Somewhat impossibly, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has wrapped up the sagas Skywalkers and Force powered folks presented in 42 years of films. Returning director and co-writer J.J. Abrams, who made Force Awakens and stepped back for Last Jedi, offers a zippy finale complete with revelations, twists and callbacks. Like in Force Awakens, Abrams reprises a few iconic Star Wars moments which for a series where events echo throughout the decades it makes sense. This is the end of the Star Wars movies about the Skywalker clan and it goes out with a bang.
The tyrannical First Order, led by the Skywalker descendant Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), reigns across the galaxy, but Kylo finds out the long thought dead evil Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) has been masterminding events for years. To track down the Emperor’s lair, Jedi apprentice Rey (Daisy Ridley) goes with her friends Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), droid C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and the Wookiee Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). They enter the heart of the enemy territory with Kylo Ren and his knights on their tail as Rey struggles with learning about her place in the universe.
There are more revelations about Rey, the mystery lead character Abrams introduced in Force Awakens, that some may decry as cheating but the reveals integrate her as an essential part of the saga. What she learns drives Rey throughout the film, and Ridley gives her a ticked off edge this time, as she has been dragged into this intergalactic saga of Force wizards which has basically caused her nothing but pain. She goes through the wringer here, as opposed to the somewhat easy journey she had in Force Awakens.
Her opposite is Kylo Ren and Abrams builds upon the Force connection the two had in Last Jedi which makes for some intense moments. Rise features great editing where Rey and Kylo are fighting each other via the Force and appear in each other’s environments even though they are not physically there for a continuous duel across two different locations. Driver as Kylo runs a gamut of emotions, making his actions in the finale dramatically powerful.
The big villain of Rise of Skywalker is McDiarmid as Emperor Palpatine. His return is unexpected considering he exploded at the end of Return of the Jedi but Palpatine has been the big bad of the entire series so in the capper he should be the guy pulling the strings. His return is sort of hand-waved instead of explicitly explained but often in Star Wars, implication works better. Palpatine looks even worse than before as McDiarmid manages to crank up the freakiness of the Emperor.
Those three are at the core but Star Wars is often supplied with lots of supporting characters. Rey’s returning buddies, Finn and Poe, get in some good back and forth as the chemistry between Isaac, Boyega and Ridley is crackling. Poe’s works with an old flame mercenary Zorri (Keri Russell) which adds some layers to the hotshot pilot and Finn gets to meet other deserters from the First Order like him. While Rey spends the end of the film concerned with Jedi business, both Finn and Poe are at the centre of space battle scenes as the finale hops between the heroes.
Carrie Fisher returns as General Leia Organa featuring unused footage and dialogue from her previous two Star Wars movies. It’s somewhat awkward at times, characters tend to talk for and about Leia instead of her saying much, but Leia ends up being an important presence in the movie. Anthony Daniels’ C-3PO, who was a bit sidelined in the last two movies, gets dragged along unwittingly with the heroes and his dismayed reactions how they treat him is hilarious. Billy Dee Williams returns as Lando Calrissian and it’s a hoot to see him again. Domhall’s Gleeson’s General Hux has some great comedic moments and a new First Order baddie, General Pryde (Richard E. Grant) picks up the slack by being appropriately menacing.
Rise of Skywalker careens through multiple action set-pieces as often the camera moves along in a single shot as the battles play out. Things kick off with a crazy space chase in the Millennium Falcon and it stays at a high level from there. Probably the best action scene is Rey and Kylo’s lightsaber battle that bounds across wreckage at sea and the emotional ending is shattering. The finale features a dark small-scale confrontation and a desperate sky battle that works great.
Abrams pulls some pretty deep cuts from the series lore and while some references may fly over the heads of audiences, emotionally the actors sell what it means. There is a lot of things repeated and slightly modified from previous Star Wars films however things are supposed to repeat across the trilogies. John Williams returns to the music of Star Wars and his score is sweeping, pulling in motifs from all the films.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker wraps up the Skywalker saga, although Star Wars will continue in different stories. It makes narrative sense that the biggest baddie returns so the heroes can rise. A pop culture modern mythology like Star Wars gets a grand send off with Rise of Skywalker as the series will resonate for years to come. V
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Director: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley