Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Review: A Rousing, Jam-Packed Finale Sure to Spark Debate for Years to Come
***Spoiler-free review, but if you want to remain pure of mind entirely, you should perhaps stay off the Internet for the next few days***
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is objectively a good Star Wars film. If you’re a Star Wars fan who’s not Extremely Online, that’s pretty much all that you need to know. If, however, you are part of social media and fandom and the general Discourse Experience—hang on, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.
The foremost thing I felt emerging from The Rise of Skywalker was a need to catch my breath. The movie moves at breakneck speed, which is impressive considering its two-and-a-half-hour runtime. This film never sits still: our heroes—and villains—are always moving, always on the edge of a catastrophe, always talking fast enough to render finer plot-points incomprehensible, always saved at the last second by some twist or another. There’s nary a pause or a dull moment, and the first half is dizzying, motion and exposition-filled, as you struggle to remember what the mission was before everyone is fleeing the scene again.
This can become tiresome—it’s difficult to feel that the stakes are ever real when we can almost certainly expect someone to save the day and someone else to provide a hard-to-find object or discover an impossible solution at an improbable moment. This is an effective way to keep you on the edge of your seat, but it did make me wish that the audience and the characters got a bit more room to breathe. Even so, the sense of being on constantly uneven ground is exciting.
Such a quick pace is necessary to fit in so much activity, and there is a lot of activity. There are giant set pieces, far-flung planets and hidden worlds, markets and cantinas and the inside of many a rustbucket ship. There are a lot of colorful alien races rendered through top-notch effects and makeup. There are a lot of haphazardly drawn plans and fuzzy goals. At heart, I feel as though the movie also owes a debt to another famed Harrison Ford series—it tips its hat to Indiana Jones, even if a central quest to uncover an object that leads to other objects is just so much filler to move our players around on the board.
Ultimately, the plotting or plausibility of the set-ups don’t matter much because we’re not here for seamless linear progression or logical thinking in our space opera, we’re here for the characters we’ve long loved and those we’ve come to know in the new trilogy. And on character moments, this movie delivers, for both good and ill.
There’s a lot of fan service for longterm and long-invested Star Wars fans (significant swathes of what happens would be head-scratching to the uninitiated). Fans of new heroes Rey, Finn, and Poe (played by a stalwart Daisy Ridley, an earnest John Boyega, and a charismatic Oscar Isaac) will be thrilled to know the golden trio finally spends a lot of time together. They were all split up in The Last Jedi, and they’re much stronger as a unit; it’s a lovely, tight-knit team, not without its internal frictions.
There’s also a lot to do here for Adam Driver’s very tall and very broody bad guy Kylo Ren; the movie is divided more between hero/villain perspectives than we’re used to seeing in Star Wars. And of course, there are precious moments to pass with the late Carrie Fisher’s General Leia Organa. Fisher’s death, and the subsequent need to use previously shot footage and sleight-of-hand to include Leia, no doubt shaped the direction of this story. She’s given a rightful and respectful place of honor.
While being as vague as possible about specifics, Rey, Finn, Poe, and their droid pals are looking for something important, while Kylo Ren is seeking to stop them, greater machinations lurk in the shadows, and friends old and new join the fight. I’m not sure what else I can say about what propels everyone forward without spoiling a good deal, so I’m not going to try.
My biggest problems with The Last Jedi were the dragging side-plots that didn’t seem to add much to the narrative, and a sense that some characters were “out of character.” My biggest problem with The Force Awakens was that it felt as though someone was going through a “How to make a Star Wars movie” checklist and crossing out each scenario one by one. The Rise of Skywalker feels more assured and inspired, and now the characters have earned enough screentime to make us care about them.
I’m an ardent Star Wars fan, but I never felt the emotional connection to the new guard that has so resonated with some of my friends. That being said, this is probably my favorite movie of the trilogy. It has a lot of fun while also pulling relentlessly at heartstrings and turning on the waterworks. I cried in the second half and meant it. It’s hard not to feel like this movie is a poignant goodbye to a milieu so many different generations of us grew up immersed in, even if everything is staged to the max to evoke said poignancy.
In terms of the various Discourse debates that will seize the Internet, there are likely going to be a lot, especially in TROS’s choices regarding romance, people of color, families, good and bad guys, and sexuality (after teasing that we have to wait and see for representation, there is indeed a minor blink-and-you-miss-it queer moment, which seems to be what we’re supposed to settle for these days and be glad of the scraps).
If this weren’t a plot-spoiler-free review, there are a thousand points and decisions I’d like to nitpick, take issue with, and argue about, but this isn’t the space for it. So stepping back to look at the movie as a whole, I can say that it’s a satisfying experience—sometimes surprising, but all the more interesting when it isn’t trying too hard to surprise and just lets the characters be themselves and discover new facets of who they can be.
J.J. Abrams directed both TFA and TROS, so it tracks that those movies feel more alike than Rian Johnson’s middle-child TLJ, but it seems as though Abrams has gone out of his way to undo many of Johnson’s decisive plot decisions and characterizations. Where Johnson lay stitches, Abrams has ripped them out. The Rise of Skywalker essentially starts with a blank slate, which is sure to thrill Last Jedi haters, except for how much of the action hinges on Rey, who is a girl, so there may still be some people taking issue with that. I love the idea of a new generation growing up with a woman as their foremost Force-wielding hero, and another woman as the Resistance’s capable and adored leader.
Some of the bigger twists in the film will have long been predicted if you pay attention to these sorts of predictions, and I have problems with several of them that I will no doubt be unpacking in future pieces. In short, though I do not agree with quite a few of Abrams’ choices, I can also see why they were made.
But I’m not deep in the current Star Wars fandom, and without a real horse in this race, I had an excellent time watching The Rise of Skywalker. (Those with horses in the race for a particular character or ship may be considerably less enthusiastic.) It ticks all the boxes for Star Wars, and it wraps most things up that it needs to, even if the paths it takes there will feel rocky and questionable to some viewers. It’s also hard to believe that we’ve reached the end of the line, and with the advent of Disney+, who knows if we really have?
I think it will take a few more days and maybe even a few more viewings to fully process how I feel about this concluding chapter. There’s still room for many further stories to be told in this particular galaxy; if Rise of Skywalker has a message beyond “we’re stronger together,” it’s that nothing lost must remain that way for long.
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