Film Review: Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker

WARNING! Here be spoilers!

When I wrote about the last instalment of the Star Wars saga, The Last Jedi, I said it was a tough review to write about because I neither loved or hated the movie. The same is true here, with JJ Abrams’ return to the series not being terrible but being pretty far from great too.

starwars riseofskywalker

We pick up some time after the events of TLJ, with news that a broadcast featuring the voice of Emperor Palpatine has been sent out, and that he may not actually have died.

Rey (Daisy Ridley) learning the ways of the force from Leia (Carrie Fisher). Her allies in the resistance, Finn and Poe (John Boyega and Oscar  Isaac), have learned that there is a spy in the First Order and are trying to figure out how to get to Palpatine.

Also after the former Emperor is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), now Supreme Leader of the First Order, who wants to destroy Palpatine and keep his power. Kylo and Rey still share their mysterious bond, and communicate across the cosmos, with him trying to convince her to join him on the dark side.

What is Palpatine after? What is his interest in Rey? Can Rey resist the power of the dark side? Can the resistance triumph as the First Order rallies its forces and builds its army?

First things first, this movie made me laugh a few times, thankfully intentionally and there are some nice character moments along the way- the return of Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), Chewbacca finally getting his medal, C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) having his memory wiped so that they can bypass a block that stops him translating vital info and the friendship between Finn and Poe.

Unfortunately, the main focus is still the Kylo-Rey dynamic which I’m pretty much tired of. Of the three new heroes I found Rey the least interesting and thought one of TLJ’s best ideas was to have Rey’s family history turn out to be irrelevant. It meant she wasn’t a legacy, or heir to anything, just a nobody who had to carve out her place in the universe for herself. The answers she had sought were meaningless and it was a clever twist. Sadly, this is all thrown out early on in this film and we find out that she’s the granddaughter of a major figure from the original trilogy.

We then have her struggle against the dark side and attempt to get Kylo to turn good. Kylo Ren is a character who never really did it for me, which is a shame as in full on, ruthless bad guy mode Driver is decent enough, and an early sequence of him killing his way through numerous foes is impressive. But in the scenes where we’re supposed to believe there’s more going on, some depth, some remorse, some glimmer of good the writing let’s it down and it never convinces. When he finally does turn good again it feels rather forced and rushed.

I think having Rey turn would have made for a more interesting ending, with the non-force characters taking on the lightsabre wielding duo and winning the day either through their wits or by exploiting their enemies weaknesses. Personally, I wanted Finn to win the day, possibly with an assist from Chewie, who would get to avenge Han’s death from The Force Awakens.

Another aspect of the TLJ that I liked was the relationship between Finn and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) as the duo had real chemistry and I thought Rose was a rather sweet, yet strong willed character. KMT got a bunch of hate from some fans and seemingly Abrams didn’t want to annoy them and so she is sidelined to the role of exposition giving and background moments.

I get benching her if you’re going to push the rather uninteresting idea of a Rey-Finn love story, but despite a hint that Finn is going to reveal his feelings at the start this never develops either. I know you don’t need a love story, but I felt that Finn and Rose would have worked at the end. John Boyega is great as the former stormtrooper but there’s very little spark between him and Ridley, who is the weak link for me.

Similarly Poe lacks a strong story arc, with the subplot about him taking the reins falling a little flat.

Abrams gets some fun moments in and the visuals are impressive, but there’s that feeling of deja vu I got from TFA. Too much feels recycled, like they’re trying to copy the format of the original trilogy and it falls short. The redemption of Kylo Ren doesn’t work, but perhaps because as a fan of the original movies I think he would need to do a hell of a lot to redeem himself having killed Han Solo (Harrison Ford, who returns on ghost duty here) and betrayed Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, who also turns up in spectral form).

It’s entertaining enough, but just left me feeling a bit flat and disappointed. This is how the saga ends? The whole third trilogy seems to have been a bit too hit and miss, with the filmmakers not on the same page throughout. It seems like they weren’t exactly sure what story they were going to tell or how they were going to tell it, and as a result it doesn’t quite gel together.

Some of this might be beyond their control. I got the feeling that Leia probably would have had a better send off, but with the sad passing of Carrie Fisher they had to change that and it’s a sad way to say goodbye to such a great character and performer, both deserved better.

Abrams seems more willing to lean back on nostalgia but for me this is a failing, as it stops the film from standing on its own feet and constantly reminded me of films I loved and felt worked a lot better.

A rather lacklustre ending to the whole saga, a missed opportunity. For every moment that hits, there is at least one that went wide of the mark for me. And too many of the hits are assisted by my preexisting affection (the music, the long standing characters, the vehicles, the cameos etc).

As I’ve written this and thought about it more, my opinion has actually got worse. I just feel rather let down by it, truth be told, and as someone who has loved Star Wars for over two decades this wasn’t what I wanted. I just feel like the whole new trilogy wasn’t written or prepared properly, that it lacked a clear vision of where it wanted to go, and that it lacked the confidence to really step away from what had come before, meaning that it mires itself in this feeling of being an inferior sequel that tries and fails to capture the magic of the original films.

I’ll stop now before it loses anymore points.

Verdict: 4/10.

Any thoughts?

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