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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Movie Review

Jedi or Not

"Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" is a whole lot of movie.

Yes-that's exactly what Lora said about "The Last Jedi" to open her review. I'm borrowing a little bit from that which has come before in homage to director JJ Abrams. It appears that Abrams‘s hallmark touch in "Star Wars" is to crib a plot point here and a story device there in crafting what is otherwise a quite satisfying experience for fans and casuals alike. I'll just get this out of the way now: Abrams lifted a fair amount of "The Force Awakens" from "A New Hope," and he's done it again here, lifting from "Return of the Jedi" for "The Rise of Skywalker." I'm willing to give this plagiarism a pass for "Skywalker," as it's not as blatant or as lazy this time-but it's definitely there. Fresh off of Rian Johnson's apparent assassination of "Star Wars" (if you believe the farther-flung reaches of the internet), Abrams has brought this trilogy to a close with a gung-ho, action-packed, fan-serving, very-imperfect-but-still-decent film.


Note: The Ward of Spoiler Protection is in effect here: this film packs a few impressive beats that have not been telegraphed in the trailers or commercials, and I won't be divulging them in this review. That said, I will address general story and plot elements, broad character arcs, and some locations. Also, if it's in the trailer, it's fair game; I'm looking at you, former Senator from Naboo.

Following the opening crawl-which directly addresses the presence of that Naboo Senator-the action in "The Rise of Skywalker" picks up immediately, with now Supreme Leader of the First Order Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, "Marriage Story") light sabering several aliens to pieces in search of a mystical Sith McGuffin.  Elsewhere in the Galaxy, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, "Life Itself") Finn (John Boyega, "Pacific Rim Uprising") and Chewbacca are hot-rodding the Millennium Falcon into a giant comet with TIE fighters hot on their tail. All of this occurs while Rey (Daisy Ridley, "Ophelia") continues her Jedi training with the still-alive Skywalker, Leia (Carrie Fisher), at the Resistance's new hidden base. I'll leave further narrative details for your eyes and ears; be prepared for the first third of the film to be exposition-heavy, and too concerned with a multi-planetary hunt for another Sith McGuffin. The plot eventually settles down and finds a decent rhythm which carries through the end of the film.

Driver and Ridley are electric throughout the film, both in shared scenes and independently. The dynamic of Ren and Rey which was firmly established in "The Last Jedi" continues a rich development throughout "The Rise of Skywalker," as they explore their own-and each other's-motivations. The pair are the absolute heart of this film, and its finest moments play on that strength and chemistry. Each character enjoys an arc of growth and realization that leads to a satisfying conclusion delivered through strong performances. Unfortunately, Abrams and Co. have spent all their creative juices on Ren and Rey.  While the other actors' performances are perfectly fine, their characters are stuck on space autopilot, with little screen time for some, and no real arc for the rest. Poe is reduced to simply being a scoundrel who struggles with real responsibility (essentially a rerun of his character from "The Last Jedi") while Finn seems to just shout "Rey!" and "I have to go after her!" and not much else. Each are given new characters to play off for added dimensions and depth, but alas, those newcomers are little more than plot devices that fall flat and don't save them from one-note existence. It's more disappointing that Abrams and Johnson didn't just lean into what everyone loves about Poe and Finn: the Bromance. It's on display here, but too sparingly by half.

Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine is surprisingly creepy in the return to his most famous role-with effective makeup and prostheses-but it feels like he's just reciting variations of "Return of the Jedi" lines, despite his central role in the story. Anthony Daniels' C-3PO feels the most misused as the script plays to the most annoying aspects of his character, teasIng a shot at redemption through sacrifice and then wiping it away for a joke. "Skywalker" strikes a difficult balance with its characters, given the strength of the central performances compared to the weakness around them. It's not game-breaking, but it's frustratingly inconsistent at times. I will give wide latitude to General Leia Organa's story-it was clearly curtailed and left underdeveloped by the actress' untimely demise-but her limited role is truly consequential to Ren and Rey's story progression. Fisher's final screen performance is full of heart and warmth, a fitting capstone to her place in this universe.

The frustrating character arcs hint at the narrative issues with "The Rise of Skywalker," which feel like a natural outcome to a story and screenplay written and rewritten by four different people. There are also other issues in play that need some deconstruction. During the Millennium Falcon vs TIE fighters scene-in the first 20 minutes-my sci-fi nerd brain started to kick in: ‘wait, can TIE fighters actually do [thing that they are doing]? and wait, is that how hyperspace works?'-to which my regular brain responded, 'the plot demands it, so they do it.' Fans were screaming bloody murder over new Force powers on display in "The Last Jedi"-especially in reaction to a certain Space Leia scene. While I don't mind the expansion of the Force-it is literally the space magic of this universe-I'm nerdy enough to recall earlier explanations of hyperdrive from "A New Hope." It required diverting my attention from the screen to recall and reconcile these conflicting details.

This is the trap in which "Star Wars" ultimately finds itself: there is enough of an established universe that there are details to trip over in pursuit of contrived narrative design or, in this case, the desire for a cool action set piece. And yes, the case in point here was a cool action set piece, but it pulled me out of the moment just enough to notice. Another example arose with a story beat brought up several times-prominently-throughout "The Rise of Skywalker," only to be completely abandoned by the time the credits rolled. Was it just left on the cutting room floor? Was it never actually resolved? We'll never know. I struggle to accept this sort of narrative defect in a movie that is two hours and twenty-one minutes long, but which invests (and sometimes wastes) quite a bit of time on unnecessary elements and fan service. Mercifully, the smart pacing is such that the film doesn't feel long, but when you take a tally of time spent, they could have done better with those minutes. While some of the fan service is quite clever, we didn't need a callback to one of George Lucas' many ill-advised tinkerings with the original trilogy.

John Williams has composed another score that is both timeless and decidedly "Star Wars," with generous sprinkling of the Princess Leia leitmotif always tugging at those heartstrings. I was laser- focused on moments where I noticed the LACK of score, and was surprised at the absence of music in one heightened moment. This creative choice was a very interesting contrast to the classic "Duel of the Fates" (aka the only decent thing from "The Phantom Menace") playing over that earlier film's climactic light saber battle. Here we have more subtle scoring, and it works well. That said, nothing from the "Skywalker" score is truly lodged my mind the way Williams's classic "Star Wars" tracks will always be rooted.

It feels almost silly to comment on the visual effects in a "Star Wars" movie, but I want to address the fact that the universe on screen has an impressive feel and verisimilitude; Abrams may not be a great planner, but he has a killer eye for visual detail in support of authenticity. This is where he also deserves much praise for his directorial acumen. I suspect that-in addition to CGI-there was a continuing decision to use practical effects, puppets, and props throughout "Skywalker," and the resulting variety of planets, environments, characters, and ships all have an exceptional lived-in quality and reality. The one place where they falter is in a scene where the facial de-aging is less "Kurt Russell in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2"" and more "Jeff Bridges in "Tron: Legacy"," which is unfortunate. Come on, Disney! Share that proprietary tech across your portfolio!

loaading...
However, unlike the ill-advised extended digital Grand Moff Tarkin of "Rogue One," "Skywalker" uses the de-aging tech very sparingly, so the damage is minimal. Regarding other visuals, the light saber duels are all well-designed and paced, with the fight choreography working well in scope, speed, and acrobatics. I fear I am becoming inured to space battles; none here are terrible, but none are all that memorable. Your mileage (or should I say lightyears?) may vary.

Viewed more broadly, it is a strange turn of fate that Disney's other gargantuan IP in the MCU has just delivered a master class in planning and delivering complex multi-film story arcs. It paints a stark contrast that "Star Wars" seems to be improvising its way to the finish line for just three films due to a lack of strategic planning. My snarky internal monologue suggests that planning is not JJ Abrams's strong suit. But I suspect the fault lies with some Disney executive who couldn't see-or understand-what Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige was doing so well. In addition, I suspect some creative course-correcting (or overreacting?) due to the fan response to "The Last Jedi" may be affecting the final outcome of "The Rise of Skywalker."

Ultimately, after my sci-fi nerd brain and my regular brain stopped fighting and focused on the parts of "Skywalker" that worked, it was quite enjoyable. It is a satisfying wrap up to a trilogy that is not as perfect as we want it to be, not as good as the original, but thankfully still better than the prequel trilogy. "The Rise of Skywalker" is a decent "Star Wars" movie that feels like a "Star Wars" movie - and that feeling is the most important part. Let it surround you and flow through you... with this Skywalker, the force is still strong.


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About Udara Madusanka

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