STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER 4 out of 5; Written and directed by J. J. Abrams; Starring Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Billy Dee Williams; Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence; Running time 142 minutes; In wide release December 20.
Star Wars is what made me fall in love with movies. It is a film I’ve literally watched hundreds of times, and the philosophies that have stemmed from it were crucial in forming my life and even the way that I view the world. A friend once joked that he has a 24/7 loop of Star Wars running through his head, and, for me, that’s quite a literal statement. As much as the prequels aren’t exactly my favorite films, I appreciated the lore they brought to the universe, and it was still new Star Wars. The new trilogy, and especially The Last Jedi, brought a new take on the series and boldly took everything we thought we had known and turned it completely sideways which, while divisive, definitely led to a lot of conversation that endures to this day. Thus, The Rise of Skywalker has the Herculean task of wrapping up over four decades of story in two and a half hours, and it mainly delivers on that promise. Which isn’t to say there aren’t inconsistencies or that it sticks the landing on everything, but Star Wars fans are going to walk out of the theater with goofy grins and maybe a few tears on their faces.
Oh, and side note, this is going to be completely spoiler free, so feel free to read without worry.
The new trilogy was always supposed to be based around the changing of the guard from the original holy trinity (Luke, Leia, and Han) to the new (Rey, Finn, and Poe), with each film revolving around one of the former (TFA – Han, TLJ – Luke, and TROS – Leia). However, with Carrie Fisher’s tragic passing, that left a huge void to fill that TROS tries to overcome, but it is quite obvious that the story had to almost completely change to make up for her absence. Yes, they were able to use some of her footage from The Force Awakens to add to the story, but those moments were some of the worst of the film and felt absolutely forced (no pun intended) and probably would have been better had they been left out. Which isn’t to say that the emotions arising from her scenes aren’t important or worthwhile, just that it’s extremely obvious that she actually wasn’t there, so they almost feel like deleted scenes (which they were) that should have stayed on the cutting room floor.
But since everything falls solely on our new heroes, we do finally get a look at the fully evolved Star Wars that the last two movies hinted at. They don’t get to have Luke or Han help them out of tight spots, and with her limited screen time, Leia is largely missing as the strategist who could guide them to the right path. And this is thrilling since each character gets to fully come into their own and show us what they can actually do. Daisy Ridley is better than ever as Rey continues her path towards becoming a Jedi, and her screen time is split between action-packed lightsaber duels and quiet, thoughtful moments that bring a lot of the emotion and heart to the space opera. Poe is brash as always, but he has been tempered by his failures in The Last Jedi, so his decisions take the needs of the many into respect much more than his desire to always be right and a hotshot which mirrors the path that Han Solo took from the original series and cements his place as Ford’s replacement in this story. Finn has completely evolved from his time in The Force Awakens and even The Last Jedi; no longer is he the man who thinks only of himself and what will work best to save his skin. Instead, he has become a leader and a rebel who really embodies the ideals of The Resistance and is willing to make sacrifices to save the ones he loves and to support the ideals that he has built his new life around.
And I would be remiss not to mention the most surprising arc of all that belongs to C-3PO who is the center of all the funniest bits in the movie. Who knows what happened to his programming that allowed him to be such a sarcastic and catty bitch these days.
So as amazing as these characters all, it sometimes feels like the story they are participating in doesn’t live up to their actions. It goes without saying that The Rise of Skywalker isn’t going to please everyone. There is no way that 42 years of movies and lore could be tied up like a present with a neat little bow, especially after the masterpiece that was The Last Jedi (this is my hill, and I’m dying on it) completely skewed our viewpoint on what Star Wars, The Force, and this universe actually meant. And it’s quite obvious that even J. J. Abrams was surprised as the rest of us when he saw it and looked to course correct some of the things he disagreed with from that movie. Which is a shame because he wastes screen time fixing things that weren’t broken when he could have focused on other parts of the story that could have filled some of the plot points that are occasionally scattered throughout.
There is so much more I want to say about TROS, and I wish more people had already seen it so I could do a deep dive into the themes and ideas presented within, but there’s not much more to I can without jumping into spoiler territory. TROS is simultaneously a flawed but amazing film that does a decent job of ending the Skywalker saga and makes us wonder what is going to come next. Lucasfilm has said they’re taking a break from movies for a little bit, and after seeing this, it seems like a good idea since the Star Wars canvas is left completely blank and ready to pen a new era of stories that future generations can love. It’s not a perfect movie, and some decisions were made that I didn’t always like or agree with, but this did make me extremely happy, and I’m glad to finally have a satisfying finale to the films that have formed and had a lasting impact on my life.