Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker Movie Review

Rise or Fall, it all ends here. Thank God.

by Casimir Harlow

Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker Review

42 years on from A New Hope, do J.J. Abrams' hopes to conclude Disney's trilogy in George Lucas' universe and round out an up-and-down 9-film series satisfy at least a percentage of its demanding fanbase?

Few franchises come under as critical a gaze as the decades-spanning Star Wars series with it feeling like, at times, you can't possibly hope to please not only everyone, but even a majority. The vocal nature of social media and predisposition to shout louder about flaws than you would about more complimentary remarks - coupled with a far from steady hand guiding this last trilogy - have left the task of satisfactorily concluding not just this three-episode arc, but the grander 'Skywalker' saga it has chosen to become so entrenched by, nigh on impossible.

Coming to the rescue, after the somewhat admirable but mostly misguided attempts at doing something different last time around, is Force Awakens helmer and favoured franchise rebooter, J.J. Abrams. He's a relatively young director, whose Mission: Impossible III debut was much of a continuation on the style and formula he established after five seasons of Jennifer Garner's Alias, one which perhaps hammered home the point that he was a man far more adept at cold starts and cliffhanger conclusions, than truly satisfying endings.

This was further, worryingly, shown in his tackling of the Star Trek 'reboot' saga - which was something of a forebear to Force Awakens in its style of a soft reboot that plays around within the same sandpit as its classic predecessors - when he followed up a strong franchise opener by just retreading old material to debatably disastrous effect (Spock's yelling of 'Khan' being up there with Vader's yelling of 'Nooo'). But with all eyes on him, and a lot riding on this outing (after Solo killed the 'solo' movies, poor reception here could do the same to any future plans, at least for the near future) can Abrams pull off a somewhat unprecedented miracle?

 With all eyes on him, and a lot riding on this outing can Abrams pull off a somewhat unprecedented miracle?

It's been a year since the Resistance escaped the First Order's attack; since the Vice-Admiral light-sped her ship into Snoke's flagship; since Rey and Kylo Ren - the son of Leia and Han, the latter of whom he killed - temporarily joined forces to kill Snoke, the ostensible 'supreme leader' of the First Order; since Luke made one last dying effort to stop the First Order by using a stunning force projection that took every ounce of his powers to buy the Resistance enough time to escape; and since Leia told Rey, now a powerful force user prepared to finally accept her path, that it is time for the Resistance to 'rise'.

Some time later, Rey is now heavily into her training, with the Resistance busy regrouping, as a new old threat rises to replace Snoke - attempting to put the First Order back on track, dispatching Kylo and his Knights to take care of Rey once and for all. Familiar faces appear on both sides as the light and dark side come crashing together in one final battle to end all battles.

Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker

Well, it's over. And credit to Abrams, he manages to both deal with the problems caused by not being in control of the middle chapter (sometimes quite severely, middle-fingering Johnson's treatment of lightsabers in particular, amidst a whole bunch of other ret-cons) and serve up a fitting enough finale for what is, at best, a messy new trilogy, whilst also attempting - perhaps less successfully - to deliver a franchise-ender to four decades of world building and storytelling across nine movies (and a few spin-offs).

It's an impossible task. It really is. And the opening scroll alone should have made for its own movie, re-introducing a character with zero fanfare, and making you wonder whether you'd missed a film somewhere along the way. Likewise, Abrams edits the film to within an inch of its life, affording very little elegance (there are almost none of those stunning shots that Johnson had time to conjure up) on his single-minded mission to tie everything together and get to the end. Indeed, it's interesting being a Star Wars fan - and apologist over the decades - and finding that this is very much a relief, rather than a moment of sadness. This isn't the Endgame of the franchise (even though it ill-advisedly apes it frequently, which rather dramatically shows just how much impact the equivalent moment had after a proper build-up, as opposed to the paltry equivalent here). It doesn't make you wonder where they will go from here, and whether there's some hope to see more from this universe. It frequently makes you glad that this is it.

  There's simply no substitute for knowing where you're going right from the outset in a trilogy

Clearly, there are some spectacular moments - Abrams uses all of his Jedi forces and mind-tricks to revert the damage done last time around, turning his magic on Rey's parentage, Kylo's story arc, Leia's sacrifice(s), and even attempting to use franchise fan favourite characters more wisely this time out of the gate. He hits the mark when it comes to the Rey-Ren relationship, which was arguably also the best part of Last Jedi, capitalising on their force connection and driving them together in some fabulous and perhaps even inspired moments of force power usage (one which the franchise has been begging for, but which was only really delivered in the same comics from which the cloning themes likely came).

Indeed, Daisy Ridley and, arguably even more prominently, Adam Driver (recently outstanding in Marriage Story) are the only ones who you really vaguely care about (unlike, say, Rogue One), affording the familiar plotting of previous franchise trilogies (a nice touch) some weight, and delivering the key beats that this final effort really needed.

Beyond that, though, and it's madness as usual, with Abrams going distinctly Besson/Valerian when it comes to his scenery-hopping early act nonsense, throwing space horses in literally just because, unnecessarily introducing, not only a new overlord, but also a new weapon which - just like the old Death Star(s) - has its usual easy-to-hit fatal flaw. The Nazi-like Order go from First to Last incomprehensibly, the Resistance multiplies like bunnies equally incomprehensibly, a few more of Poe's jokes hit home, Finn continues to amble around with little purpose (considering how he landed in this series), and C3-PO gives the film a head-smackingly unnecessary diversion which, you would have thought after Johnson's casino planet trip, Abrams would know well to steer clear of.

The simple plotting beneath of light and dark coming full circle, and forces from both raging up for a final battle, should have been kept at the fore because that was when this series was at its best, and it's when the film is at its best, with Disney and Abrams throwing the kitchen sink at an attempt at an epic, impactful conclusion (Endgame, Winter Soldier, bloody Independence Day and all of the Star Wars films themselves of course - it's all in there) but often only highlighting the fact that its largely unearned this time out of the gate. There's simply no substitute for knowing where you're going right from the outset in a trilogy, and The Rise of Skywalker is, in no way, where Force Awakens was headed - even before it took a Last Jedi diversion. Still, it's an ending, which is a massive accomplishment, and it delivers just enough to those who have endured the good and bad and are back here on sheer goodwill.


Scores

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