Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is the latest and supposedly final Star Wars film dealing with the Skywalkers is now out. As with recent Star Wars films it is already a divisive film among fans and critics alike, who either praise it or deride it for too many reasons. Trying to do an objective review is very difficult for a film like Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and that is because of the film franchise’s unique way of permeating throughout time. It is all too easy to offer an opinion on the latest Star Wars film, but come back a year or five later and anyone’s opinion will change.
Look at the prequel films. For the longest time they were so loathed by many fans that George Lucas swore off doing anymore films and could have been a reason why he just up and sold the property and Lucasfilm to Disney. Let them take the heat for the films and boy, are they doing so now. The derision tossed at the Disney-era films is so severe that the prequels are now viewed on a more favorable light by many. The one merit pointed out with the prequels is that at least they had a cohesive vision: the fall of Anakin Skywalker and the Jedi. This cohesiveness and vision are obviously missing with the sequel trilogy, which is a handicap the last film in the sequel trilogy had to face.
As many know, director J.J. Abrams created the template for a new trilogy with Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015. It was expected that the director of the next film, Rian Johnson, would take the themes and plot threads and continue them. Instead, Rian Johnson went off on his own tangent and did a deconstruction of the Star Wars films with Star Wars: The Last Jedi and the reaction was disastrous, divisive, and controversial.
Seeing the hatred Star Wars: The Last Jedi received, Lucasfilm tapped J.J. Abrams to come back and do a course correction. Did it work? Honestly, that is hard to say. On a personal level, to myself, the film was awe inspiring and emotional. It moves with a fast-paced momentum that reeks of desperateness that works! Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is a satisfying return to the Star Wars that we all loved that is a heartfelt tribute.
But objectively, there are faults with the film and they come from Abrams and Lucasfilm’s thankless task of trying to undo the damage The Last Jedi did. The first half of the film is spent fixing and retconning characters and developments from The Last Jedi and at the same time it has to tell its own story. This resulted in a film that is constantly moving without a moment to breathe. Plot A occurs and it immediately leads to Plot B, then Plot C happens. The characters jump from planet to planet at a dizzying pace in a frantic scavenger hunt. Along the way, multitude characters, new and old, pop in and out to service the plot. While all this is going on Abrams also has the unenviable task of working in footage of the late Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa into the film in a way that works. Thankfully he succeeded, and with the overall job of cramming in all the plot points and resolving any threads. It was not easy and quite messy, but somehow it worked.
Thankfully, by the time the second half of the film commences, it is allowed to slow down and proceed at a smoother pace. By this time the emotions do get to you with all the fan services. There are many of those, which include call backs to all past eight films and while they could turn off some viewers, Star Wars fans will be delighted. But in this case, the callbacks are warranted. This is the final film in the trilogy and it was supposed to conclude the expansive story that began with Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace. One element from Episode One that is revisited is the evil machinations of Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). Some spoilers will start.
When Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker starts with its famous opening crawl, it’s announced that Emperor Palpatine has somehow come back from the dead (it literally opens with “The dead speak!”) and was the mastermind behind the First Order and Supreme Leader Snoke, whom Kylo Ren/Ben Solo (Adam Driver) killed in The Last Jedi. Even though Palpatine is resurrected, which is never explained, he is decrepit, looking more like a zombie. After Kylo tracks him down to a hidden, hellish world called Exegol, the Emperor unveils a hidden fleet of ships that he will use to destroy the remnants of the Resistance and complete his takeover of the galaxy. He tasks Kylo to bring him Rey (Daisy Ridley), the super Force sensitive Jedi that is helping the desperate Resistance.
Rey and her Resistance comrades, Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaacs), and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) learn of Palpatine’s return and set out to track him down with the help of the droids C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and BB-8. What follows is a frenetic race as they jump from planet to planet and meet all sorts of aliens and characters. Surprisingly, most of the new characters are memorable and leave an impression; in some cases they reveal tidbits about the main characters. For instance, one person they meet is Poe’s old friend, Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell). She lets the others know that Poe, renowned for being a heroic hot shot pilot, was once a spice runner.
During all the running about and fighting, Rey and Kylo come to terms with their own demons. With Rey, she has to deal with revelations about her past and her capability of resisting the dark side of the Force. Meanwhile, Kylo is conflicted with his role in the Emperor’s plot and his feelings towards Rey. All of this leads to epic confrontations that leave you glued to your seats and have an emotional resonance by the time the final act unwinds.
Of course, with all this going on there are many plot threads that are glossed over too quickly, such as the revelation of a mole, which doesn’t have much impact. Or they are answered; is Finn truly Force sensitive and a potential future Jedi? There are many fake deaths that occur which can be exhausting to deal with. However, some characters get unexpected and welcome arcs, chiefly C-3P0, who has not had much to do in these films since Return of the Jedi. There are others who just show up to give a wink and smile to the audience like Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), though in Lando’s case, his presence is always welcome. Also, there are many references and cameos of characters from the previous films which are quite effective when they happen.
While it is frantic and emotionally engaging, especially towards the end, Star Wars Episode Nine: The Rise of Skywalker is a messy film full of expositions and editing problems. However, as mentioned before J.J. Abrams had to wrap up the story not just from The Force Awakens, but all the other films, in addition to course correcting from The Last Jedi. In lesser hands, this would have been impossible to pull off, Thankfully Abrams is able to do so but not without breaking some eggs. This will frustrate a lot of people but Abrams did the best he could, as did the cast and crew, who were nearly flawless in their work (acting, music, effects, etc.).
It is clear by now that Disney and Lucasfilm did not have a coherent plan for their films and should have because narratively speaking, the sequel films when put together are a jumbled mess. It is difficult to say how the films will be looked at in the future, but going forward, Disney should let the saga films rest to give the Lucasfilm people time to properly plan out their films.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker needs to be looked at as a separate film in its own right as were the previous films and doing so will reveal its many merits. Like other films in the Star Wars series, this one has to marinate and digest to properly assess it. However, as it is now, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a wild and engrossing finale that left me feeling emotionally satisfied by the time John Williams’ iconic Star Wars closing theme played in the end credits.