By Nick Maylor
In a certain respect, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) is a film 42 years in the making. It’s been over four decades since the release of George Lucas’ original film and now at the culmination of the third trilogy, lots of loose ends were expected to be tied up. After the surprising finale to Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), there were many loose ends left to be tied, indeed. The saga of the Skywalker family had for all intents and purposes culminated with Luke saving his father at the end of Return of the Jedi (1983) and with Luke’s death in The Last Jedi, the announced title of Episode IX was perplexing, to say the least.
Let me start off by saying that this review will be SPOILER FREE, as much as it can be.
The year was a big one for culminating events. The crown achievement of 2019 (and now the highest-grossing film of all time) was without question Avengers: Endgame (2019). While that story had been partially mapped out for over a decade, the strings that hold together Disney’s new Star Wars trilogy with the older trilogies of George Lucas, are thinner and more sparse. Likewise, The Rise of Skywalker isn’t as emotionally or canonically satisfying as Avengers: Endgame, although it does has much to offer the potentially jaded viewer.
Make no mistake, there is plenty of fan service to go around and many dots are nicely connected in J.J. Abrams’ film. However, a good deal of it seems like pieces being forced to fit together where they might not have been designed that way from the onset.
Carrie Fisher’s untimely death in 2016, paired with her character’s survival in The Last Jedi made for expected complications but Abrams and crew managed to salvage a decent amount of unused footage the late actress had shot, and make it fit cohesively into the overall narrative.
The performances are very good. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac are all at their best here and Adam Driver (sure to be nominated for an Oscar for Marriage Story) is also quite excellent. Ian McDiarmid’s presence as Emperor Palpatine is felt throughout the film as the looming apocalypse personified in the Sith Lord. Driver’s pain and inner anguish as Ben Solo/Kylo Ren are part of the film’s emotional core and his chemistry with Daisy Ridley carries their intense moments shared when dueling physically and psychologically. Richard E. Grant appears as a First Order General and he echoes notes of Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin from the original trilogy. Anthony Daniels has a few great moments as C-3P0 and the droids themselves have some wonderful moments interacting with each other. Keri Russell appears as an old friend/adversary of Poe Dameron and does some great work mostly behind a mask/helmet. Carrie Fisher’s brief moments are appreciated and the dear Princess feels sorely missed. Billy Dee Williams is also wonderful, returning as Lando Calrissian from the original trilogy. Driver and Ridley’s performance remain the most vital and resonating.
Some surprising cameos also provide weight during key moments that I won’t discuss here to avoid spoilers.
There is (as to be expected from the series) also a great deal of good humour and laughs to be had along the way.
There are some big surprises along the way and real emotional stakes, but they don’t compare to the feeling of legacy and destiny in the films of the 70s and 80s. There is a soul somewhere in The Rise of Skywalker but it doesn’t always seem fully formed. The story makes about as much sense as we could have hoped for but at times it feels like the film isn’t sure where it is headed. However, these failings are largely forgivable as the ride is quite enjoyable and again, satisfying in the end. Many classic settings from previous Star Wars films show up to provide a great sense of nostalgia and tie the major franchises together.
J.J. Abrams’ direction is solid and the film is visually stunning. Moreover, it is visually stunning in ways we haven’t seen yet in this series. For the first time, we actually get some lightsaber battles that rival the scope of the ones seen in the previous trilogies. The massive space battles are epic in scope and scale and probably the vastest that the series has seen so far.
The film hits the ground running right from the get-go and for the most part, keeps the intensity rolling. As I’ve opined about the series before, as long as I am enjoying the ride enough not to stop and ask questions, I’m likely to walk away satisfied. We are dealing with magic space opera here so suspension of disbelief isn’t too much to ask for. There was also at least one moment where an unexpected character shows up that was more than satisfying, I flat out loved it.
Who knows where the Star Wars franchise will go now in terms of the big screen. Disney+ has breathed some fresh life into the galaxy far far away with The Mandalorian and there are more original series set to debut there.
If The Rise of Skywalker is truly the end of the big-screen Star Wars saga, I can walk away content. The films have given me plenty and if there are no new stories to tell, I can rest easy.
Bravo, J.J. for once again pulling all the pieces together.
Nick is an actor/writer/comedian/musician from Hamilton, ON Canada. Having been a film nut since the early days of his life, Nick has had an obsession with cinema and popular entertainment. Nick has written for thecinemaholic.com and is the current Foote & Friends “expert” on all things geek/superhero/comic-book related. Nick met John when studying acting at the Toronto Film School, for which John H. Foote was director and Film History professor. The two have been arguing ever since.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickMaylor