The Rise of Skywalker review – A lot better than expected

The Rise of Skywalker - duel on the Death Star 2 ruins

If there was one movie I was dreading to see this year then it would have been The Rise of Skywalker. The final movie of the sequel trilogy and the last depicting Skywalker has a nearly impossible task – provide a satisfactory ending and not rile up the Star Wars trolls. I think J.J. Abrams succeeded. I enjoyed watching The Rise of Skywalker a lot. However, Abrams took risks and not all paid off. Below is a spoiler filled review (more like a rant). Perhaps you will find it enlightening and decide for yourself to see the movie.

The Rise of Skywalker - Poe Finn and Rey

When I sat down at the cinema I was amazed how the movie NOT sucked. The first half went by at an amazing pace – rarely lingering on a conversation or a plot point. That was to be expected, this last movie has a lot of ground to cover to undo the story elements of The Last Jedi. And for the most part director J.J. Abrams gets away with it. It makes you think what would have happened had Abrams directed all three movies.

The Rise of Skywalker - Kylo Ren meets Rey

Fast paced action

However, during the second half some problems do arise. In essence the story revolves around Rey, Kylo Ren (Ben) and Palpatine. This means the secondary characters such as Finn (John Boyega), Poe and Chewbacca have reduced importance, but they are still significantly represented which causes the movie to jump around a lot. While the fast pacing helps a lot it becomes problematic near the end when it feels like events are happening to force other plot side stories along.

Zori Bliss in The Rise of Skywalker

Not a retcon of The Last Jedi

As for the story itself, J.J. Abrams has not decided to fully retcon all of Rian Johnson’s decisions. Early in the movie Kylo Ren discovers a near death Palpatine on the secret Sith planet Exegol, he shows Kylo Ren his Sith fleet and tells him of Rey’s true origins. Despite the fact that Rey is Palpatine’s grand-daughter she is still the daughter of nobody. Her parents hid on Jakku as junk traders. They were discovered by a Sith acolyte and then kidnapped and murdered. This part takes up just a bit more than half the movie. I think it could have been a wonderful standalone movie. The lingering doubt that Rey may be a Palpatine slowly settles in with the viewer and adds to the tension.

The Rise of Skywalker - Rey meets Palpatine

One thing that did change are the dynamics within the First Order. It becomes clear there is intense rivalry despite Kylo Ren being the Supreme Leader. Hux has to contest with Allegiant-general Pryde. However, Pryde shows himself to be far more capable with his loyalty to Kylo Ren and later Palpatine. Hux is soon revealed to be the spy supplying the Resistance with. Hux does not manage to fool Pryde with a self-inflicted injury in order to cast suspicion away and is promptly executed. Meanwhile Poe has his own little side plots in which we learn how he was once a spice smuggler and may have a darker past than we thought.

Some of the bad elements

All these story elements make The Rise of Skywalker fun to watch. As there is a deadline towards when The Sith will unleash their fleet upon the galaxy the viewer does get a sense all of this adds to the story, but the breakneck pace also makes plot points feel trivial. It is here that slowly some problems arise. Again, as with the previous two movies we know precious little about what is happening in the galaxy at large. We get a sense that The First Order has not fully captured the galaxy, at least not the core worlds. Yet, there is little clarity provided, something that makes Lando’s and Finn ability to conjure a fleet of ships out of nowhere for the final battle feel awkward.

Daisy Ridley in red gown at The Rise of Skywalker premiere

But problems of this kind continue. Pryde mentions that Palpatine’s Sith fleet would add to the capabilities of The First Order ten thousand fold. It is a silly and stupendous line that trivializes what it takes to manage a fleet. This feels like the worst aspects of the Expanded Universe all over again. Also we get no impression of where Palpatine’s Sith Fleet comes from. Are they carried over from the old empire or are they brand new. And why did they have Death Star guns on them? It is all very amateurish. Just an ordinary fleet of Star Destroyers would have been threatening enough if it could end the deadlock between First Order and what is left of the New Republic.

The Rise of Skywalker final act

As you may guess I get quite serious about such story matters. I want a story to make sense and not rely on just character development. However, both the Force Awakens and The Last Jedi were guilty of similar problems. Luckily the character development remains strong. Ian McDiarmid, Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver have strong performances during the final act. They together carry the movie over the finish line and make me feel as if I have seen a worthwhile Star Wars movie.

I was saddened by the death of Ben Solo, but sacrificing his life for Rey’s felt like a proper redemption. I particularly enjoyed the change in personality Ben showed compared to Kylo Ren. The final act does expose a problem with this trilogy, there were too many characters. More focus should have been on Rey and Ben and less on Leia, Poe, Chewie and the droids. While I Iike them they do make this trilogy feel overstuffed.

Adam Driver at the premiere for The Rise of Skywalker

Going into this movie I wanted to hate on the fan service we would be assuredly be getting. But hate is far too strong, most of the fan service was pretty good. An example is Rey jumping through the ruins of the second Death Star in exactly the same area in which Ob-Wan switched of the tractor beam on the first. The return of Lando was also done well, it was understated, his role is that of an expanded cameo, which feels appropriate. However, the many scenes with the droids and Leia take up too much time. Luke’s (Mark Hamill) brief scene was interesting, but was not the powerful moment I had hoped it would be. It come at the start of the last act and the viewer has already seen so much.

A conclusion of sorts

So that was The Rise of Skywalker. Better than expected. I find it difficult to say if it is the worst in the trilogy – it may not be. Both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi had things I did not want to see. The Rise of Skywalker had fewer such issues but it was jam-packed, and the death of Ben Solo was something I did not want to see. I think Ben becoming Rey’s apprentice would have been better, it would also side-step any romantic notion between them.

Daisy Ridley in blue gown at The Rise of Skywalker London premiere

It is difficult to say where Star Wars will go from here. There is a definite Star Wars fatigue, at least for big screen adaptations. I think Star Wars being better represented on other media such as series, games and novels would be an improvement. I would not be surprised if The Rise of Skywalker underperforms at the box office, and I should think that is incentive for Disney to change their game plan.

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