Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Director: J.J. Abrams

Cast: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid, Billy Dee Williams

Screenplay: Chris Terrio, J.J. Abrams

141 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action.

 

Well, we’ve come to the end, haven’t we? I guess, in the grand scheme of things, this is the third end, but who is really counting? With Episode IX, the Skywalker Saga has come to an end…for now, at least. Director J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Super 8) came on to an impossible task of ending the nine-film saga, the sequel trilogy itself, and make a less-divisive film than The Last Jedi. He also had to work around the death of one of his stars, Carrie Fisher (Maps to the Stars, TV’s Family Guy). He also had the, perhaps unfair, perception that he’s much better at starting a story than finishing one. So with all that, is The Rise of Skywalker the perfect film that delivers on all of its goals. As it turns out, it’s more of a mixed bag.

It’s been a year since The Last Jedi, and the crumbling resistance fighters have gained a few additions but still pale in comparison with the size of the dreaded First Order, now under the leadership of Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, Paterson, Marriage Story). Now, a strange message has been sent across the galaxy, seemingly coming from the long-dead Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid, The Lost City of Z, Sleepy Hollow), and it’s up to Rey (Daisy Ridley, Murder on the Orient Express, Ophelia) and her friends to discover his location before he unleashes his new Final Order upon the galaxy.

I think the best way to describe this final film in the Skywalker Saga is “Great Story, Poor Execution.” I had loads of fun in this movie, and I quite enjoyed the experience when I saw it a second time, but there are a lot of strange choices made, particularly in the screenplay and the editing, that I just didn’t understand. I don’t need everything explained for me in a movie, but some of the plot progression happens just because…

The inclusion of Carrie Fisher in this film had to come as a difficult decision. Ultimately, Abrams decided to utilize unused footage from The Force Awakens to create a performance for Leia in the film. Does it work? Kind of. I still stand by my thoughts that it would have served the character and the story better to just not have Fisher in the film and announce in the opening crawl that “Our princess has passed” or something similar. I think for what he tried to do, I can commend Abrams for getting Leia in the film, and the second viewing softened my criticism in the realm of Leia.

Adam Driver is absolutely stellar as Kylo Ren. I don’t agree entirely with the route taken in this film with Kylo Ren, but Driver’s performance sold me on it. Again, Kylo’s arc is one I felt would be better going one way, but the filmmakers decided to take it the expected route. Overall, he surprised me yet again as Ren.

J.J. Abrams did manage to get the galactic Scooby gang together for a bulk of this film. It was crazy to me that Rey and Poe (Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina, The Addams Family) met for the first time officially in The Last Jedi at the end of the film. The Last Jedi also managed to keep most of our heroes separate for a bulk of the runtime, so it’s great that they are all on a journey together. These areas are where a bulk of the lightheartedness of the film takes place and elevates what could be a very dreary story.

Daisy Ridley’s arc as Rey is another tough one to pull off, and I think her performance rises above expectations because of Ridley’s inherent charm onscreen. She’s a fun character and one that the audience has no problems rooting for. Again, there are some twists and turns to her character arc, some I did not expect and didn’t think would work, and they mostly did.

As far as legacy characters go, no one had a better showcase in this film than C-3PO (Anthony Daniels, I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle, The Lord of the Rings). This is 3PO at his most funny and probably most utilized since the first film. Anthony Daniels continues to prove why this franchise continues to go to the C-3PO well.

The rest of the cast all perform ably, and any faults can be attributed to the screenplay. Newcomers Naomi Ackie (Lady Macbeth, Yardie) and Keri Russell (Waitress, TV’s The Americans) are both quite entertaining, but their characters seek only to convolute an already bloated screenplay. The subplot involving General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson, Frank, Peter Rabbit) and General Pryde (Richard E. Grant, Gosford Park, Can You Ever Forgive Me?) is well-acted, but it didn’t need to be in the film and is ultimately meaningless. It was great to see Billy Dee Williams (The LEGO Batman Movie, The Man in 3B) back as Lando Calrissian, but he isn’t given a whole lot to do, and one wonders why he wasn’t included earlier. It seems odd for him to just show up now.

Ian McDiarmid’s return to the franchise does give an overall feeling of cohesiveness to the saga, but Palpatine’s plans for Rey and Kylo just don’t really make sense all around. I love the visual look of Palpatine and the environment he appears in (in fact, some of Ralph McQuarrie’s unused concept art from decades ago was put to good use here), but again, it feels like lazy storytelling and I didn’t get the sense that there was detail in the screenplay because the story lacked a lot, not in how Palpatine is back, but why he waited until now and how he manages to do what he does in the film.

I think the problems of The Rise of Skywalker all stem from the fact that Lucasfilm did not have a plan for this trilogy. By not putting the three directors in a room with someone like Dave Filoni who can offer guidance in crafting a cohesive long-form story. Not having a plan forced Abrams to do a lot of heavy lifting here and it created a film with an interesting and exciting finale that lacked direction because so much is jammed into a movie. Having Chris Terrio as a writer may also have created some problems in the screenplay. While I think Terrio is quite talented, he seems to have a lot of trouble with franchise storytelling, most notably from his tie working on the DCEU. It also feels like The Rise of Skywalker would have fared batter as a three-hour film. That and tightening up the MacGuffin-filled narrative would have helped the film to be more successful in its execution.

I still think The Rise of Skywalker turned out better with Abrams than it would have with Colin Trevorrow behind the wheel. The number one thing here is whether the film is entertaining an enjoyable, and problems and nitpicks aside, there’s a lot to love in this finale. The film is filled with fun surprises, callbacks and appearances, and the score from John Williams is absolutely awe-inspiring. A better screenplay and some more cohesive editing could’ve helped quite a bit, but this is a hell of an action-packed conclusion to the Skywalker Saga.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, click here.

For my review of Ron Howard’s Solo: A Star Wars Story, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, click here.

For my review of Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, click here.

For my review of Richard Marquand’s Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, click here.

For my review of J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, click here.

For my review of Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, click here.

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