The final chapter of the legendary story that’s spanned generations, The Rise of Skywalker follows the Resistance taking a final stand against the First Order, as Rey, the last of the lightsaber-wielding Jedi, prepares to face off against the Supreme Leader Kylo Ren.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker takes the challenge of concluding a culturally treasured story that’s spanned four decades head-on, yet sacrifices something important in the process. Part of Star Wars is taking you away from reality and over to a galaxy far, far away, and this film succeeds at making the eye-popping visuals stand out in every shot, especially if you watch it in 3D, as you should for every Star Wars movie considering the grand scale they have to offer. John Williams, one of the real MVPs of the franchise, has composed every film in this saga and once again stuns with his beautiful musical scores. The cast still has plenty of energy and heart, especially the trio of protagonists — Daisy Ridley’s Rey shows plenty of emotion and energy and it’s hard not to love her character as she embarks on the final chapter of her adventure, and John Boyega’s Finn, as well as Oscar Isaac’s Poe, are very lovable as the daring fighters who are eager to lead and defeat the First Order for the greater good of the galaxy. It’s difficult not to enjoy whenever the lovable Chewbacca, C3P0, or BB-8 are on-screen either. The late Carrie Fisher also appears as General Leia, and although her appearance is very small, it’s a welcome and bittersweet one. Also returning from the original trilogy are Mark Hamill and Billy Dee Williams as galactic legends Luke and Lando — if only they had a bit more to do on screen, though. Unfortunately, nobody really gets a meaningful arc this time except Rey, but even her arc gets muddled and confusing by a decision that harms the emotional weight of the previous two installments. Not even Adam Driver, who plays the main antagonist in Episodes VII and VIII, gets much to do. In the last film, Kylo Ren became the Supreme Leader of the First Order, but instead of utilizing that brilliant and original idea of having a young, conflicted boy become the head of the evil, tyrannical organization, he ends up answering to Palpatine for most of the film, and I’m not sure if Palpatine’s role in the film was even warranted. Finn’s a deserter of the First Order who’s become a sign of heroism and bravery for the Resistance, but that isn’t explored as an important character trait anymore — hell, he’s no longer a multi-dimensional character anymore, barely anyone is in this movie. Naomi Ackie is introduced as a new character named Jannah. Her character seems fantastic, yet they do absolutely nothing with her character other than make her stand next to Finn for the film’s entire second half, so unfortunately we’ll never know anything about her or if she was really as great of a character as she could’ve been.
The runtime is stuffed with so many ideas that either don’t make sense or are rushed past in the blink of an eye; it felt so rushed that it was almost like Disney mandated them to not make it a minute longer. The editing in The Force Awakens was so excellent it even received an Oscar nomination, but here the cuts are so fast and occasionally feel unnatural. In the other films, the action scenes feel nuanced but the ones here are so quick that it’s going to be hard to look at them as “scenes” for their filmmaking and purpose. In a movie with so much fighting, I ironically can’t remember a specific moment where the action is notably impressive, although it’s thankfully loud and colorful enough to be engaging, yet not resonant. In the predecessor The Last Jedi, I was shaking in suspense for a lot of the film, but unfortunately in The Rise of Skywalker, there isn’t really a moment where I had that same feeling. Maybe it’s because although there’s so much plot, the script never gives us a moment to breathe or just develop the characters emotionally. Without any emotional arcs being set up, we can’t be concerned about what’ll happen to them later in the film. There’s also a few iffy lines of dialogue that either felt like placeholders or sub-par ways to convey ideas that could’ve come off as stronger. The movie also has plenty of moments that allude to the previous films, such as A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, and these moments will work well because how much of an impact this saga has had throughout the audience’s lifetimes. Some moments will make you applaud and smile, and my theater experience with this film only reminds me how beautiful these Star Wars films bring people together, even after 42 years. However, by the end The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t feel like the natural continuation of the trilogy’s story, but rather like it’s trying to be the antithesis of The Last Jedi. Many of the powerful decisions Rian Johnson made in VIII feel undermined by what J.J. Abrams chooses to do in some scenes, and instead of going with the flow of the story, it feels like he disregarded the tone and value of the previous film, and even his own film The Force Awakens (I’m not even sure what the tone of this movie is, if I’m being honest). Abrams is a filmmaker I regard with lots of talent towards bringing a sense of wonder and imagination towards the screen, and it’s unfortunate because there so many moments of greatness throughout that are harmed by the light-speed runtime (which although, at 142 minutes, is longer than most other SW films, still feels incredibly rushed and overcrowded), and the director’s working against the story that he and Johnson established so well before. Although the actual ending of the film and the Skywalker Saga is nicely done, the final chapter of the journey there should’ve hit home as well. Regrettably though, it’s the least risky and exhilarating film of the bunch (although it’s arguably better than the prequels, which to me don’t capture the true meaning of Star Wars that well).
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the conclusion to one of the most beloved stories in the history of not only film, but also the art of fiction itself. Unfortunately, as an enormous fan myself, I found myself disappointed. the overabundance of ideas Abrams tries to fit into a crammed runtime (if you ask me, they should’ve taken a page out of Marvel’s book and made the movie 3 hours in order to give this saga the fitting send-off it deserved), and the choice to emphasize too much fan service over a sufficient amount of character/emotional payoff end up harming the story that was so beautifully constructed in the past outings of this trilogy. This feels like a great film that was cut in half and then made some frustrating last-minute decisions that don’t even impact the later events of the film, and the main characters’ arcs would’ve been much stronger without these decisions. While there were definitely some plot points I enjoyed and the vibrant visuals and world-building, as well as the film’s role in concluding the franchise, will excite most audiences and incite instances of applause, the lack of boldness and spirit makes this the least gripping and rewarding film in the sequel trilogy, despite the satisfying nostalgia that makes for an awesome theater experience when you’re watching it with other Star Wars-loving audience members.