NOTE: This review is completely spoiler-free, and will avoid discussing major story developments in, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”

 

 

When Disney first relaunched the Star Wars movie franchise in 2015 with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, following their acquisition of Star Wars owner, LucasFilm in 2012, the property returned to the mainstream media with incredible vengeance! At that point, Disney had a very bold plan in place for the Star Wars franchise, one involving annualized cinematic releases, alternating between mainline ‘episodes’ for the core ‘Skywalker Saga’ that first began in 1977 with Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, and creatively distinct side stories that spotlight formerly unseen moments in the revised Star Wars canon, all of which would see a revolving door of fresh writers and directors with each offering. This plan seemed to hold up in 2016 with the first ‘Star Wars Anthology‘ movie, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as well, which grossed a billion dollars worldwide, and remained well-received by critics and fans. Come 2017 though, Disney’s plans for the Star Wars franchise started to come apart.

Trouble began with the lucrative, but highly divisive Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which provoked the toxic ‘Fandom Menace’ subsection of Star Wars enthusiasts like never before. This PR nightmare was further exacerbated by the sudden death of Carrie Fisher in late 2016 as well, before she could finish portraying integral legacy character, General Leia Organa in Disney’s new Star Wars movie trilogy. Worse still is that the trilogy’s final installment lost its planned writer-director, Colin Trevorrow shortly before the release of The Last Jedi, following LucasFilm boss, Kathleen Kennedy firing him, due to allegedly being consistently unhappy with Trevorrow’s story drafts. This was also just under a year before the second Star Wars Anthology movie, Solo: A Star Wars Story became the first big screen flop in the franchise’s history, noticeably underperforming at the box office, and receiving a rather lukewarm reception from critics and moviegoers alike, with even most Star Wars fans seemingly shrugging at it. This of course happened after Solo’s original co-directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired by Kennedy during production as well, resulting in them being hastily replaced by Ron Howard, who finished the rest of the movie from Lord’s and Miller’s story pitch. Oh dear.

Thus, as of 2019, Star Wars is in a pretty bad spot. The franchise is at least doing well on freshly-launched streaming platform, Disney+ at this point, where fledgling Star Wars spin-off series, The Mandalorian has received plenty of warm reception from critics and fans alike, but on the big screen, Star Wars has been in serious trouble for a couple of years now. That doesn’t bode well for cinematic trilogy finale, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the final scheduled Star Wars movie on Disney’s slate at this point, now that the Star Wars Anthology initiative has been abandoned in the wake of Solo’s commercial failure. With Star Wars: The Force Awakens director, J.J. Abrams returning to try and steer Disney’s new mainline Star Wars trilogy to a competent conclusion however, we at least have a recipe for Star Wars fans to get the conclusion they demand, and against all odds, The Rise of Skywalker does deliver that for them at least.

It’s everyone else that’s in for a bit of an underwhelming experience here. Abrams, to his credit, manages to take a sinking ship, and keep it afloat long enough to reach the shore, using reliable material that he knows will carry the craft through its mission. Avid Star Wars fans will certainly enjoy themselves as well, with The Rise of Skywalker definitely succeeding as another conservative, but highly franchise-reverent celebration of the entire Skywalker Saga, all three eras of it. If you’re not a die-hard Star Wars enthusiast that’s eager for a more fan-friendly reprieve after the aggressively subversive The Last Jedi however, then I’m sorry to say that The Rise of Skywalker is a narratively shallow and tediously predictable conclusion to a very uneven trilogy of movies, despite its wholesome tone and gorgeous production values. Worse still is that The Rise of Skywalker practically trips over itself trying to distance the franchise from the more controversial scenes of The Last Jedi, which will be very frustrating for people who enjoyed that movie, and its unexpected story turns.

Personally, I nonetheless enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker in the moment, since it’s a competent spectacle with some nice fan-tickling scenes, but in a broader sense, it’s a very clear disappointment. It was inevitably going to be a disappointment, with its former story direction killed in the crib, and Disney’s original plans for the Star Wars franchise mostly going up in smoke. Thus, what’s left is a decent, but disappointingly boilerplate Star Wars movie that works as a celebration of what’s come before, but fails at delivering something that feels truly new and innovative, ultimately playing it far too safe for a trilogy capper that deserved to truly go out with a bang.

CHARACTERS

The Rise of Skywalker once again brings back the familiar leads from Disney’s new Star Wars trilogy, with Daisy Ridley’s Rey firmly leading the charge this time out, while John Boyega’s Finn and Oscar Isaac’s Poe, alongside veteran comic foils, Chewbecca and C-3PO, join her on a decisive final mission to end the villainous First Order once and for all. The First Order’s recognizable faces also make a return, including Domnhall Gleeson’s General Hux, Richard E. Grant’s Allegiant General Pryde, and naturally, Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, who has since taken over the First Order as the new Supreme Leader. Of course, the biggest draw in this trilogy capper however is the return of Emperor Palpatine, a.k.a. Darth Sidious, despite his supposed death at the end of 1983’s Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, with Ian McDiarmid once again portraying the Skywalker Saga’s arch-villain.

The return of Palpatine is sure to excite many longtime Star Wars fans, but unfortunately, Palpatine’s sudden resurrection really doesn’t hold up to scrutiny from a narrative standpoint. As much as the Dark Side has its share of unnatural abilities, which avid Star Wars fans will likely cite as a reason for Palpatine’s return, this ultimately feels like a weak excuse for dredging up a villain whose story arc has already been definitively concluded at this point. Worse still is that Palpatine’s ultimate plot makes very little sense, as does the explanation for how he’s escaped the notice of the Resistance for so many years. This is going to be a big issue for people who aren’t already big Star Wars fans, and are going to get virtually no explanation for how Palpatine has returned, assuming they even remember/know who Palpatine is in the first place! That’s frustrating, since it makes what should be a big twist devolve into half-hearted fan-bait, fan-bait that’s going to be inexplicable and irritating for non-fans, because it wasn’t really foreshadowed or set up in this new movie trilogy at all.

On the bright side, the story arc of Rey at least comes to a much better climax in The Rise of Skywalker, completing a fairly worthwhile journey for her character, even if it does mean dubiously retconning a few maligned scenes from The Last Jedi. Kylo Ren also gets a fairly satisfying story arc here, with Rey and Kylo both injecting the kind of engaging subversion that The Rise of Skywalker is frequently starved for. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for many other characters, with Finn, Chewie and Poe most notably feeling like they’re merely along for the ride this time. There’s a bit of new development attempted with Poe, somewhat related to Keri Russell’s new character, Zorri Bliss, but this ultimately ends up feeling pointless, basically suggesting that fans wait for some possible, but not guaranteed side product that could flesh out this implied connection between Poe and Zorri to a satisfying degree. Sure, BB-8 is still adorable, but that droid is nonetheless pulling the same act that it’s always pulled, and it’s a worn act by this point. At least Anthony Daniels still gets some good laughs as C-3PO however, even if R2-D2 has disappointingly little presence in this movie, by comparison.

Speaking of legacy characters, an aborted side plot from The Force Awakens leads to some deleted Carrie Fisher footage being retroactively inserted into The Rise of Skywalker, with Leia’s heavily-revised story arc managing to do a solid job of tugging at the heartstrings, even if it’s painfully obvious that most of Leia’s planned character development for this movie was left unrealized. Still, Star Wars fans will also get a chance to reunite with Billy Dee Williams’ aged Lando Calrissian in The Rise of Skywalker at long last, following Donald Glover portraying a younger version of the character during Solo last year. Lando feels like more fan-bait for the most part, but he does at least have one particular highlight scene, even if he nonetheless spends most of this movie in the background.

Thus, most of The Rise of Skywalker completely ends up being Rey’s show. Perhaps that’s fitting, considering that Rey is one of the only characters presenting any real plot twists in this movie. The final mysteries of Rey coming together should remain a big draw, even for non-fans who have simply checked out the prior two movies as sci-fi blockbusters on their own merits, let alone Star Wars fans, who will probably be elated by the remaining questions surrounding Rey’s mysterious origin story finally being answered. Outside of a few key characters though, most of the cast throughout The Rise of Skywalker is very clearly going through the motions, with Williams and McDiarmid clearly having the most fun among the actors, since they’ve both spent a lot of time away from the franchise. Even Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver sometimes feel noticeably burned out during their performances in The Rise of Skywalker, and that’s before considering the fact that the story arcs of Finn and Poe go virtually nowhere worthwhile in this movie. It’s incredibly evident throughout this concluding movie that the original story vision behind Disney’s new Star Wars trilogy went off the rails, and that creates an air of the actors and director being more concerned with just finishing this movie, rather than truly going above and beyond with its character arcs.

PLOT

Unfortunately, among the issues throughout Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the storytelling is arguably the biggest among them. Again, this is inevitable, considering that Disney, LucasFilm and director, J.J. Abrams were fighting a losing battle with this trilogy capper, after so much of its initial vision ended up being compromised and thrown out. This inevitably leads to the creative forces behind The Rise of Skywalker playing it very safe. That’s great for Star Wars fans, like I said, but if you’re not among the most ardent members of the Star Wars fanbase, then you’re going to see through a lot of the fan-baiting and nostalgia-tickling that The Rise of Skywalker spends most of its time propping itself up on.

While the story is functional in The Rise of Skywalker, it’s deathly afraid of upsetting Star Wars fans any further. This is most evident in how the movie handles the envelope-pushing sequences that frequently occurred during The Last Jedi, with several lines of dialogue being rather conspicuously inserted into this movie’s script that actively downplay and essentially ‘apologize’ for the scenes in The Last Jedi that the fans didn’t like. Again, this is good news for people who hated The Last Jedi, but for everyone else, these moments are noticeably inconsistent with the previous movie, while also contributing to the confusion surrounding a very uneven trilogy, one that’s divided against itself, and doesn’t seem to know where it’s going anymore.

In fact, further compounding the storytelling misfortunes behind The Rise of Skywalker is the fact that it released in the same year as Avengers: Endgame, another major saga-capping blockbuster, one that was ironically also produced under a Disney-owned label. Avengers: Endgame not only provided a very satisfying and mostly airtight conclusion to twenty-two movies, let alone nine, but it was also much more thrilling, shocking and creative in its execution, ultimately doing a far better job of keeping audiences on their toes with big, unexpected story turns, and massive, truly breathtaking moments of payoffs and emotional spectacle, all wrapped around a well fleshed-out storyline that perfectly balanced heart-wrenching drama with surprisingly potent humour. Even if you didn’t care for Avengers: Endgame, you nonetheless have to admit that it pushed the boat out a lot further than The Rise of Skywalker dares to do, and likely ever could do.

It’s understandable that The Rise of Skywalker’s storyline is compromised, and from a tactical standpoint, playing it safe and baiting established Star Wars fans was probably the right call. It minimizes the chance that this movie will be a disaster, and a huge embarrassment for Disney and LucasFilm alike. With a low-risk approach inevitably comes a low reward however, and this leads to The Rise of Skywalker devoting almost all of its resources to presentation and fan service, leaving those looking for a truly meaty, engaging blockbuster out in the cold. This movie’s story has moments of outstanding entertainment, and passing scenes of powerful inspiration, but so much of it is recycling the old Star Wars playbook, and that’s going to be painfully transparent for general moviegoers who don’t have a huge attachment to Star Wars.

DIRECTION

If anyone was facing an uphill battle with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, it’s director, J.J. Abrams, who has been saddled with the thankless task of salvaging a trilogy-concluding movie that was extensively compromised off the bat. Disney had no shortage of rotten luck with The Rise of Skywalker right from pre-production, between the story pitch from the movie’s former writer-director, Colin Trevorrow being bad enough to be almost completely rejected, not to mention that Leia actress, Carrie Fisher ended up unexpectedly passing away during the production of the trilogy’s previous installment, necessitating that a core storyline and key payoff that was meant for this movie be tossed out and reworked. The odds behind this movie are bad enough to make C-3PO short-circuit, and considering the immense challenge that Abrams faced in concluding the trilogy that he started in 2015 with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it’s a small miracle that The Rise of Skywalker avoids being a complete disaster.

That said, it’s nonetheless clear that Abrams never meant to oversee this part of the trilogy. Abrams does what he can to re-work whatever was salvaged from Trevorrow’s aborted pitch, but it’s clear that he doesn’t have many good ideas through which to cap off this storyline. After all, Abrams was only hired for one movie, not three. If there’s any evidence that Disney’s baton-passing director plan for their new Star Wars movie trilogy was a bad idea from the start, it’s The Rise of Skywalker, which sharply course-corrects from the aggressively subversive and cheeky stylings of The Last Jedi, in favour of returning to a more back-to-basics approach for the Star Wars franchise. That’s undeniably good news for Star Wars fans, especially when Abrams rises to the task of making a movie that’s gorgeous, exciting and does a great job of observing forty-plus years of Star Wars movie history, but for non-fans and general moviegoers, particularly general moviegoers who really enjoyed The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker ends up feeling too calculated to truly satisfy.

That’s really the biggest problem with Abrams’ otherwise solid direction here; It feels like it’s going down a checklist of what Star Wars fans would logically want in a trilogy capper, but in the process, it never challenges the expectations of Star Wars fans, nor the tastes of general moviegoers. This exacerbates the problem of The Rise of Skywalker going too far out of its way to ‘apologize’ for the more controversial moments of The Last Jedi that Star Wars fans frequently hated, which in turn also leads to a movie that feels too frequently dull and tedious whenever it’s not distracting you with a bunch of lights and noise. There’s a persistently lingering sense that Abrams doesn’t really have his own vision for The Rise of Skywalker, and this may also explain why the actors don’t tend to feel like they’re quite as into it during this third go-around.

In Abrams’ defense though, he is fighting a losing battle here, at least in terms of the storytelling and characterization. Thus, like I said, it’s the least worst option for Abrams to focus on delivering an impressive, grand and epic technical showcase, one that goes all in on tickling Star Wars fans, at the expense of everyone else in the audience. The action scenes remain pretty impressively realized throughout The Rise of Skywalker, with the incredible set design in the movie helping to compensate for frustratingly underwhelming character moments in the direction and the writing. It’s a bit of a surface-level sheen for a movie that’s not nearly as deep as you would hope, but it gets the job done, and there’s no denying that The Rise of Skywalker is polished as ever in its presentation, if nothing else.

MUSIC & SOUNDTRACK

John Williams is back to deliver another legendary score for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and as we’ve come to expect from one of the greatest composers in Hollywood, his music suite is once again one of the biggest highlights in this movie. Plenty of familiar Star Wars compositions work their way into the soundtrack of The Rise of Skywalker, right from that iconic opening text crawl, and while fans will undoubtedly love the selection of ‘greatest hits’ musical flourishes that permeate this movie’s score, plenty of new music allows this final offering for the Skywalker Saga to nicely stand on its own as well. As with any Star Wars soundtrack that Williams has overseen, the sheer power and majesty behind the music for The Rise of Skywalker is truly incredible, and even with so many familiar compositions layered within it, this soundtrack remains one of the best movie scores that 2019 has ever delivered!

The audio engineering in general also remains masterful, perfectly balancing recognizable Star Wars sound design with an ever-increasing desire to keep raising the bar for these movies’ spectacle. The action scenes are naturally where the audio is at its best, but even during the quieter moments, the sound engineering throughout The Rise of Skywalker is fantastic, conveying an incredible sense of awe and wonder at a universe that continues to positively leap off of the screen, no matter what mood it tries to go for. Even when its writing gets pretty tedious, The Rise of Skywalker still knows how to sharply pull you into this massive world, with Williams and the rest of the audio engineers once again resetting the bar for future Star Wars movies, something that feels all the more bittersweet, now that we know for sure that this is Williams’ last hurrah with the franchise.

VISUAL EFFECTS

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker pulls out all the stops to become one of the most visually arresting Star Wars movies to date, and in that respect, it definitely doesn’t disappoint! True to form, this movie marks a visually spectacular conclusion to the Skywalker Saga, taking viewers to more exotic worlds, more larger-than-life battles, and more wonderfully poetic character moments. I obviously can’t talk too much about these moments without spoilers, but I will say that The Rise of Skywalker beautifully earns its stripes as a modern trilogy capper for one of the most beloved franchises in sci-fi, bringing in a little bit of everything, with some all-new modern touches that keep wonderfully expanding the known frontiers of the Star Wars universe.

My screening of the movie was also in IMAX 3D, giving me a great opportunity to push the big screen visuals of The Rise of Skywalker as far as they can possibly go. This definitely seems to be the ideal way to see the movie as well, with both the 3D and IMAX upgrades taking an already visually stunning movie, and making it even more technically impressive, with noticeable heightened scale and immersion. The 3D presentation is once again pretty sharp, bringing the spacefaring sequences in particular to magnificent life, even if there’s a few scenes that don’t exploit the 3D presentation as much as they could have. Still, the IMAX presentation also serves this movie well, bumping up the sound and presentation to a strong degree, especially during key action scenes, where you can truly feel the weight behind the entire galaxy being at stake. If you have the means, I highly recommend upgrading your ticket with IMAX and/or 3D presentations to get the most out of the experience, especially since the most impressive elements behind The Rise of Skywalker seem to be on the technical side anyway.

THE VERDICT

I can sympathize with the fact that Disney, LucasFilm and J.J. Abrams were in an impossible situation with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. This was a movie that had to be not just made, but salvaged from a string of terrible luck during production. Despite that however, my sympathies can’t change the fact that The Rise of Skywalker, while technically spectacular and full of gratifying moments for Star Wars fans, is ultimately a weak and disappointing trilogy conclusion from a narrative standpoint. This is nonetheless an experience that demands to be seen in theatres for those interested though, and those who already love Star Wars are going to find that the amazing production values and nostalgia-tickling moments throughout The Rise of Skywalker will still present them with a great time at the movies.

It’s paramount however that you approach The Rise of Skywalker with modest expectations. Even then, general moviegoers, particularly those who may not be avid Star Wars fans, are probably going to feel considerably let down by this movie. Its pretty face can only do so much to disguise the fact that it’s a frustratingly predictable and uninspired conclusion for the Skywalker Saga, with Disney’s successor trilogy having run out of gas long before it reached the finish line. I even say this as someone who enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker in the moment, only to be confronted by the knowledge that so much of the experience slipped out of my mind the very second I walked out of the theatre.

It’s abundantly clear that Disney and LucasFilm really need to go back to the drawing board with Star Wars, and they shouldn’t make more Star Wars movie plans until they do. The franchise seems plenty secure on Disney+ for now, with The Mandalorian doing quite well in terms of viewership and acclaim, while plenty of anticipation surrounds future Disney+ spin-off shows centered upon recognizable Star Wars characters like Cassian Andor and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Ironically, this sad state of affairs for the modern Star Wars movies seems to lead to the unapologetically subversive The Last Jedi getting the last laugh in the end, after softer box office numbers and mixed critic and audience reception from The Rise of Skywalker have seemingly cemented the fact that the Star Wars movies are indeed stuck in a creative rut, and truly do need to let go of the past. Now that we’ve finally wrapped up the Skywalker Saga for good, I, for one, am definitely ready for something new.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Review
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a beautifully produced trilogy capper that fans will adore, but its surprisingly unimaginative storytelling will likely leave most other moviegoers disappointed.
CHARACTERS65%
PLOT60%
DIRECTION75%
MUSIC & SOUNDTRACK95%
VISUAL EFFECTS95%
THE GOOD STUFF
  • Reverent writing that celebrates all eras of the Skywalker Saga
  • Spectacular audio/visual presentation, as usual
  • Poetic, gratifying conclusion to the Rey and Kylo storylines
THE NOT-SO-GOOD STUFF
  • Storytelling is too frequently unimaginative and dull
  • Tries too hard to 'apologize' for The Last Jedi
  • Palpatine's resurrection and return to power is too contrived
78%Overall Score
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