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Review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

December 18, 2019

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Following the detour that was Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi in 2017, J.J. Abrams returns to the director’s chair with frustratingly mixed results in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the third and final piece of the new trilogy that he started for Disney with The Force Awakens in 2015.

This ninth film in the epic space opera promises the conclusion of the Skywalker Saga that George Lucas started all the way back in 1977, but Abrams is forced to play it safe, and one of the main problems with The Rise of Skywalker stems from the fact that this trilogy’s new characters have simply never been as interesting or compelling as their older counterparts.

Because the proper groundwork for the magically powerful “Last Jedi” Rey (Daisy Ridley), cocky fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and reformed Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) was never laid from the get go when they were first introduced in The Force Awakens, it’s hard to muster much enthusiasm for the conclusion of their respective story arcs now. Who are these characters? Their story is ending, and yet it still feels like we are just getting to know them, almost as if the writers never really knew what to do with them at all.

The major problem with this final chapter is that it just isn’t very well written, and feels more like a slapdash collection of scenes meant to tie up loose ends rather than a coherent whole. Despite its flaws, The Force Awakens was at least a very enjoyable film, and for all the questionable choices that it made, The Last Jedi also did some things very well. I sadly can’t say the same about The Rise of Skywalker, a film that gives the distinct feeling of just going through the motions. It’s not exactly a chore to watch, and there are certainly enough fun moments throughout to make it still worth seeing, but it also feels like a disappointing end to a story that has been over four decades in the making.

The film’s opening scroll informs us that “the dead speak,” and Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is somehow still alive, having sent a signal out into the galaxy. Palpatine wants to rebuild the Empire by bringing back the Sith and establishing something called the Final Order, and he has sent orders to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) to kill Rey. Rey is still at the forefront of fighting in the dwindling Resistance against his First Order, which is on shaky ground with a spy in their ranks, and Kylo continues to try and pull her over to the Dark Side.

While I am under orders to not spoil any specific plot details, I can say without giving anything more away that Abrams packs a lot of plot into this movie, and a lot of time is spent on exposition. It’s often needlessly convoluted, with the first half sending Rey, Finn and Poe, along with old friends Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), who at least are given some wonderful moments here, out on mini, macguffin-filled quests in search of the hidden Sith base. This is all in preparation for the film’s grand finale, which is suitably action-packed.

It’s worth noting that Disney’s initial goal was to pump out a new Star Wars every year, alternating between proper saga films and offshoot stories like Solo and Rogue One, a plan that was always overly ambitious. They ended up saturating the market so much that these plans were abandoned, but the rushed production schedule is still felt in The Rise of Skywalker. The film often feels like a product that has been pushed out to meet a deadline, and at times gives the impression that the filmmakers are just making it up as they go along. Characters make crucial decisions at the drop of a hat, backed up by some blatantly expository lines of dialogue meant to explain away any plot holes.

At times it feels like The Rise of Skywalker is trying to course correct and reverse some of the decisions that Johnson made in The Last Jedi – a film that was overpraised by many critics but irrationally hated by a lot of fans, and is either the best or the worst movie in the series depending upon which side of Twitter you end up on – which feels a bit odd for what is supposed to be a direct follow up. For example, that film’s divisive new character Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) also appears here, yet she is relegated to a small supporting role and barely registers within the plot, which means that the large swaths of The Last Jedi that were spent introducing her character were all for naught.

This third instalment was initially meant to focus on General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), much in the same way that The Force Awakens focused on Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and The Last Jedi made Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) the centre of attention. But the unexpected death of Fisher in 2016, coupled with the angry fan response to The Last Jedi, led Disney to fire Colin Trevorrow, who had been brought on to direct this film, and rehire Abrams, who has taken it in a much safer direction. Leia’s story arc is completed through spare footage of Fisher that is woven into the film with the help of body doubles and visual effects, but there is a hollowness to this approach and her presence is greatly missed.

Throughout it all, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this is the conclusion to a story about characters who were never properly developed in the first place. Rey simply isn’t a very interesting character, and Finn and Poe remain severely underdeveloped. Kylo Ren has always been the most intriguing of these new characters, helped by the fact that Driver is such a compelling actor, and yet his story arc here feels both rushed and somewhat forced. Yes, we get answers to some of the lingering questions from the previous two films pertaining to Rey’s origins, as well as some intriguing moments hinting at Poe’s backstory, but it often feels like too little too late.

It’s Star Wars, so of course there are still fun and enjoyable sequences here. The set-pieces are decent, including some well staged chase scenes and visually pleasing lightsaber battles, and there are moments of fan service that are fairly satisfying. But for the conclusion to a saga that has been over forty years in the making, The Rise of Skywalker disappointingly ends things with more of a whimper than a bang.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opens tomorrow night in theatres across Canada.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 19, 2019 6:14 am

    no no. the saga ended at episode 6. disney did the stupid thing and retconned that.

    Like

  2. April 11, 2020 11:24 am

    This was a nice way of reviewing the film. Hard to not descend into movie-bashing with the disappointment involved with a film like this.

    Like

    • April 11, 2020 11:22 pm

      Thank you! When writing this, I tried to find the right balance between expressing my own disappointment and reviewing the film itself, so I’m glad it paid off.

      Liked by 1 person

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