Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Jacob Richardson | 19/12/2019
JJ Abrams returns to the helm for the ninth instalment in the Skywalker saga, and while he brings the action and fan service moments in spades, this feels tired, sluggish and overly contrived.
Kicking off after the events of The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker finds Rey (Daisy Ridley) in the middle of her Jedi training (led by Carrie Fisher’s General Leia Organa). Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) have just secured a secret transmission from a spy in the First Order - Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) lives, revived by dark Sith magic, and he has turned Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) into his puppet, with one mission in mind before he releases his fleet of starkiller ships; to kill the scavenger girl known as Rey.
When watching The Rise of Skywalker, there is a budding realisation that creeps closer and closer to the front of your mind with every passing minute; this movie feels long. And that’s a problem - a big problem, because this film is nothing but jam-packed, seam-bursting action with a first act of desperately muddled, hurried exposition. So if it feels long, you know something is amiss.
Let’s start with that exposition. Abrams, so intent at capitulating to the fan reactions after the end of The Last Jedi (an undoubtedly better movie than what we are presented with here), resets a number of the chess pieces from where they were left at the end of TLJ. Kylo gets his helmet back, Palpatine returns, Rey’s got all her Jedi books and is dutifully studying away, and Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) is relegated to the sidelines. There’s mcguffins and boffins, new worlds and new prosthetic aliens, a cute new little droid and a return to the heist and attack a miscellaneous weakness in the fleet formula of the older films. Abrams needs to do so much work to get back to where he evidently wanted the franchise to go after The Force Awakens, that the first third to half of this film feels clunky and needlessly antagonistic. One longs for the idea of all three of these being helmed by three different auteurs, or by one singular mind. Rian Johnson and JJ Abrams’ visions just don’t work seamlessly together, particularly not when one’s views are sandwiched between the others in this trilogy.
What gets us zipping through that exposition is an overabundance of action, and The Rise of Skywalker not only delivers on the spectacle, but does so in CGI-dripping, billion dollar franchise spades. Shots from the trailer don’t come close to describing the full scene, cinematic intensity of Rey leaping over Kylo’s speeder, Kylo and Rey’s lightsaber battles, or Finn and Poe engaged in operatic space battle. No one can doubt the action chops here, outside of perhaps its overfamiliarity - there is nothing shocking like there was in TLJ.
From a story and performance perspective, again this feels overstuffed. Abrams hits you with cameo after cameo, and while the return of and subsequent send-off of Carrie Fisher is nice, as is another appearance later in the film by a familiar face, these characters don’t feel fleshed out or earnt. Abrams plays The Rise of Skywalker like a greatest hits compilation, and that grates frequently.
Perhaps, however, we should not be so critical of that annoyance, because the reason for its being is how good the relationship between Rey and Kylo is, and how nuanced those two characters are. Kylo and Rey’s story comes full circle here, and Ridley and Driver (particularly Driver) do some incredible work bringing the humanity to this film that would otherwise be lost in all the CGI and lights. McDiarmid as Palpatine, too, gets some great times (even with a direct regurgitation of some lines from previous films), and his delivery is powerful and poignant as it ever was. Kylo and Rey’s storylines, and the performances of those two actors coupled with the performance from McDiarmid, really saves this film from falling into the ash heap of forgettability.
The Rise of Skywalker is overstuffed, bombastic action on the big screen. For those fanboys who hated The Last Jedi, this will probably be enough. But for the discerning moviegoer who can see how incredibly nuanced the Kylo/Rey storyline is, everything else feels like a distraction. Perhaps a filmmaker less concerned with making a movie beloved by Star Wars fans, and more concerned with making a movie that was objectively good, would have been able to tease that out. But safe and familiar The Rise of Skywalker is, and billions of dollars it will undoubtedly make.
The Rise of Skywalker feels, at times, slow - despite cramming every millisecond of this big screen epic with as much spectacle and action as possible. Where The Rise of Skywalker really shines, though, is in the Kylo and Rey relationship, and that payoff is worth it indeed.