May 4, 2020

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” Review: An Exciting, Yet Nonsensical, Saga Conclusion

When the first reviews for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker arrived, I was confused, but unsurprised, to find that they were largely negative. Allow me to explain.

The previous film in the franchise, The Last Jedi, was received very well by critics but utterly panned by the average audience. The Rise of Skywalker is the opposite — so far largely beloved by audiences, but disliked by critics. That’s where the confusion came from.

I wasn’t surprised because it seemed inevitable — the controversies that emerged from The Last Jedi almost guaranteed that The Rise of Skywalker would be doomed to be scrutinized far more than the previous installments of the saga had been. I decided to keep my expectations low and maintain a sense of objectivity, and just as I’d hoped, I was pleasantly surprised.

Dubbed as the final film in the ‘Skywalker Saga’ (spanning from 1977’s A New Hope to 2019’s Skywalker), the story features the return of major players such as Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac), as well as fan favorites including C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo).

At least Ian McDiarmid gave it his all.
One year after Luke Skywalker’s death in The Last Jedi, Rey is being trained as a Jedi by Luke’s sister Leia (still played by the late Carrie Fisher through the use of archival footage and body doubles). However, when Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), a major villain from the original films, returns to unleash a massive fleet of destructive starships, Rey, Finn and Poe embark on a journey that brings them all around the galaxy in an attempt to stop the Emperor from unleashing a force with the ability to destroy entire planets (sound familiar?).

One of the film’s strongest elements is that it feels very much like the original series (1977-1983) in terms of tone, pacing and structure. It’s fitting, seeing as The Rise of Skywalker is the conclusion of the story started over forty years ago, and it plays upon the viewer’s expectations (or lack thereof) with layers of surprises, cameos, and fan-pleasing moments alike. The mix of action and character development is a good balance, and there were moments when I teared up. When this film brings the emotion, it brings it big time.
The film is chock-full of stunning cinematography.

Some of the film’s runtime is frustratingly spent retconning and fixing the “mistakes” of The Last Jedi, which is not only distractingly obvious, but also disappointing to those who actually enjoyed The Last Jedi. Namely, me.

Despite that, in the end, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is crowd-pleasing fun (if you’re willing to look past several easily-fixable plot holes), with enough spaceship dogfights and lightsaber battles to satisfy action fans, and solidly-build character moments and fan service to appeal to franchise aficionados. There may be some plot holes and it may not be the most thought-provoking conclusion to the beloved series, but at its core, the film’s devotion to its fans and its desire to give them what they want to see is what ultimately redeems it. [Grade: B-]

May the 4th be with you!

Director: JJ Abrams
Writers: JJ Abrams and Chris Terrio
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Anthony Daniels
Rated: PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action
Available: Disney+
Fun Fact: The quicksand is made out of thirty tons of black beans, shipping to Jordan for specific use in filming the scene.

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