STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, from director J.J. Abrams (The Force Awakens) and Lucasfilm, is the final conclusion to the epic Skywalker saga. The film stars Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, 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, with Ian McDiarmid and Billy Dee Williams.
First things first, I want to be completely transparent. Though I’ve seen all the major Star Wars films, with the exception of the animated one, I would not call myself a massive fan by any means. I’ve enjoyed the movies, well, with the exception of the prequels, but as a whole, I would say I’m, at best, a casual fan. That said, understand that this review is coming from someone who doesn’t have extensive knowledge of the Star Wars universe. This message is mostly for the toxic fandom that is ever-so-present in this particular community and a reminder that everyone, no matter what level of fandom they are at, is allowed to have an open, honest opinion about the film.
Now that we got that out of the way, STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER takes place a year after the events of The Last Jedi. To best describe the overview of the plot, I’ll turn to Wikipedia: “the remnants of the Resistance face the First Order once again – while reckoning with the past and their own inner turmoil. Meanwhile, the ancient conflict between the Jedi and the Sith reaches its climax, bringing the Skywalker saga to a definitive end.” As I begin to dive into my review of the film I do want to make note that tying together all nine of the films is not an easy feat and as a fan of Abrams, I have a massive amount of respect for taking on such a massive franchise. That said, as much as I wanted to love this film, I felt that it had the potential to truly shine but ultimately was a lost opportunity.
Let’s start off by discussing the good. From the opening scene to the final battle, each fight scene was fast-paced and beautifully choreographed. One of my favorite moments finds Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) aboard the remainder of what is left of the Death Star as waves crash all around them. The moment is shrouded in a grey palette highlighted by both Rey and Kylo’s blue and red lightsabers. They both emote anger, determination, and passion as one tries to relinquish the other. It’s a beautiful and chilling moment that I believe truly encapsulates the entirety of what both Rey and Kylo have been moving towards. As with most of the battles, the visuals are stunning as well as the cinematography at the hands of Dan Mindel. The mixture of Mindel’s craft, with the visual effects used to create the final look of certain planetary creatures and elements (desert, snow, jungle, etc), really made those moments of combat feel grand in their execution.
I think the strongest aspect of the film was definitely the more quiet moments of reflection. My favorite being when Rey, Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) land on the planet of Pasaana to locate a certain artifact that will help them locate Palpatine. Of course, trouble is never far behind them and after getting saved by a certain Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), they try to take off in a hurry; however, Rey realizes that Kylo has found her. As she goes to confront him (which is a scene that was featured in the first trailer), there’s a moment of silence as she centers herself and finds the force within. It’s a powerful moment that not only shows Rey’s true strength but also solidifies an important confirmation for Kylo Ren. I will say, through all three films, I’ve enjoyed seeing Rey as a beacon of hope and have enjoyed the positive effects she has had on women and young girls who have found strength and confidence through her character. At its core, these films have always been about Rey and her journey to learn who she is and what she is capable of, as well as her ties to Kylo Ren and the power that they both possess. In that regard, I feel like the film, for the most part, was able to bring their story full circle. I just wish it didn’t feel so predictable and vanilla.
Now, let’s discuss the not-so-good. In THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, the Resistance must go head-to-head once again with the First Order. This is war. This has always been war. And for a movie that is wrapping up a 9-film saga with an epic battle, I expect there to be consequences. Yes, people die in war, but in THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, they seem to only be nameless characters that perish in the battle. It’s here where we arrive at our first conflict: there are no stakes in the film. Say what you will about The Last Jedi or Rogue One, but at least they took risks and didn’t solely pander to the demands of fans. In the case of THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, I was left feeling disappointed because I never felt like anyone was truly ever in danger. There were two instances where Abrams could have pushed that envelope but pulled back at the last second because god forbid you upset the fandom.
This brings me to my next point: the Dark Side. The trailer gave viewers a hint that we may encounter Dark Rey. I was very excited about this premise because I wanted to see Rey struggle with her powers and the seduction of the Dark Side. Well, let me tell you, that most certainly never happened. I would have given anything to see Abrams lean into that storyline of Rey tinkering with the allurement that the Dark Side has to offer before deciding on which path to take. However, on the flip side, we have seen a huge transformation from Kylo Ren. When we first meet him in The Force Awakens, he’s prone to violent outbursts and childish behavior compared to where he is now in THE RISE OF SKYWALKER. Through him, we actually see struggles, regret, guilt, anger, a whole array of emotions as he fights himself to find out who he truly is. I’m not saying we needed to see the same range of emotions from Rey, but I do wish her character development in this film leaned more into toying with the Dark Side. Ultimately, that image you see of Dark Rey is a red herring, it doesn’t really serve any purpose at all, which is hugely disappointing.
Finally, let’s talk about the fact that this film seems like a direct sequel to The Force Awakens, barely acknowledging the events that happened in The Last Jedi. Again, regardless of how you feel about the film, it’s still part of the franchise and still served a purpose. THE RISE OF SKYWALKER felt like Abrams was more focused on sticking as much fan service into the film as he could which resulted in a narrative that was all over the place. There were so many moments throughout the film that made me question the motives behind certain actions. Why did it feel like Poe had animosity towards Rey and Finn at the beginning of the movie? Why dive into Poe’s backstory when it doesn’t do anything to further the plot? Why did Finn mention to Rey he had something important to tell her and then never follows through, even after being asked numerous times? Why introduce two new (badass) characters, Zorri Bliss (Kerri Russell) and Jannah (Naomi Ackie), and then barely give them any screen time? In the end, the film just felt like a smorgasbord of characters from all the films that were thrust into THE RISE OF SKYWALKER to make fan-boys/girls happy instead of taking the time to expand on the characters that needed it. Also, I found it slightly upsetting that Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) who was such a presence in The Last Jedi, got downgraded to essentially a background character. Honestly, that was probably the most upsetting for me because I felt like Abrams didn’t want to deal with the toxic behavior of the fandom and instead pushed Tran’s character aside.
In the end, THE RISE OF SKYWALKER truly had the potential to be something great and memorable. I believed that Abrams had the ability to bring this entire story full circle in a memorable way but chose to take the easy way out. It’s disappointing to see the entire series end on this note when it has come so far. I’m sure Star Wars fans that hated The Last Jedi will enjoy this film because Abrams is spoon-feeding them content that he knows won’t challenge or upset them. All that said, if THE RISE OF SKYWALKER taught me anything, it was that The Last Jedi is a far superior film and one of the absolute best in the entire franchise. Even with all its unwarranted controversy, that film will go down as being one of the most iconic Star Wars films while THE RISE OF SKYWALKER becomes forgettable nostalgia-pushing fodder. STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER arrives in theaters on December 20, 2019.
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