Movie Review: “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” – The End

Written by Jeremiah Greville December 24, 2019

So this is it.

I wish there weren’t any sides to take anymore, and that we were all free to love or hate or ignore Star Wars without also having to love or hate or ignore everyone else who has differing feelings about the franchise. But that’s not where we are anymore. As the Skywalker Saga comes to a close, it almost feels like darkness is rising (and light to meet it) in the real word. We’re all each on our sides. I liked The Force Awakens (2015) and The Last Jedi (2017), and I largely enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker. But this final film is the weakest of the bunch, and those who dislike it aren’t wrong. A true discussion of the film will always require spoilers, but this review will have none. We’re all in this together, folks.

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker picks up after the events of Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi and finds the heroic Resistance still struggling against the villainous First Order for the fate of the galaxy. When an old threat unexpectedly re-emerges, Rey (Daisy Ridley) embarks on a quest to learn the truth before all is lost. The Rise of Skywalker also stars John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, and Carrie Fisher, in her final film role. It was written by J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio, and directed by J.J. Abrams. In addition to being the third film in the modern trilogy, it is also the ninth and supposedly final film in what’s being called the Skywalker Saga. That’s over forty years of history and an incredible amount of weight on the shoulders of a single film. Let’s all take a moment to consider that, and offer our sympathy.

“Taking one last look, sir. At my friends.”

There are really three metrics we can use to judge this film: craftsmanship, creativity, and content. To avoid spoilers, we’ll have to forego discussing content entirely — and this proves a problem. Because it’s the content of the film that will make a big difference between whether you like it or not. This is okay, though, because we can still discuss craftsmanship and creativity. If you like the content in The Rise of Skywalker, that’s totally fine — there’s stuff to love here. And if you dislike the content — that’s also completely fine. One of the strangest things about this film is not just how divisive it has been, but how everyone has found their own best or worst-case scenario in it. Whatever you’re opinion on the content of this film, you’re probably right (unless you happen to be racist or sexist). That’s a rare and kind of incredible feat on its own.

But let’s talk craftsmanship. The Rise of Skywalker is a gorgeous film, with practical and CGI affects merging almost seamlessly throughout. Characters fill the frame and feel meaty and solid in a way no Marvel film has ever come close to achieving. Each ship and planet and shot appears lived in and lovingly detailed. The production design, the sound design, the music, the acting — it’s all top notch. This is a real treat to see on the biggest screen you can find. But it’s also breathlessly paced and haphazardly constructed. The story feels messy and overly stuffed, giving us so much surface detail that it sacrifices any real depth. In a rush to answer every question he feels is important, Abrams seems to raise many more. Every script or pacing choice early on seems like it naturally hints at a better, more organic option, and instead of moving forward we’re left asking, “No, wait — why didn’t you do that instead?”

“I killed Snoke. I’ll kill you.”

The answer inevitably leads us back to the previous film, The Last Jedi. I won’t go over all of the vitriol and mixed fan reactions to that film here, but it does seem like this is the root cause of some of the issues with The Rise of Skywalker. However, apart from a few creative decisions, this film doesn’t wholly rebuff or rebuke the previous entry like many have said. These are, again, questions of content that I can’t elaborate on. What I can say, though, is that the flaws in The Rise of Skywalker are entirely its own. Abrams could have trimmed the fat and edited the script to flow naturally from the previous film, but didn’t. Whatever the cause, the end result is that, narratively, this film feels very wobbly. That doesn’t mean that it ever approaches levels of ‘bad’, but it certainly keeps it from being ‘great’.

This brings us to creativity. One of the best aspects of The Rise of Skywalker is how much of it echoes moments from all nine previous entries in the franchise. These are intentional callbacks, and many of them work wonders. I found myself laughing and cheering throughout many of them, but those moments are dulled by a severe lack of creativity in the overall story. The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t push the franchise in any new directions or seem to offer any original ideas. Even the more daring choices it does make are immediately undone through a series of fake-outs and narrative twists. It lacks any of the spark or imagination or bravery of the prequel films, or even the various animated series. It’s more of what we’ve already seen, but bigger. Sometimes that works. But here, I really found myself wanting something new. Anything, really, that didn’t feel like something so familiar. So safe. This is Star Wars, for goodness sake. It’s okay to be weird!

“A thousand generations live in you now.”

I think one of the problems with The Rise of Skywalker is that J.J. Abrams is focusing on the Skywalker Saga, rather than the Star Wars Saga. Over the course of these nine films, there’s always been a story of galactic conflict balanced against and alongside the exploits of the main Skywalker characters. George Lucas found a good balance throughout the Original Trilogy and the prequels, and Abrams continued that tradition with The Force Awakens. Rian Johnson tilted the narrative focus in The Last Jedi away from the Skywalkers and toward the larger galactic conflict, and in this film, Abrams doesn’t quite get the balance back. As such, all of the characters and plot details that aren’t directly related to the Skywalkers themselves seem secondary.

This brings us to Carrie Fisher, who needs to be mentioned. Following her death in 2016, Abrams and co have crafted her final performance utilizing unused footage from The Force Awakens. Her character needed to be a part of this film for it to feel complete, but the end result is distracting. I don’t envy the position the filmmakers were in, and feel conflicted criticizing them too harshly, but it’s clear just how out of place and awkward some of her lines are. I don’t know how they could have done any better — and luckily, Fisher’s legacy remains untarnished — but what’s here just doesn’t feel like the best it could be. This representative of the whole film, really: a series of choices made in the moment, none of them the best choice, all of them understandable and lamentable.

The Rise of Skywalker may be the final Skywalker film, but it won’t be the final Star Wars movie on the big screen. Whether the franchise continues with new Episodes or goes in a different direction entirely, this isn’t the end. Star Wars will survive. It’s a huge and still absolutely wonderful galaxy. I really enjoyed a lot of this film, despite the cracks and faults, but left the theatre feeling a bit deflated. As the screen closed on the final shot, I thought to myself, “This is it?” And of course it isn’t. If you’re a fan of Star Wars and feel let down, take heart and know that there will be more of this universe in the future. The galaxy is a big place, and we’ve only explored this moment in it, a long time ago, far far away.

There’s so much more to see.

My Rating: 7/10

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About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

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