Director: J.J. Abrams
Writer: J.J. Abrams, Chris Terrio (story and script), Derek Connolly (story), George Lucas (characters)
Cast: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Ian McDiarmid, Richard E. Grant, Domhnall Gleeson, Billy Dee Williams, Kelly Marie Tran, Keri Russell
Producers: J.J. Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, Michelle Rejwan
Music: John Williams
Cinematography: Dan Mindel
Editor: Maryann Brandon, Stefan Grube
Running time: 141mins
What’s the story: When Emperor Palpatine (McDiarmid) returns, the Resistance must find his base before he brings destruction to the galaxy. First Order Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Driver) hunts both the Emperor and fledgling Jedi Rey (Ridley).
What’s the verdict: So the Star Wars saga reaches its end. Again. And true to form, this trilogy matches its predecessors in climaxing with the weakest instalment. That’s right, Revenge of the Sith is worse than The Phantom Menace, for reasons too numerous to delve into here.
But, thank the maker (J.J. Abrams, back to finish what he started in The Force Awakens) that The Rise of Skywalker is galaxies away from being prequel-level bad. The chief grumble with Episode IX is that Abrams and co-writer Chris (Justice League) Terrio play the whole thing so safe after Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi dared to stray from franchise formula. Johnson promised star fields new, Abrams moves the saga back to recognisable ground.
Maybe Abrams and Terrio were under orders to deliver a Return of the Jedi clone when fandom truly went to the Dark Side in its reaction to Johnson’s middle instalment. Or Abrams and Terrio thought a hyperspace jump to nostalgia actually was the best route to take. Whatever the reason, you’ll have a familiar feeling about this…
Again the Rebels, sorry, Resistance, must battle against the odds to defeat the Emperor (the trailers weren’t smoke screening, he’s back and again played by Ian McDiarmid). Again a fledgling Jedi must face the ultimate evil in the galaxy while an old foe wrestles with inner turmoil. Again, a big revelation drops and feels like it was not part of the original plan. Again, something small must be blown up to blow up the big thing before said big thing blows up everyone.
If you didn’t care for The Force Awakens, chances are you’ll be watch-tapping through this one.
And yet… and yet… The Rise of Skywalker is hugely entertaining. A breathless adventure movie delivering action and excitement, its operatic sweep compensates for story shortcomings.
An incident heavy plot sees Rey, Poe (Isaac) and Finn (Boyega) planet hopping for clues of the whereabouts of the Emperor’s hidden fortress. Kylo Ren, Supreme Leader of the First Order, is also hunting for the Emperor, while continuing his attempts to court Rey to the Dark Side. In the Resistance’s secluded base, General Leia (Fisher) prepares for the final battle.
Crucially, Abrams knows what makes Star Wars magical: its characters and its derring-do. Plus, a magnificent John Williams score, present here.
Ridley emerges as the film’s MVP, giving her best performance of the trilogy, which is fortunate as she is the film’s emotional core. Isaac and Boyega keep the plot mechanics moving, much as Ford and Fisher did in ROTJ, and Joonas Suotamo again does Peter Mayhew proud as Chewbacca.
Billy Dee Williams’ much publicised return as Lando is more a cameo, but we’re not arguing with seeing him in the Falcon’s cockpit one last time. Same for Anthony Daniels, back again as C-3PO and given a good comedic subplot.
Driver, who with this, Marriage Story and The Report has had a fine year, again impresses as Kylo Ren. Although, after The Last Jedi, playing second fiddle to a bigger bad doesn’t stretch his acting chops as much as we’d like. Domhnall Gleeson is good comic foil as General Hux, but Richard E. Grant is the best baddy in uniform as series newbie General Pryde. And starting 2019 with Can You Ever Forgive Me and ending it with this is not a bad year for Grant either.
Disappointingly, newcomer Keri Russell and The Last Jedi’s Kelly Marie Tran (who endured odious fan backlash) aren’t afforded more to do, victims of a film that must set up fresh plot points while concluding a 42-year-old space soap opera. Including looping in plot threads begun in the divisive The Last Jedi (the best of this new trilogy in our estimations).
More successful is how the filmmakers handle Leia’s character following Carrie Fisher’s tragic death in 2016. No spoilers, but Fisher’s legacy is treated with respect and care.
Then there is the adrenalin rush storytelling. In Abrams we are as close to seeing what Spielberg would have done with pal Lucas’ galaxy far, far away. The pace is kinetic, the blend of comedy, suspense and thrills irresistible.
The Last Jedi’s Force projection (that psychic Whatsapp’ing Rey and Kylo do) is revisited and expanded upon here, culminating in one of this trilogy’s best moments.
A desert chase is Star Wars fused with Mad Max: Fury Road (including a spin on the pole cats), a rescue mission aboard Ren’s command ship is old school franchise escapades and the climax, while familiar, fizzes with spine-tingling moments.
The best action sequence is an act two showdown amidst roiling seas in the wreckage of ROTJ’s downed Death Star. A balancing act of pathos and fireworks, it is a reminder of why George Lucas’ creation endures.
The Rise of Skywalker could all be dismissed as fan-pandering (and true to form, the internet has already started doing so) but in fitting Star Wars tradition, the good outshines the bad.
The Force is strong enough with this one.