Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker Review

Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker
Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) lives, and has sent a message to the galaxy threatening revenge with a huge fleet of planet-killing ships. The Resistance, and Rey (Daisy Ridley), must find the clues that will lead to his location and allow them to defeat him once again, despite the fury of Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

by Helen O'Hara |
Published on
Release Date:

19 Dec 2019

Original Title:

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise Of Skywalker

For the third time in many adults' lifetimes, a conclusion of the Skywalker saga. Once again, a trilogy has built to this finale; once again, the fate of the galaxy hangs in the balance. This one features no Sarlaac pit, nor is it as much of a step up from its predecessor as Revenge Of The Sith. But it does feel like a conclusion to the story that director JJ Abrams began in The Force Awakens, for better and sometimes for worse.

Although The Last Jedi split fan opinion, it unquestionably caused the biggest shake up in Star Wars lore since that revelation in The Empire Strikes Back. That opened up the story’s universe to exciting new possibilities: to characters beyond the small Skywalker group and to injustices and shortcomings in the Resistance as well as the Empire. Yet Abrams almost entirely ignores the doors it opened and goes back to his first instinct, sticking close to elements established in The Force Awakens. So abandoned ideas like the Knights of Ren are back, and the conversation about Rey's parentage that Johnson seemed to lay to rest is reborn like the Emperor. Perhaps it should feel like a relief after Last Jedi’s shocks, but instead the effect is to make this story feel like a step backwards at times rather than a great leap forward, and to make the whole trilogy feel disjointed instead of just one film in it.

Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker

Still, some elements are wonderful. Daisy Ridley's Rey is training now under Leia (Carrie Fisher) and has become more confident in her power, if not in her capacity to resist the Dark Side. She is still linked, bound even, to Adam Driver's Kylo Ren, and their clashes gives the film most of its best emotional scenes. Their strange connection has outlasted Snoke and grown stronger; they can duel no matter where they are in the galaxy, and taunt each other with visions of the future that support their own beliefs. And Ridley’s terrific, tormented by the idea that it is her destiny to go to the Dark Side and afraid of her own power.

She and Kylo are therefore strangely well matched. Rey is passionately invested in her friendships and her cause; he is passionately cynical and suspicious of everyone. Rey is convinced by Finn that she doesn’t have to do everything alone here; Kylo still has terrible impulse control and flits off after her instead of Supreme Lead-ing the First Order whenever possible. But don’t worry, he leaves Domnhall Gleeson's Hux and Richard E. Grant's Allegiant General Pryde in charge, both sneering competitively and delightfully at, well, the entire universe but neither seeming entirely reliable.

The story more or less ends up in the right place, despite the threads left hanging.

Meanwhile Finn (John Boyega) now travels with Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Chewie (Jonas Suotamo) harvesting information from spies for Leia. Poe – in full Indiana Jones mode – is loads of fun here, though these capers bear little relation to his learning curve last time. Boyega is strangely underserved: he gets more screentime than before but less forward motion. While Finn’s bond with Rey is repeatedly said to be important to both, they get no room to actually develop it. He's too busy being introduced to new rebel Jannah (Naomi Ackie), a charismatic actress without much to do. It might have been more economical storytelling to just let Finn shack up with Poe – or to give Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) more than a few lines. Keri Russell's Zorii Bliss is another interesting figure who’s ultimately mostly there to flirt with Poe. Does he really need another love interest when he can generate heat with literally anyone? Alongside other newcomers like Babu Frik (Shirley Henderson) and droid D-0, and the glorious return of Lando (Billy Dee Williams) and others, there’s a whole lot of distraction on our heroes’ journey. Sometimes it’s fan service, but too often it feels more like pandering.

That journey, too, is more complicated than normal. To defeat the Emperor, our heroes face a quest straight from high fantasy or average gaming: find the thing that points to the other thing to do the next thing, with a couple of bonus rescues along the way. The trail leads to the storm-battered remnants of the second Death Star, the "Forbidden Desert of Pasaana" and the snow-flecked world of Kijimi. The level of craft and design in these films remains extraordinary; visually they’re all gorgeous, particularly the towering waves of that world in the Endor system.

As they search, destiny keeps calling. Rey and Kylo must face one another again; the Emperor must be defeated without the victor simply taking his place on the Sith Throne. And Emperor Palpatine is back, terribly changed but still potent, more machine now than man. Whether that is a good thing for Star Wars storytelling is less clear.

That’s because, for all the visual panache, pleasing cameos and interesting newcomers here, for all that Ridley and Driver pour into their stand-offs, the Emperor's presence shows a disturbing lack of faith at the heart of Rise Of Skywalker. The fan backlash last time has been taken on-board too well; the storytelling here sputters whenever it approaches any similar chance to turn away from narrative convention and do something truly unexpected. You wish that this galaxy didn't feel so small and scared of stepping away from George Lucas' shadow.

Maybe it won’t matter to fans. There are effective emotional punches before the end, as we say a final goodbye to Carrie Fisher and her generation of stars and as Kylo and Rey face their demons. Arguably the story more or less ends up in the right place, despite the threads left hanging. When it focuses on Rey and Kylo, this film usually works. Whatever the Dark Side says, we can make our own destiny, and we change the universe when we do.

It looks gorgeous and offers strong performances from Driver and Ridley in particular, but ultimately the saga ends with neither a bang nor a whimper but something inbetween.
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