Daisy Ridley as Rey
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Some time after the events of “The Last Jedi”, Rey continues her Jedi training under the guidance of Leia. As her skills grow, she still finds herself haunted by her past as well as her Force connections to Kylo Ren. This distracts her from the Resistance’s mission to rebuild their numbers, a fact that weighs on Poe and Finn as they struggle under the relentless pursuit of the First Order.
Matters are made worse when Kylo Ren discovers a dark secret: Emperor Palpatine did not die without having a backup plan in place. The Sith Lord appears to be alive and has amassed a hidden fleet in the Unknown Regions of the galaxy. But one thing stands in the way of Palpatine’s return to power – Rey. The Emperor sends Kylo Ren and the Knights of Ren on a mission to retrieve Rey.
As the Resistance becomes aware of Palpatine’s return, Rey realizes that Luke had been looking for Palpatine’s hiding place before his exile. With some vague clues in hand, Rey goes on a quest to find the hidden Sith planet with the help of Finn, Poe, Chewie, C-3PO, and BB-8. But in order to save the future of her newfound family, Rey must confront her past once and for all.
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action.
The grand finale of the Skywalker Saga has arrived! Was it worth the 42 year wait? Well, yes and no. Let’s focus on the positives first.
At the top of the list, Daisy Ridley does a fantastic job putting the final touches on Rey. She’s truly the heart and soul of the sequel trilogy and a fantastic heroine. Ridley always played her part much like Mark Hamill in the original trilogy in that she performs with a sincerity that helps sell even the most ridiculous situations. She’s an unexpected Disney Princess, but a fantastic one.
Equally impressive is Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. He’s always been one of my favorite parts of the sequel trilogy and he continues to bring his energy and intensity in “The Rise of Skywalker”. Driver has one of the most difficult challenges of any actor in this film and he delivers in a satisfying way. The twists and turns of his character are believable and he manages to deliver on the seeds planted in “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi”.
Among the sequel trilogy cast, Oscar Isaac continues to be a favorite as Poe Dameron. He gets some of the best lines in the film and offers a lot of the memorable laughs in the story. Another favorite of mine is Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux. He was always an over-the-top villain and that is continued here with some surprising results. I also fell in love with Keri Russell as Zorii Bliss. She’s tough, funny, and you want to see more of her though she has limited time on the screen. Russell has wonderful chemistry with Oscar Isaac and I would have liked to see an entire movie with just the two of them. I was also surprised by a couple of the other new characters. I actually liked the diminutive Babu Frik and the new droid D-O (voiced by J.J. Abrams). I had zero interest in them going into this film but came away impressed with them.
“The Rise of Skywalker” is packed with cast from the original trilogy. In a surprise move, Anthony Daniels is given substantially more to do as C-3PO in this outing. He probably has the most screentime he’s had since “Return of the Jedi” and he delivers some of the best comic relief in the film. Carrie Fisher also posthumously returns as General Leia. The times she appears on screen are a little awkward as you can tell the actors are talking to clips of recycled footage, but the payoff with her character ultimately makes it worth it and you can’t imagine the story without her. There are a number of other surprise appearances by familiar characters, but I will not spoil them here.
But the biggest returning character is Ian McDiarmid as Emperor Palpatine. His performance here is wonderful. He’s creepy, scary, and he shows exactly why the Dark Side is terrifying. Meeting him is like descending into Hell and meeting the Devil himself. In “Revenge of the Sith” he has the line, “The dark side of the force is a pathway to many abilities, some considered to be unnatural”. In this movie we see exactly why. You may have seen warnings by Disney that some scenes with flashing light could trigger an epileptic seizure. That scene happens when Palpatine first appears on the screen. I find it darkly amusing that the Emperor is so evil that his influence can actually reach out of the screen in the real world and possibly hurt people. I have a feeling that Palpatine in “The Rise of Skywalker” is going to give some young children nightmares.
“The Rise of Skywalker” has a number of twists and major revelations that I won’t reveal here, but they do manage to elicit gasps from audiences. As they’re revealed, you’ll want to revisit the previous movies again with a new perspective. I’m looking forward to the inevitable books and comics that will explore these revelations deeper. The film also has a number of subtle and not-so-subtle references to lines and events from the previous films. Keep an eye out for them because some go by fast.
What Didn’t Work:
OK, let’s discuss the negatives. Here goes…
First off, the first third of the movie is extremely busy. The audience is dumped in the middle of the story with little fanfare and then blitzed with a lot of information at a breakneck pace. Things don’t let up as our heroes then go on a chase for multiple Maguffins so fast that it would make Indiana Jones’ head spin. This chase for multiple elements of a map seems very reminiscent of “The Force Awakens”. It also seems like an unnecessary side quest that simply distracts from the core story.
Second, the film is full of lost opportunities. For example, the Knights of Ren were played up as a major Dark Side threat and promised to be a big deal. By the end they have little to no impact on the story. They’re kind of the Boba Fett of “The Rise of Skywalker” – a cool idea that ultimately goes nowhere. The movie also plays up multiple romances for Finn. Hints are made at a romance with Rey, Rose, or Naomi Ackie as Jannah. By the end the setup feels like yet another lost opportunity with no resolution. And as much as I liked the back and forth between Poe and Zorii, it never has the satisfying payoff that you would hope for. It’s too bad that Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, and John Boyega all said they don’t want to do a Disney+ TV series in interviews because there’s plenty left they could have covered. There are other even bigger lost opportunities with Kylo Ren and Rey, but I can’t discuss those without getting into more spoilers.
As much as I loved the return of Palpatine, it feels completely unearned. There’s no buildup to his appearance. There’s nothing in “The Last Jedi” that foreshadowed this was coming. Literally from the opening crawl it’s like, “He’s back!” They don’t even bother building up to a big reveal of him: he’s in the opening scene. A slow build to him would have felt better rather than the tedious quest for map components.
“The Rise of Skywalker” builds up to a massive final battle, as one does in Star Wars. Unfortunately I found it to be one of the least interesting battles in the whole Skywalker Saga. There’s no, “Wow, that’s cool!” moment. And it attempts to build up to such a moment, yet “Avengers: Endgame” not only stole its thunder, it did it with more emotion, more jaw-dropping action, and more heart than Episode IX. It’s shocking both films came from the same company because you would think Disney could have seen the similarities and done something about it.
That feeling of being underwhelmed actually goes across the board. The lightsaber battles are less impressive than the one in “The Last Jedi”. The ships and aliens don’t come close to the creativity of those in the Classic Trilogy. The battles have no jaw-dropping moments like the ones seen in “Rogue One”. The music by John Williams (who I worship) has no memorable theme like in “The Force Awakens”. And ultimately the story resembles “Return of the Jedi” in many ways yet never as successfully. I feel like for all the heat people give “The Last Jedi”, “The Rise of Skywalker” makes me appreciate it even more for doing something completely different.
One last nitpick – this film continues to throw the rules of lightspeed out the airlock. Han’s speech in “A New Hope” about how “traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops” showed it was a complex calculation. Yet one of the opening scenes of “The Rise of Skywalker” makes it trivial. I imagine some fans will join me in nitpicking it.
The Bottom Line:
Is “The Rise of Skywalker” worth checking out in theaters? Absolutely. But I admit that my high expectations were not met. It may actually take multiple viewings to zero in on your feelings about it. That being said, it’s still better than the prequels.
While I’m always grateful to see Star Wars on the big screen and this was a fun enough adventure, I did not feel it was a worthy conclusion to the nine film Skywalker Saga. I think “The Manadalorian” proves that it’s time to say goodbye to the Skywalker soap opera and start exploring other parts of the galaxy. I’m interested to see where Disney takes it from here.
If you were to ask me what my current ranking of the Star Wars films was, this is what I’d tell you today:
#1 – The Empire Strikes Back
Opening Friday, December 20, 2019