This latest Star Wars trilogy from both Lucasfilm and Disney has seen successes, failures, and everything in between undeniably akin to that of the Worlds of DC franchise, specifically three of the entries that formed something of a trilogy: Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Justice League, all helmed by director Zack Snyder. This rare triplet of films conflicted with each other thematically, each telling exceptionally different tales where the only resemblance to the other was the roster of characters. While by no means am I saying that the new trilogy of Star Wars films: The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker is not superior to their respective Snyder-DC film, including The Rise of Skywalker, it is a worthy note to point out, especially for this review. Indeed, The Rise of Skywalker is perhaps one of the strangest concoctions of corporate cinema to ever be released as the film’s greatest weakness, as one character even states in The Rise of Skywalker, is itself. Writers J.J. Abrams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Chris Terrio, who also conveniently penned both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League, try to override the events that came before it in 2017’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, twisting lines of dialogue in the Rian Johnson film to nearly the complete opposite meaning just for the sake of furthering a plot that has been carefully structured to unleash as little “fan rage” as possible. On one hand, the decision is certainly respectable, proving that Lucasfilm can take notes from their past mistakes and even correct them, despite me being an avid supporter of The Last Jedi. On the other though, it results in an obtuse triplet of films that conflict with each other thematically, each telling exceptionally different tales where the only resemblance to the other was the roster of characters. Sound familiar yet?
Regardless, I more than had a good time with The Rise of Skywalker, perhaps even a great one, as Abrams’ final installment in the Skywalker Saga rockets to sweeping emotional highs despite its lack of confidence in its predecessors undercutting some decisive moments. A robust, combustible adventure that sprawls over countless, ambitious storylines and characters, if clumsily stumbling over them at times, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker continues Abrams’ efforts to reinvigorate the franchise, melding non-stop action and gripping storytelling; it is perhaps the most ambitious film of all time to date, but Abrams and company still manage to pull it off for one final and spectacular bow.
IMAGES from STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (Lucasfilm)
Kicking off a considerable space of time after Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson, 2017), The Rise of Skywalker sweeps its audience into the immediate thick of things. Because of the numerous elements Abrams seemingly feels obliged to stuff into the film, the audience is never allowed to settle in for the ride, but what may seem like an immediate flaw ends up serving as a double-edged sword. While it would have been appreciated to see how the relationships between the main protagonists, namely Rey, Finn, and Poe, have developed over that space of time, the screenplay makes sure the audience gets their money’s worth, crafting a film that is so dense in narrative meat, it might as well be two Star Wars episodes forced into one. The reason this choice works, particularly for a narrative as grand as The Rise of Skywalker’s premise, is that it forces the audience to immediately ponder and scrutinize every scene with intense focus as missing just one scene could topple the whole viewing experience.
In regards to the choices made in the film, they are all mostly earned with several key exceptions. For the sake of preventing spoilers from leaking out onto the Internet, as if they already haven’t, none of these exceptions will be mentioned in-depth outside of what they entail thematically for the narrative, and it is all the better for it because each one shares commonalities with the others. None truly compromise the experience of this singular film, but rather dull the impact that re-watching the entire trilogy will have in several weeks, months, or years from now. Having indulged myself in the entire Skywalker Saga over the past few weeks, from the prequel trilogy to The Rise of Skywalker with a media screening I was fortunate enough to attend, the method Abrams underplays other installments in the franchise is disappointing. While Abrams gives memorable homage to the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy is nearly entirely forgotten, left to the dust with a few visual nods at most, to say nothing of Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi.
However, bringing this screenplay to the life is, of course, the cast of actors and actresses, a group that is far more well-rounded than the last time around. With such a sharp constraint on time and pacing, not a single new character doesn’t have a clear, obvious purpose in the entire, overwhelming nature of the story. Keri Russell’s Zorii Bliss serves as the perfect counterpart to Oscar Isaac’s overly brash Poe Dameron, much in the same way that Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley work like a charm in their respective roles.
Indeed, both Driver and Ridley are the leading performers of the film hands down, and their symbiotic relationship continues to be the heart of the entire trilogy, brought to a satisfying close in The Rise of Skywalker. While Ridley is fantastic as Rey, wielding a far more matured performance that surely reflects the strains and toll that the actress’ real-world life has taken on her, Adam Driver is both equally as good and possibly even better as Kylo Ren. Ren solidifies his position as the best character of the entire trilogy thanks largely to Driver’s calm and confident demeanor juxtaposed by the occasional loosening of sheer rage.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is, on paper, the single most difficult feat in all of cinematic history from its behind-the-scenes turmoil and pressure to successfully cap one of the most beloved film sagas of all times. For all the mistakes he may strike in the film however, Abrams should be commended for being courageous enough to take on the challenge and also accomplish it in spades. Indeed, The Rise of Skywalker, like The Last Jedi and every Star Wars film before it, will spark heated debate following its fated December 20th release date, but Abrams is mature enough to realize that in his directorial craft. Like Avengers: Endgame earlier this year, The Rise of Skywalker captures the spirit of its ancestry wonderfully, relishing in all manners of its nature, warts and all.
Lucasfilm and director J.J. Abrams join forces once again to take viewers on an epic journey to a galaxy far, far away with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the riveting conclusion of the seminal Skywalker saga, where new legends will be born and the final battle for freedom is yet to come.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opens in U.S. theaters on December 20.
The film stars 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, and Billy Dee Williams.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is directed by J.J. Abrams and produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Abrams and Michelle Rejwan. Callum Greene, Tommy Gormley and Jason McGatlin serve as executive producers. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was written by J.J. Abrams & Chris Terrio and opens in U.S. theaters on December 20.
STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER Hits Theaters on December 20th, 2019.