Review: 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker' is Strong with the Force
by Adam Frazier
December 19, 2019
Co-written and directed by filmmaker J.J. Abrams (Mission: Impossible III, Star Trek, Super 8), Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the third entry in this current Star Wars trilogy featuring Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo Ren. It ends the trilogy also featuring Abrams' Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) and Rian Johnson's Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017). The film is the final episode of the nine-part Skywalker Saga, which began in 1977 with George Lucas' iconic Star Wars, later subtitled Episode IV – A New Hope. Over 40 years later, the sprawling space saga of rebellion and romance comes to a satisfying end with a movie that is both visually stunning and emotionally resonant.
Picking up a year after the events of The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker begins with Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) in search of an ancient wayfinding device. The relic points to coordinates within the Unknown Regions, where Kylo believes the source of the Dark Side's power resides. Meanwhile, Resistance General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) dispatches the reliable Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac), and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) to gather intelligence vital to defeating the diabolical First Order. Both sides come to the same implausible conclusion: the sinister Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), thought dead after the destruction of the second Death Star, is alive and has been manipulating events from afar to regain power. Now the Resistance and Rey (Daisy Ridley), the last hope of the Jedi, must find a way to the Unknown Regions and stop the resurrected Sith Lord before he can enact his revenge on the galaxy.
The Rise of Skywalker is asked to do the impossible — to serve as the cogent and cohesive final chapter to a trilogy while acting as the definitive end to a larger saga. The movie must be thrilling and action-packed; filled with jaw-dropping revelations to lingering mysteries; subvert expectations with bold storytelling choices while delivering the right amount of fan service. It must satisfy diehard devotees — those who enthusiastically consume the comics, novels, animated (and now live-action) series, and video games — and general audiences who casually enjoy the movies. It must reward a diverse, multi-generational fanbase for its time and money spent by offering a conclusion that solidifies the iconic franchise's status as the great myth of our time. In short, it must be everything to everyone. Does The Rise of Skywalker live up to those insurmountable expectations? Of course not. No movie could, regardless of the filmmaker at the helm or the studio behind it. That being said, Abrams' movie is everything I needed it to be, and then some.
The pursuit of the film's MacGuffin leads our characters to several new planets, each with their own unique visual style. Production designers Rick Carter and Kevin Jenkins have outdone themselves with locales like Pasaana, a desert world home to a massive festival where thousands of aliens in colorful garb dance and celebrate; the frigid, mountainous planet Kijimi, where our heroes meet the diminutive droidsmith Babu Frik (voiced by Shirley Henderson) and spice runner Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell); and Exegol, the harsh and unforgiving world that hosts Palpatine and his Sith fleet. While the screenplay by Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio does most of the heavy lifting, much of the film's storytelling is achieved purely with visuals conjured by Carter and Jenkins, costume designer Michael Kaplan, cinematographer Dan Mindel, and the incredible work of special effects and make-up artist Neal Scanlan and Industrial Light & Magic.
When it comes to performances, The Rise of Skywalker is Ridley and Driver's film, and rightfully so. The connection between Rey and Kylo Ren is central to the film's story and builds upon the dynamic established in The Last Jedi in surprising ways. By jumping forward an entire year, we're able to see the comradery (and chemistry) between Ridley, Boyega, and Isaac's characters after having the trio separated for most of this trilogy. Supporting turns by Star Wars veterans Ian McDiarmid, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, and Billy Dee Williams (returning as suave scoundrel Lando Calrissian) are strong, while other members of the massive cast – Russell, Kelly Marie Tran, and Naomi Ackie – are underutilized, as are the much-hyped Knights of Ren. Using archival footage from The Force Awakens, Abrams manages to integrate Carrie Fisher's General Organa into the story in a meaningful way, adding yet another emotional layer to the saga's poignant final chapter.
Despite my satisfaction, the film isn't without its flaws. Abrams adheres to creator George Lucas' philosophy of "Faster. More intense," resulting in a streamlined yet intricate story that moves at breakneck speed. You get the feeling that nearly every scene has been truncated to get to the point faster. The 142-minute movie would actually benefit from a longer running time and a pace that provides some much-needed breathing room between its dizzying, galaxy-spanning set pieces. I'm perfectly happy with what's presented on-screen, but I can't help but wonder what was left on the cutting room floor and how those bits and pieces might have further fleshed out and informed the narrative, its characters, and the environments they inhabit.
Speaking as one of those aforementioned die-hard devotees who is fully immersed and invested in the larger Star Wars universe, I am thoroughly pleased with and extremely grateful for The Rise of Skywalker. It's a fun, exciting, and cathartic conclusion to the Skywalker Saga that I can't wait to revisit and further examine all that it offers. I love this movie – I love how it expands and unifies the series – and I'm looking forward to whatever comes next, whether it's on the big screen or Disney+. This may very well be the final word in the story of Skywalker, but it isn't the end of Star Wars. The Force will be with us. Always.
Adam's Rating: 4 out of 5
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