The Mark Twain quote “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated” can be considered the backbone of this final chapter of the Skywalker Saga as director J.J. Abrams tries to course-correct the damaged incurred with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. He attempts to accomplish this by bringing back Emperor Palpatine, the big baddie from the original series, despite the last time we saw him involved him getting tossed down a shaft moments before the Death Star exploded. How is his return possible? To quote Monty Python and The Holy Grail, “It’s just a scratch. I’ve had worse.”
The film opens with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) searching the galaxy for something called a Sith Wayfinder, an ancient Sith device that would reveal the location of the planet Exogol, which is home to Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) who, rumours say, somehow survived his death at the Battle of Endor. Now, don’t expect much explanation as to how this is possible; other than some quick hand waving about clones and the Dark Side of the Force, you’re expected to roll with it. Meanwhile, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) hope to get intel from a supposed mole deep inside The First Order; who this turns out to be is as obvious as it is moronic, and while all this is going on, our Jedi hero Rey (Daisy Ridley) continues her Jedi training with General Leia (Carrie Fisher) in the hopes of someday earning the right to wield Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber. Once our heroes learn of the Emperor’s supposed return, they decide they must get a Wayfinder of their own — available soon at your local Disney Store — but the quest for the location of Exogol is not without its challenges.
In lieu of plot, Abrams has decided to go with a scavenger hunt motif and this is easily the biggest stumbling block facing Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker, as the bulk of its 142-minute run-time deals with our heroes running around looking for items that will lead them to the final boss fight, as we follow them through several misadventures that have little to no bearing on the plot. Everything here is action-packed and exciting, but sadly, there is little time for emotional substance or relevance. “Look, we found ancient writings on a Sith artifact, maybe it will lead us to our next MacGuffin,” and this goes on for quite some time. Worse is the fact that the script constantly throws idiotic obstacles in their path that seem to exist for the sole purpose of filling in time before the big showdown. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that J.J. Abrams and company had figured out the ending to this mess — and I will admit it is a fairly satisfying ending — but then realized they still had the proceeding ninety minutes to fill with something… anything… everything!
When wrapping up a nine-picture saga, the last thing you need to do is start introducing new characters — or tossing in old fan favourites like Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) — yet good ol’ J.J. can’t seem to help himself; thus, we meet up with the helmeted and enigmatic Zori (Keri Russell), a criminal pal of Poe’s past, and Jannah (Naomi Ackie), who leads a tribal effort to take on the First Order and ends up teaming up with Finn because Rey is constantly running off on her own (so she can be angst-ridden and mysterious), so he needs a new action buddy.
Once all the silliness of everyone running around is over, as if they were in a Star Wars version of It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, the movie does settle down with some solid confrontational moments, and the relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren is the heart of this movie, and both Ridley and Driver pull off fantastic performances here. It would have been even greater if J.J. Abrams hadn’t been so insistent at keeping things moving at such a breakneck speed that we could have had some time to care. Before any emotional moment can build, we are whisked off to another frenetic action scene with a bunch of characters we couldn’t care less about — does anyone else think both Poe and Finn have become utter wankers? — and though the visuals are stunning, the original Star Wars films have stood the test of time because they followed a small group of characters that we grew to love, and this new trilogy seems so hung-up on whiz-bang effects, that it sacrificed time and effort needed to breathe life into our heroes. In The Force Awakens, Abrams seemed a little calmer, helped I’m sure by the fact that he was mostly copying the structure of A New Hope, but with The Rise of Skywalker, it seems as if he is trying to cram in every idea he ever had without checking to see if it served the story.
- Light Speed skipping sure looks cool, how it even remotely makes sense I’ll leave for others to explain.
- The way the filmmakers integrated unused footage of the late Carrie Fisher worked really well.
- It seems even the Star Wars universe has a Burning Man Festival.
- Our heroes fall into quicksand. Now, if only one of the party’s members had Force powers to levitate them to safety…
- The Knights of Ren pop up every now and then as if hoping that someone will think they’re cool enough to get their own Disney+ television series.
- Anyone else get a Goonies vibe with the Sith Dagger map?
- The tactical deployment of Palpatine’s massive fleet made the decisions at Pearl Harbour seem sensible.
- A mounted ground assault on the surface of a Star Destroyer is possibly the dumbest thing I’ve seen in a Star Wars movie.
With The Rise of Skywalker, J.J. Abrams attempts to pull the franchise out of the nosedive that Rian Johnson had put them in — going so far as to dismiss elements entirely and making joking references to events in The Last Jedi — and even though “startling” revelations often get lost in the overall action, it still manages to land with a mostly satisfying conclusion, but one does wonder how things would have turned out if Abrams had directed all three of the films, or at least had been given a fourth installment to further build his story instead of having to cram this ending into one big chaotic mess. Regardless, The Rise of Skywalker is at least an entertaining enough action flick, if a bit of a mess with character development sacrificed for hammered in plot contrivances, but it’s far from the worst entry in the franchise. If that seems like damming with faint praise…well, may the Force be with you.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
Movie Rank - 6.5/10
Was there a chance of this film satisfying fans and critics alike? Who knows, but in trying to wrap everything up one in a slam-bang action spectacle J.J. Abrams clearly hoped that no one would notice that it was a whole lot of sound and fury signifying not a helluva lot.