Movie Review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Title: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Release Date: December 20, 2019
Director: J. J. Abrams
Production Company: Lucasfilm Ltd. | Bad Robot Productions

Non-spoiler review: The ninth and (probably not) last installment in the Star Wars saga is a good but not great movie. In addition to being a step down from the classic movie that preceded it, The Rise of Skywalker fails to be a fully satisfying capstone to 42 years of galactic adventures. Viewed on its own terms, though, it’s an entertaining adventure that offers a new and different of Star Wars film while still allowing  favorite characters to shine and for moments that recall this series’ lore.

Rating: ***

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The Rise of Skywalker is built around the flawed premise that the seemingly dead Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) has returned and has a plan to once again conquer the galaxy. When the trailers with McDiarmid’s voice were released several months ago, I was certain that Palpatine would appear in an old holograph recording or vision, something that would prompt Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) into action, but that Palpatine himself would not actually still be alive.

Unfortunately,  J.J. Abrams and co. went ahead and not only had Palpatine somehow survive the explosion of the second Death Star, but also be the one pulling the strings behind the First Order, and be Rey’s grandfather.    Somehow the spiritual dilemma of people being tempted by the Dark Side of the Force has been reduced to it all being the machinations of one evil dude over 9 films.  The idea that using the Force is open to anybody, so eloquently expressed in The Last Jedi, is reverted back to the idea of the Force running in bloodlines. It’s cliched, it’s lazy, and it’s unnecessary.

Despite disliking the central premise of the movie, I actually think it is otherwise quite well done. The movie takes the form of a quest and has a style that feels unlike any other Star Wars film.  In fact, at times it feels more like an Indiana Jones movie. Rey teams up with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels), and BB-8 (Dave Chapman and Brian Herring) to find the clues that will lead them to Palpatine’s secret hideout.  It’s good to see them working together as a team and I enjoy the chemistry within the group.  Since Daniels is the only actor to appear in all 9 movies, it was also nice for C-3PO to have a significant part in the plot.

As the team travels from planet to planet, Kylo Ren is on their tale.  Rey and Ren face off in numerous duels, including one time when they fight through a Force connection which is visually spectacular.

We also get to see that Rey’s Force powers are increasing, with additional training from Leia.  After all the years of Leia’s Force powers only being hinted at, it was great to see confirmation of her own training.The biggest challenge of this movie is that Leia is such a key character, but Carrie Fisher died before it could be film.  Scenes that Fisher filmed that didn’t make the cut for earlier films as well as some movie wizardry allows Leia to awkwardly but satisfactorily play a part in the story.  The movie even takes the time to depict Leia’s death and allow the audience to mourn for her and for Fisher. A scene that would’ve made sense for Leia’s farewell instead is ably handled by Harrison Ford who appears as a memory of Han Solo to Kylo Ren at a key moment.

The Rise of Skywalker is chockful of characters returning from the previous two movies, characters returning from the original trilogy, and several newly introduced characters! The effect is that we don’t get to spend as much time with all of the characters as I would have liked. Lando Calrissian’s (Billy Dee Williams) role is well done as Lando is on hand to offer advice in some key scenes and lead in the cavalry in the movie’s climax. At the other end of the spectrum, Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), who had a lead role in The Last Jedi is unfortunately reduced to a smaller part in this movie, which is especially disappointing considering the hate directed at her by the loud manbabies within the fandom.

New characters included Jannah (Naomi Ackie), leader of a group of former stormtroopers who defected from the First Order; Allegiant General Pryde (Richard E. Grant), a First Order leader who has ties to Palpatine; Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell), an old frenemy of Poe’s from the criminal underworld; and Babu Frik (Shirley Henderson), a small creature who is expert on working with droids.  All of these characters are interesting and help build the larger world within the story. But the final episode of a trilogy is a weird time to introduce them all.  I half-expect that The Rise of Skywalker is being used as a backdoor pilot for introducing spin-off movies and tv shows for all of these characters.  I like new Star Wars media as much as the next person but The Rise of Skywalker would’ve been served better by a) paring it down to focus on the main characters exclusively or b) not being tied to the rigid expectations of a “trilogy” and making more movies (and honestly there’s enough material for at least two movies here).

Some other moments I enjoyed:

  • The dance of the beings of Pasaana, celebrating a galactic Burning Man festival
  • Poe standing in for generations of children who have held up a flashlight as a lightsaber
  • The set design of the wreck of the second Death Star
  • Rey returning to Ahch-To and getting a pep talk from the ghost of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill)
  • Ben Solo saying “ow!”
  • Voice cameos by seemingly every actor to every play a Jedi.
  • Cameos by Wedge Antilles (Denis Lawson) and Wicket W. Warwick (Warwick Davis)

In sum, this is a good but not great Star Wars movie.  I would’ve preferred something more special for the finale of the trilogy/Skywalker Saga, but all things considered, this movie is acceptable.  New Star Wars always has something to offer, and I can always return to my favorites.  And I’m absolutely certain there will be more new Star Wars in the future that will absolutely delight and/or enrage fans everywhere.

A lot of  people like to rank the Star Wars movies, but I prefer to put them into tiers.

The Classic Movies

  • Empire Strikes Back
  • Rogue One
  • The Last Jedi

The Great Movies

  • Star Wars
  • Return of the Jedi
  • The Force Awakens

The Merely Good Movies

  • Solo
  • The Rise of Skywalker

The Mediocre Movies

  • Attack of the Clones
  • Revenge of the Sith

The Bad Movies

  • The Star Wars Holiday Special
  • The Phantom Menace







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