REVIEW: ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ is as Messy as it is Satisfying

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Wrapping up a trilogy is a hard enough task on its own, with narrative threads and character arcs needing a succinct and satisfying conclusion. But with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, director JJ Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio had to wrap up 42 years worth of storytelling in one film while trying to please various fans with multiple expectations. The end result is a complicated conclusion that hits high highs and low lows.

In the film, a year has passed since the events of 2017s The Last Jedi, and the conflict between the Resistance and the First Order has been shaken up by a mysterious message sent by Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), threatening the galaxy with an armada of hidden Star Destroyers. Rey (Daisy Ridley),  Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac) are sent by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) on a mission to find the path towards the evil Sith menace, as Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) attempts to thwart their efforts.

If that information seems like a lot to take in, then the first fifteen minutes of this movie is going to be quite a shock to the system. One of the biggest issues with the movie is the pacing, with the opening crawl feeling less like a subtle introduction laced with important information and more like a Wookieepedia entry. The audience doesn’t really have much of a chance to breathe during the first act but at the same time – there’s plenty of spectacle, awe and love for these characters that you can’t help being drawn in.

During the marketing campaign, the core cast mentioned how much they enjoyed working as a trio in this film and it’s clear every time you see them on screen. The love and friendship between these characters is joyous and contagious, allowing the audience to really believe in this self-made family, which is an important theme in the movie.

Speaking of stand-out performances, C3P0 (Anthony Daniels) absolutely shines in this movie (pun-intended) delivering a performance that is sure to both move the audience one moment and make them laugh the next. Newcomers Jannah (Naomi Ackie),  Allegiant General Pryde (Richard E. Grant) and Zorri Bliss (Keri Russell) are a welcome introduction to the franchise but don’t have much of a chance to shine. With such a massive cast to focus on and so many narrative threads and plot details that need to be addressed. 

Rian Johnson’s exploration of Kylo Ren and Rey in The Last Jedi was one of the most interesting parts of the Sequel Trilogy, and JJ Abrams picks up that torch by continuing to explore that particular relationship – including his own rendition of the fantastic force ability seen throughout the eighth installment.

Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver once again act their hearts out portraying these two lost yet connected souls, yearning for family. While JJ doesn’t undo Rian’s work per se, there are definitely plot points such as Rey’s background that are once again framed as a ‘mystery’, and Rose Tico’s (Kelly Marie Tran) appearance in the film is woefully short, utilizing the character in exposition scenes.  However, the film mostly benefits from the previous episodic installment.

Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) on the wreckage of the Second Death Star.

The Rise of Skywalker is visually stunning, with set-pieces such as the festival on Pasaana and the ruins of the Second Death Star being highlights of the film. It’s absolutely one of the most visually appealing entries in the franchise, providing audiences with captivating flight sequences with the Millennium Falcon and some of the best lightsaber choreography in the saga. While at first daunting, obvious reasons, the use of Carrie Fisher and Leia in the movie is beautifully done – giving the character some purpose rather than just adding her in for no reason and allowing a fitting goodbye to a character that fans have adored for 42 years.

The most frustrating aspect about The Rise of Skywalker is that it tries too hard to please everybody. If anything, the lesson both fans and Lucasfilm should have learned from The Last Jedi is that sometimes you can’t please everyone – and that’s okay. Fan-service isn’t always a bad thing, in fact, there are plenty of moments in the film that are pleasantly surprising and will certainly make some long-terms fans jump up in their seats, but this film is full to the brim with it.

But the issue with fans having different ideas of what they want from the film means that these crafted moments will either make you beam, groan, or both. Thankfully, The Rise of Skywalker avoids the trappings of being Return of the Jedi with a modern coat applied to it and instead delivers a satisfying ending to the saga in whole.

When it comes to tying up loose ends, the film actually does a pretty good job bringing this trilogy’s story to a close and fulfilling the main arcs of each core character – and also the wider saga-long story of the Skywalkers. JJ even adds in a sequence that’s as close to putting a bow on the whole thing as we’ll ever get. However, the film is stuffed with plot and quite frankly, some things just don’t get an answer or explanation at all. Presumably, those details will be left to other writers and creators in the next few years to fill out in books, games, etc.

Overall, The Rise of Skywalker is a messy film that contains too much plot for its own good but also a really entertaining movie that showcases why audiences love Star Wars. Naturally, fans of Star Wars are not going to agree with every choice made in the film – but there are moments that are guaranteed to make people jump with joy.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker premieres nationwide on December 20th, 2019.

 

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker
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    Rating - 7/10
7/10

TL;DR

The Rise of Skywalker is a messy film that contains too much plot for its own good but also a really entertaining movie that showcases why audiences love Star Wars. Naturally, fans of Star Wars are not going to agree with every choice made in the film – but there are moments that are guaranteed to make people jump with joy.