Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), Rey (Daisy Ridley) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) in STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER.
Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), Rey (Daisy Ridley) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) in STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) Review

The last film in the Skywalker Saga is only half of a good film. Forced into the unenviable position of having to pick up the pieces of The Last Jedi and somehow salvage the story, The Rise of Skywalker spends the first half of the film trying to convince the audience that the plot they’re about to watch makes sense and is continuous with what they’ve seen before in the previous films. It’s a monumental task that only works with the good will of the audience. Fortunately, the last half of the film is standard Star Wars fare, and most audiences will leave the theater having had a good time. Regrettably, that’s a very low bar for a franchise with such a storied pedigree.

Plot Summary

In The Rise of Skywalker, a mysterious transmission of Emperor Palpatine has been broadcast to the galaxy. The revelation that Palpatine could be alive sets everyone on edge, especially Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who feels his power threatened by the reemergence of this old power. Using the guidance of a rare artifact called the Wayfinder, Kylo seeks out the source of the transmission and discovers that Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) truly is alive, and he’s amassed a new fleet of super star destroyers. Palpatine is willing to let Kylo take his place as the ruler of the galaxy using this new fleet, but first Palpatine wants Kylo to destroy Rey (Daisy Ridley). Apparently, she doesn’t come from as humble of beginnings as she once thought.

Meanwhile, the Resistance has grown their force, and they’re working with a spy within the First Order who alerts them to Palpatine’s growing threat. It’s up to Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), and Rey to seek out a second Wayfinder, putting them on a collision course with Kylo Ren and, ultimately, Emperor Palpatine.

Rey (Daisy Ridley) in STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER.
Rey (Daisy Ridley) in STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER.

Considerations

It can’t be stressed enough how much The Last Jedi appears to have thrown off the narrative of the trilogy. Like with any story structure, the three films should have worked in concert, building arcs, and developing momentum to culminate finally into a dramatic crescendo. But with Rey’s mysterious history discarded as nothing, Snoke being killed ignominiously in what seemed like a comedy bit, and the rest of cast going off on inconsequential side missions, the trilogy’s story was effectively derailed. As such, The Rise of Skywalker had its work cut out for itself.

This film had to establish a new ultimate bad guy, redevelop Rey as a person of real consequence, and rebalance the other characters, while giving everyone something meaningful to do. As such, the first half of the film moves very quickly, and audiences don’t have much time to process all of the information as thoroughly as a viewer may like. In that sense, there is a feeling of fast-talking chicanery that the filmmakers are using to distract their marks, which is us. On the other hand, audiences will probably just be grateful for the efforts to bring the story back in line with something viewers expect. So, when there’s a passing shot of Snokes in a jar at Palpatine’s lair, moviegoers will probably acknowledge the filmmakers winking at them, letting the audiences know that the filmmakers are going to fix things. In turn, audiences will suppress the many questions that arise from these fixes.

Despite all of the new content, the film could have used another 30 minutes to help develop the story band-aids, let scenes breathe, and allow actors to emote properly. For instance, what was the transmission about that was mentioned in the prologue? It would have been nice to see the Resistance intercept that broadcast, hear Palpatine but not recognize him, and cut to Leia (Carrie Fisher) who looks back grimly. Instead, audiences just have to imagine how that revelation affected everyone. In another example, a major character accidentally kills another major character, but the plot is moving so quickly that there’s no time for any real emotional reaction. There’s no inconsolable crying or recriminations – just two lines of dialog devoted to this major death.

The last half of the film is much better, thankfully. At some point, audiences will feel a shift when the movie stops story-building and viewers realize that they’re not going to be given new information that they have to remember just in case it’s important later. In effect, moviegoers just get to enjoy the movie. The protagonists are more or less together and have a shared goal. The antagonist is more active as his plan comes to fruition. It’s at this point that The Rise of Skywalker turns into a prototypical sci-fi action movie set in the Star Wars universe, and the last half of the film will fly by.

Daisy Ridley is Rey in STAR WARS:  THE RISE OF SKYWALKER
Daisy Ridley is Rey in STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

Final Thoughts

Beyond the winks from the filmmakers fixing the trilogy, there are also blatant jabs at The Last Jedi. For example, Kylo has his helmet re-forged after having destroyed it in the last film. There was no reason to have it re-forged except as a rebuke of the previous episode. Later, there’s some conversation about respecting lightsabers which is another bit of commentary on a controversial moment in The Last Jedi. But, while these moments are appreciated, they are cold comfort in the face of a disjointed – if not outright broken – trilogy.

For my part, my favorite moment in the film was something I had expected to happen in the previous episode when the camera passed over Luke Skywalker’s X-wing submerged next to his island. Instead, I got that moment here, with a new pilot wearing Luke’s old gear. It was the proper passing of the torch to a new generation that I had hoped this trilogy would deliver. To see it here reminded me of why I had been a fan since the first trilogy and why so many people carried that fandom through the years and kept it alive over decades when it wasn’t cool to like these things. It’s just disappointing that this trilogy waited until now – five minutes too late – to capture that essence.

Also Consider
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Underwater (2020) Review