MOVIE REVIEW — Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker
A Messy Finale 42 Years in the Making — ★★★☆☆
The Dead Speak! These are the first words seen in the title crawl of Star Wars Episode IX (other than the title, obviously) and that one sentence can be applied to the entirety of this Disney Era of Star Wars. A seemingly dead film franchise brought back from an early 2000’s extinction at the hands of series creator George Lucas with the prequel trilogy. Nothing’s ever really gone though, and so here we are. Five years removed from the arrival of J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens in 2014 and we now have a total of five new entries into the Star Wars franchise, as well as the arrival of new shows such as The Mandalorian on Disney+. Opinions vary on this new set of films from love, hate, and totally indifferent, but one thing is certain; everyone has an opinion. The difference between the Original and Prequel Trilogies and the Sequel Trilogy is their release date. The former were released in times when social media was either not in existence or not prominent at all, whereas with the newest movies, fans are able to share their thoughts, both negative and positive, in an instant. This lead to the infamous outspoken hatred for Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi from a vocal subset of fans and the rest is history. Star Wars fans have now all been labeled as trashy misogynistic man-children fighting with each other over their supposed ownership and love of the series. With the fanbase divided headed into the grand finale of the Skywalker Saga, what would J.J. Abrams do to try and bring things home? If you have seen it, you already know, so let’s just get right into it. Here are my thoughts after seeing Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker twice (once in digital and once in IMAX)!
The Rise of Skywalker picks up a few years (?) after The Last Jedi, with our band of resistance fighters scouring the galaxy for intelligence on the growing First Order. Meanwhile, Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid)has returned from the grave following his death in Return of the Jedi, as he calls out to the now Supreme Leader of the First Order, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). If this is starting to sound fanfiction-like, just wait, there’s more. Rey (Daisy Ridley) is now training under the Jedi training from General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) who we learn had a sizable amount of Jedi training from her brother Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Now at the helm of the Millenium Falcon, Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac) and Finn (John Boyega) join Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) in place of former captains Han Solo and Rey, as the opening of the film sees them on the search for a First Order Spy. From here on out, this review will be dealing in HEAVY SPOILERS, so if you have yet to see the film I suggest exiting and coming back to read after watching…
Right, so this movie… this fucking movie. Coming out of The Last Jedi I felt such a reinvigorated interest in Star Wars as Rian Johnson did something that others seemingly feared; he took a risk (actually, lots of risks). The man knew that the franchise needed to evolve after Abrams’ initial revival with The Force Awakens, which has already been criticized enough for just being a rehash of A New Hope (it really is), and decided to take the leap by doing just that with his entry into the Skywalker Saga. Some people obviously were not expecting that and much rather were expecting Episode VIII to at similarly as a sort-of reboot of The Empire Strikes Back. Rian Johnson knew that should not be the case. Anywho, this is not a review of The Last Jedi, but the question remains: how would Abrams handle the backlash that Johnson’s film got while also trying to continue the story AND having to wrap up a nine film story? By shooting the final installment with an injection of adrenaline, nostalgia, and retcons of course!
I’m going to try my best to prevent this from becoming rambly or a ranty, but something has to be said about the handling of the Sequel Trilogy from a creative standpoint no matter your opinions on the movies. Firstly, Kathleen Kennedy is a legend and gets more unwarranted hate from “fans” than she deserves… that being said, why the overall story arc for all three films was not laid out BEFORE The Force Awakens was made is something I have no idea about. I have no issue with different directors making these movies (see; the Original Trilogy) and frankly, it’s the same situation with writers (again, see; the Original Trilogy). The franchise has grown exponentially since the 1970’s and 1980’s with TV shows and other films being released, with continuity needing to be taken specific care of. If there is one main issue with The Rise of Skywalker, it is the continuity (or lack thereof) with The Last Jedi. This movie feels like such a loose sequel to Episode VIII, and more of like a continuation of Episode VII, which is a real shame. Plot points like Rey’s parentage are brought back into the focus after Johnson provided his answers in that Rey did NOT need to be anyone special, with Abrams offering a big sike to that aspect, opting to just go all out and make her Palpatine’s granddaughter. Similarly, a character like Rose, who was introduced in The Last Jedi, is given the cold shoulder both figuratively and literally in the film, just sitting on the sidelines after the infamous incident with actress Kelly Marie Tran being the victim of targeted harassment, bullying, and death threats following The Last Jedi. Nice to show solidarity in the Star Wars family!
If that wasn’t enough, the script is just one hell of a mess. It isn’t an abomination like The Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones, which both featured some of the most boring writing and worst dialogue of a major motion picture (arguably) to date. The Rise of Skywalker is at the very least, engaging and entertaining. That doesn’t change the fact that the movie is a mess, with the worst pacing of the Disney Era. Rarely does this film slow down for a moment of just talking or any true emotional beats. Genuinely, the only two I can think of are the scenes between Kylo and Ben and Rey and Luke, which just so happen to be two of the best scenes in the film (and actually are two of my favorite scenes in the entire franchise). For some reason, the choice was made to make this film a sprint for the entire two hour and twenty two minute runtime, which just left me feeling exhausted as the credits began to roll. I will say, I did enjoy the ride much more the second time as I knew what was coming and wasn’t totally taken out of the movie with the Rey Palpatine reveal.
So what are some positives about this movie? There has to be some after all since I did give it three stars… As mentioned above, the scene with Ben Solo and Han Solo sharing another moment together on the remains of the Death Star II is truly amazing, and one of the best the entire series has to offer. It acts as a reflection of Han’s death scene in The Force Awakens, and features both Harrison Ford and Adam Driver proving why they are the two best actors in Star Wars. Similarly, the scene between Rey and Luke (now a Force ghost) is also fantastic, outside of Luke’s “a Jedi’s weapon should never be handled so carelessly” line, which was clearly written to appease critics of Luke’s portrayal in The Last Jedi. Luke finally gets to lift the X-wing, as the music of Yoda and the Force from Empire Strikes Back swirls to an uproar in a truly iconic moment. John Williams’ final Star Wars score is just as good as ever, and he deservedly earns a cameo in the film as the bartender on Kijimi. C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) is probably my favorite part of the film. The character we all know and love finally finds his way back into the main cast after serving as a background character for several movies across both the Prequels and Sequels, and in doing so, has his best showing in ANY of the Star Wars films. Seriously, whoever made the call to give 3PO this treatment deserves a raise because nearly anytime he talked, he had me dying of laughter.
A List of Random Bits I Loved About the Film:
- Babu Frik is an icon, a king, and he needs to be protected at all costs
- Zori Bliss and Poe Dameron would be great candidates for a Disney+ show
- Finn being force sensitive is something I like, but wish they delved deeper into
- Ian McDiarmid is FUCKING terrifying as always as Palpatine here
- Billie Lourd being in these movies… though I wish they did more with her (see; Booksmart)
- The usage of Carrie Fisher is shockingly good for using unused footage from The Force Awakens
- Billy Dee Williams as Lando, just yes
- The voice cameos of fallen Jedi in the finale
- The fact that Porgs made it into this movie
- Exegol is a dope planet and the Sith palace has some awesome production design
- Kylo and Rey’s force facetime continuing to evolve from The Last Jedi was actually awesome and was the one thing Abrams and pals did a great job in building on from Rian Johnson’s film
- Ben Solo fighting SO differently than Kylo Ren
- The Lightsaber Duel on the Death Star II remains
Opinions will always vary on Star Wars, and I doubt the day ever comes where the fanbase unites and learns to let each other have their opinions, but what can you do? This series is deeply rooted in pop culture history, continues to rake in money, and still has a significant fanbase despite what some Episode VIII haters might try to tell you, so Star Wars isn’t going anywhere. If you enjoyed this movie, let others know! People shouldn’t be scared to share their opinions on something they love, whether they like or dislike an entry into the ongoing saga. Anyways, I’m just a guy who loves Star Wars, flaws and all, so listen to me or don’t, that choice is yours. If you are looking for some more Star Wars content, I should note that coming in January I will be doing an entire retrospective on the franchise as a whole, as well as A Look Ahead to “What Next?” for Star Wars! If that’s something you might be interested in, be sure to follow me here or over on Twitter (which you can find below). But to those still reading, May the Force be With You… Always.
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is playing in theaters worldwide now, so go check it out if you haven’t yet!
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If you are interested, I also got to see Portrait of a Lady on Fire at the Philadelphia Film Festival and wrote up an official review which you can check out here: