Film Review: Star Wars: Episode IX- The Rise of Skywalker
Star Wars: Episode IX- The Rise of Skywalker (TRoS for short) is the last in the newly minted Skywalker Saga that comprises Episodes I-IX. This movie has to do a lot. It has to provide a satisfying conclusion to the Saga, the current arc that is the last 3 movies, and please all the fans that have grown up watching Star Wars- and in particular this new iteration of Disney Star Wars. Oh, and it also followed up on Episode VIII- The Last Jedi (or TLJ for short), which is quite possibly the most divisive film in the series to date.
Unfortunately, TRoS does not thread the needle. I will preface this review by saying that I am one of those that liked this movie, but not so much Episode VIII. That being said, this is not a critique of VIII, but of IX, so let’s get on with it.
The plot is not one of TRoS’s strongest points. Following the near total destruction of the Resistance in TLJ, the group has built themselves up once more and is still in the process of fighting the First Order. The movie opens with Finn and Poe in the Millennium Falcon receiving a coded message from a mysterious First Order spy while Rey is in the process of finishing up her Jedi training under Master Leia (RIP Carrie Fisher). To the Resistance’s horror, Emperor Palpatine is back. He has amassed a huge fleet of starships with planet destroying weapons. Oh, and no one has any idea where he is. So it is up to the three protagonists to find and kill him, and defeat Kylo Ren to save the universe.
Cue screeching noise. This is the first of the many gaping plot holes that the movie has. It’s never explained why Palpatine is back- just as it is never explained why several of the MacGuffins work as they do, or some of the revelations that crop up throughout the film (like Rey’s parentage). The story’s a mess- but that’s what happens when you have to wrap up 3 movies worth of plot in one, while grappling with story beats from the last that don’t fit in, as well as unforeseen deaths of major players in the series.
This still doesn’t excuse the shoddily put together plot; clearly the movie was rushed and could used at least another year to cook in the oven before releasing. Of course with hindsight perhaps it was the savvier play to rush it to market given the current situation. But the end result sours the whole experience, and makes rewatching the film that much harder.
To remedy that though, TRoS combs through the length of the saga and throws references and nods to the series’ decades long run. No stone is left unturned; even something as minor as Luke’s callsign from the original trilogy is faithfully dug up and thrown at the viewer to elicit some tug at the old heartstrings. And you know what? It works. On me at least. But this is the sort of thing that only works once, and the sort of thing that feels unearned and forced, even if one gleefully relives childhood memories of first viewings and fondly reminisces at the recognition of familiar faces and voices.
The main trio of Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac at least show up for the finale and turn in performances that make the film worth watching. Poe in particular is not as insufferable as he in in TLJ, and Finn isn’t as dumb as a sack of rocks like he was in that film too. Rey as always is charming and expressive, although her interactions with Leia clearly feel as though they were written out of totally different scenes that were shot before Carrie Fisher’s untimely death.
John Williams again turns in a magnificent score, even if it does feel the slightest bit derivative. In particular, the scene where the main theme blares out over a giant fleet of resistance ships entering a major battle is enough to make any fan’s hairs stand up on the back of their necks.
In the end, the Rise of Skywalker is ultimately a middling conclusion instead of a triumphant ending to one of the most storied sagas in movie history. While entertaining, one just can’t help but come out of the theater wondering what could have been given more time and better direction. It’s no Revenge of the Sith- the sequel trilogy still soars above any film of the prequel trilogy, but at least Lucas tried something new. Here, the mouse tried to play it safe- but maybe a little more trust in the Force could be used.
CAN’T STOP WON’T STOP JPHIP