first time the bond is more sexual than familial. Thanks to excellent performances from Ridley and Driver, they provide that tension and chemistry (which may be the only storyline which carried over from TLJ) with confidence and familiarity.
Outside of that, Abrams and Terrio provide some backstory to Finn and Poe. With Finn, it seems one plot thread from TLJ was transferred from another character to him. At the same time, we learn of Poe's past, which also mimics a previous character's backstory. In both cases it's too little too late; and repurposing past storylines makes for a poor homage and stinging insult.
Also, Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) – “…” Yup, that's it.
Besides that, one of the biggest issues is the return of Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). Teased in the trailers, his appearance is the type of ergegious fan service that banks on nostalgia to gain favor (or hatred, whichever way you want to look at it). His appearance is explained with 1 or 2 lines and his role completely negates Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). When everything's revealed it's a wonder why Snoke (who appeared in TFA and TLJ in an Emperor-like capacity) was ever introduced in the first place. In all, Snoke was a waste of time (I was fine with Snoke being offed in TLJ but the explanation as to his role in all this feels like Rise spits in TLJ's face.
Scattered about is the introduction of some new characters, the return of some old characters, plenty of satisfying action set pieces and smaller, self-contained subplots. The film's first half gets a little hectic with all the world hopping and the subplot shifting, but once Abrams and Terrio settle in and present the final confrontation(s), things run a little smoother.
The Rise of Skywalker has its moments, though. The score (thank you for everything, John Williams) is outstanding, while the cinematography (Dan Mindel, who also shot TFA) is nearly on par with TLJ.
Keeping all of this in mind, Rise is a replica of Return of the Jedi. It's not shot for shot, but there are themes and subplots which mirror the 1983 entry and, more importantly, its mood and spirit are reproduced (with varying results).
Abrams and Terrio are well-versed in Star Wars lore and went out of their way to provide closure for everyone. That's a difficult task because we are talking about 8 previous films that have spanned 5 decades. So I commend the pair for doing that much.
The Rise of Skywalker is still an entertaining film, just not one I'm satisfied with. On its own merits, Riseprovides everything a blockbuster should. But as an epilogue to the Star Wars saga, there are issues. It's flawed, which is fine because no film in the franchise is perfect. But it's one thing to take risks and make mistakes; it's another thing altogether when mistakes are made after playing it safe (which Disney, Abrams and Terrio clearly did).
Rise is basically that nervous kid, shaking all over, making hurried corrections to his homework while his parents, his teachers and the entire school leer over his shoulder, all yelling at him to get it right. Disney-Abrams-Terrio are that scared child and The Rise of Skywalker is that mistake-filled homework assignment. Luckily, this is the last homework assignment, but this classmate can't help but walk away unimpressed with the corrections.
2.5 stars out of 5