Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Director(s): J.J. Abrams
Writer(s): J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio
Cast: Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong'o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Billy Dee Williams
Reviewed by: Ian Evans on
Release Date(s)Dec 19, 2019 - Wide
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The pendulum swings back and forth. No, that isn’t a scene in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the epic close to a space fantasy story arc that began in 1977 with Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope. Instead it’s my reaction to this latest installment. Do I love it like I did as wide-eyed kid in 1977? Or am I slightly indifferent to a conclusion to an epic journey that has so many recalls to the original three films that it feels like Star Wars’ Greatest Hits?
Before getting back to that, let’s have a brief glimpse at the plot. I can only say a little because Disney has warned and begged critics not to reveal too much. A villain from the past offers a galactic quid pro quo to Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) who, despite being a powerful master of the Force’s Dark Side, still manages to come off as a petulant teen who refuses to clean his Star Destroyer. Kylo is still focused on Rey (Daisy Ridley), who’s still trying to learn about her family and past while training under the watchful eye of Resistance leader General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). Circumstances require Rey to go off on a mission with ace pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), reformed former Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), the loyal Wookie Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), the incessantly chatty protocol droid C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and Poe’s rolly-polly droid sidekick BB-8. Along the way, ships jump into hyperspace, heroes make quips, things blow up, light sabers duel, and new characters are introduced in time for Christmas.
As The Force Awakens had many echoes of A New Hope, so this film has several echoes of Return of the Jedi. Familiarity is a big thing for a contingent of Star Wars fans. While I really enjoyed the chances The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson took with that film, some fans protested and that’s where I have problems with The Rise of Skywalker. A recent Reddit thread had a fan seriously pondering if he and his like-minded fans could legally take control of the franchise from Disney if they didn’t like The Rise of Skywalker. Seriously. This latest installment of the franchise, directed by The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams and co-written by Abrams and Chris Terrio, feels like it’s trying to atone for the imagined sins of The Last Jedi. Toxic fans hated The Last Jedi’s heroic mechanic Rose (Kelly Marie Tran). Instead of standing up to them, this film reduces Rose to a barely secondary character with insignificant lines. Whereas George Lucas was inspired by the swashbuckling cliffhanger-filled Saturday morning serials he watched as a boy, at times this iteration seems inspired by angry focus groups and an eye to what will sell as much as possible to the most people and inspire theme park rides.
But then I swing back to the stunning work of the visual effects team, the quick banter between Poe and Finn, the epic battles and I’m briefly transported to the kid who saw the first trilogy multiple (MULTIPLE) times. Ridley’s Rey is strong and daring and full of boiling-under-the-surface internal conflict, Isaac’s Poe has the roguish charm and questionable background of a young Han Solo. Boyega’s Finn has the moral strength that had him defect from the First Order and the hint of a will they/won’t they yearning in his friendship with Rey. Anthony Daniels, trapped in a droid costume as C-3PO still manages to provide the same charming comic relief and questions about safety he’s been asking about since 1977, but sadly his heroic sidekick, the impetuous R2-D2 is barely seen. Richard E. Grant is great as an evil Star Destroyer commander and Domhnall Gleeson continues to be an oily snake as General Hux. Keri Russell plays an old criminal friend of Poe’s but the performance is brief and hidden behind a helmet. Adam Driver is a great actor but I’ve sadly never connected with him as Kylo Ren. I don’t know if that’s on me. And then there’s Leia. The wonderful Carrie Fisher died in late 2016. Her performance here consists of her being cut from footage shot for The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi and inserted into this film, along with the strategic use of body doubles. Since her dialogue wasn’t written for this movie, her lines come off disconnected from the action. It’s like Leia is a human fortune cookie spouting off somewhat useful words of encouragement.
This is less a review and more of the internal struggle of a long-time — but not rabid or angry — fan. Let’s face it, reviews are irrelevant to this franchise. The Rise of Skywalker will make over a billion dollars. Tickets will be sold, action figures purchased, and theme park rides designed. I enjoyed many moments of this film but perhaps the checklist of pressure-driven conclusions turned a saga about a ragtag group of rebels into a polished, sanitized, homogeneous product. And where’s the fun in that?
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