Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is billed as the ninth and final chapter in the Skywalker Saga, the conclusion to everything that’s come before. To recap, the surviving members of the Resistance must face the First Order in one more epic battle between good and evil that will determine the fate of the galaxy. Director J.J. Abrams had the monumental task of not only concluding the most epic space opera put to screen, but also to get the entire Star Wars franchise back on track after the near-derailment done by Rian Johnsons’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi. While it isn’t perfect, runs too long and feels bloated, I think Abrams did a stellar job given what he had to work with.
Despite nearly being wiped out after disastrous planning in The Last Jedi, the Resistance – led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) – are still around to take on the First Order, now being led by Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Their numbers may be few, but the Resistance have some very tenacious heroes on their side who will fight to the end to restore peace to the galaxy. Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) have moved up the ranks in the Resistance and must now deal with an old/new threat with the surprising return of Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), the leader of the Empire we thought (rightfully) dead, who has waited a long time to unveil his master plan that will bring control and power to the Sith once again.
Not only must our heroes band together and muster every resource they can to face such overwhelming odds, they must also learn to deal with the truth of Rey’s bloodline. At long last, we’ve come to the end of the Star Wars Skywalker Saga, which began with 1977’s A New Hope and has now spanned a staggering 42 years, 3 trilogies and 9 individual films.
That’s a lot of films and there are a LOT of characters in The Rise of Skywalker (keep an eye and ear out for the cameos), including old favorites like Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), as well as the “return” of Carrie Fisher’s Leia via unused footage and clever editing. I can’t fault any of their performances, but I did want to focus on the two standouts who are essentially the primary drivers of the story arc.
Daisy Ridley gives a strong performance as Rey, the abandoned scavenger turned Jedi-in-training whose fate is entwined with the emotionally chaotic Kylo Ren. While she is a beacon of hope for the future of the galaxy (and the Jedi), there’s a darkness inside her that threatens to snuff out the light fueling her journey. In addition to facing the outward struggle in the form of the physical fight the Resistance faces against the forces of Palpatine, Rey must also face the inward struggle of dealing with who she really is. Ridley does a fantastic job of catering to the space adventure vibe that is Star Wars while still delivering a strong dramatic performance worthy of a drama.
Adam Driver is intense as the villainous Kylo Ren who despite all his efforts, fails to live up to his dark potential and the evil reputation of his grandfather Darth Vader. His journey to the Dark Side is hindered by his internal struggle with his feelings towards his parents and the connection he feels with Rey. They are at odds with what he is supposed to do and Driver does a fantastic job of portraying this tortured character who is being torn in different directions. The only gripe I have with Driver in the role is that he doesn’t look anything like the offspring of Han Solo and Princess Leia. Adopted, yes. Related, no. There’s no physical resemblance there.
Returning director J.J. Abrams has done a fantastic job bringing back that particular Star Wars feeling that was present in The Force Awakens and severely lacking, and in some cases actively opposed, in Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi. He’s successfully tied up nearly all the loose ends and story arcs of the previous films in an overwhelming adventure that ends the Skywalker journey on an emotionally high note, though righting this wayward ship does come at a cost.
Fixing the damage done by The Last Jedi means The Rise of Skywalker feels extremely bloated, spending far too much time wrapping up all the various plot points that it lacks pacing. So much of the story is fast-paced because there’s a lot to cram in here and it means you never really get a chance to enjoy the spectacle. By the final half hour sensory fatigue sets in and I found myself nearly blasé about the impressive visuals and John Williams’ score that were being hurled at me. I was desensitized to the epic sequences because, on some level, I just wanted it to end.
I don’t want to spoil anything here, but while Abrams has taken some risks compared to what he did with The Force Awakens, I felt he should have killed off more major characters given the absurdly high stakes inherent to a third entry in this new trilogy. One major death is teased to evoke sympathy from both the cast and the audience, but this is quickly and awkwardly revoked. I’m not asking for Avengers: Endgame level reductions here, but maybe a few more “goodbyes” would have been welcome.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a bloated but enjoyable finale to the Skywalker Saga that manages to round up the previous films quite well. It does run a bit longer than it should, to the point I found myself fidgety and desensitized to the overwhelming action in the final act. But given the damaged storyline created by The Last Jedi, this was a solid way to end this epic journey. I enjoyed the plot reveals and how it links to all the previous movies and the plethora of character cameos is a nice touch that didn’t feel out of place and helped cement the linkage to the franchise at large. I’d say this earns The Rise of Skywalker an easy recommendation, but let’s face it, people are going to see it regardless of what us movie reviewers say.