As JJ Abrams and Disney bring their Star Wars sequel trilogy to a close, Redbrick Film Critics check out The Rise of Skywalker – the conclusion to the Skywalker Saga
Peri Cimen, Film Critic
The latest trilogy in the Skywalker family saga has so far maintained the joy and wonder of the original trilogy, and J.J. Abram’s The Rise of Skywalker concludes it with the same level of charm and energy as the first two. It succeeds both as a fun final adventure as well as a quintessential Star Wars film and is truly an asset to the franchise regardless of what minor issues there might be. Following their escape from the First Order in Episode VIII, an old foe resurfaces in The Resistance’s quest to defeat Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). As Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) resumes control of the Sith, Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) must travel across the galaxy and search for the uncharted planet of Exegol in order to stop him.
What is so great about all of the Star Wars films is that they’re fun and full of heart as well as being packed with action. The Rise of Skywalker is no exception. It’s filled with the same danger and childlike awe characteristic of the entire franchise. The plot is a tad predictable at times, and not always for the better, but the stakes still feel bigger and more menacing than they’ve ever been before – and that is not easy to achieve. The appearance of real risk really makes all the difference, and where tension is often missing from films about good and evil, The Rise of Skywalker, and indeed this entire trilogy, has effectively blurred the line between the two sides, complicating the standard dissonance between good and evil and continuing the Star Wars legacy of the battle between the dark and the light. Episode IX also builds on the magnitude of possibilities allowed by the force, and lightsabers too, by continuing to push the boundaries of what they can be and do.
Every scene is just as important and entertaining as the last, and the performances of the leading stars are personal and vulnerable whilst keeping alive the spirit of fun with light-hearted humour. Babu Frik (voiced by Shirley Henderson) is the comedic relief I had no idea I needed and has quickly become one of my favourite characters in the entire franchise. Carrie Fisher’s posthumous inclusion in the film as the beloved General Leia is truly well-executed and possibly the most fitting way to say goodbye to both Leia and Carrie in a sincere and intimate way. Her role, made up of previous unused footage, doesn’t feel forced into the narrative in any way, and Carrie Fisher’s legacy will live on in her performance as Leia for eternity.
Big franchises tend to suffer a lot from high expectations, and Star Wars is put under more scrutiny than most, but I’m of the opinion that The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t deserve nearly as much criticism as it has received so far. Of course, with any big-budget blockbuster, there are a couple of narrative missteps – nothing can be perfect when held to such a high degree – but no other Star Wars film is perfect, either, and people too often like to forget that when evaluating the latest releases. The Rise of Skywalker satisfies the essential Star Wars criteria, and for a lifelong fan like myself, that’s all that really matters; there are new and weird little creatures, cameos from classic characters, lightsaber battles, force ghosts, intense rescue missions and Skywalker tantrums… but most of all, there’s hope.
The original trilogy films were fun, the prequels opened up a world of possibilities for the franchise, and J.J. Abrams does a tremendous job of taking it all on board to create a coherent and captivating two-and-a-half-hour conclusion to the final Skywalker family trilogy. Whilst Rian Johnson’s vision for The Last Jedi was enjoyable but somewhat disjointed, Abrams’ finale brings our heroes back together and recaptures the narrative and aesthetic magic of The Force Awakens (even if there may have been too many cooks in the kitchen for this trilogy to be wholly coherent). The most important part of a Star Wars film, for me, will always be about how they make you feel, and at the risk of embarrassing myself I’m still obliged to say… the force feels pretty strong with this one.
Alex Green, Gaming Editor
Another year, another war in the stars for us to consume. Disney’s attempts at the franchise has resulted in two main films of varying quality in the form of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, a couple of uninteresting spin-offs and now we have the third of the sequel trilogy. JJ Abrams returns after directing The Force Awakens, a really good but safe start to a new trilogy.
Regarding The Rise of Skywalker, it certainly isn’t boring. A sleek and gorgeous visual style provides some excellent eye-candy, with good CGI giving some high-quality environments and even adding to the film’s scope. John Williams’ score is, as usual, great, but this is the first film in this trilogy that looks to give the music the space to breathe. Leitmotifs like those for Rey and The Resistance are actually implemented for good effect. So at least from a presentation standpoint, The Rise of Skywalker is a technical accomplishment. Despite it lacking any particularly incredible visual moments (i.e. Rey grabbing the lightsaber in The Force Awakens and the lightspeed explosion in The Last Jedi), there is a consistently high presentation to Abrams’ latest effort. As far as character work goes, The Rise of Skywalker wraps up the trilogy with the one constant of said trilogy being great: Kylo Ren. Adam Driver’s performance is as dynamic and nuanced as usual and his presence is consistently compelling. He is the emotional and dramatic heartbeat of The Rise of Skywalker, and indeed of the entire sequel trilogy.
Sadly though, that’s all I can praise here. The unfortunate truth is that this is the worst of the sequel trilogy. Whilst The Rise of Skywalker is a fine film, it has so many poor directorial and storytelling decisions that prevent it from having the consistency of The Force Awakens or the intrigue of The Last Jedi. This doesn’t fall in its entirety on JJ Abrams. After all, he is only one part of the production. But he is a good place to start because, simply put, this is one of the worst-paced Star Wars films we’ve ever seen. The first forty minutes whizz by with no sense of awareness of their own hyperspeed before the film then slows to a crawl for the rest of its runtime. This irregularity makes it feel unbalanced and can make that opening forty minutes rather superfluous by journey’s end. Whilst the film is able to get an excellent lightsaber battle between Rey and Kylo Ren and a great speeder chase sequence, the finale feels beyond cartoonish with the tone feeling mismatched with what’s actually happening. The fanservice here is beyond silly, with characters popping up to do nothing and directorial decisions taken to appease a fanbase as opposed to telling an intriguing narrative.
Speaking of which, the most frustrating aspect of The Rise of Skywalker is the storytelling at play. This is a film that leans into every trope, looks for every cliché and wilfully plays into them, creating a story that is largely predictable and misguided at its core. Rey goes from a warrior looking to define her place in the universe to just another hero. The side characters are woefully used, with everyone (besides Poe Dameron) getting unimportant tasks just to get them doing anything. New characters are introduced on top of that, which doesn’t help the screenplay one bit. What could have been a great, rip-roaring finale became just another Disney film but without any complexity. What a sad state of affairs.
Matt Taylor, Film Editor
It’s fair to say that The Rise of Skywalker has a lot of pressure on it. After the (largely unwarranted and unnecessary) backlash to Rian Johnson’s excellent The Last Jedi, many fans who enjoyed that film were left fearing that Disney and director JJ Abrams would simply do a U-turn to reverse all of Johnson’s work. Thankfully, that is largely not the case, and, even though The Rise of Skywalker is far from perfect, it does serve as a fitting and emotional end to the saga that audiences have loved for over forty years.
Abrams’ film has plenty of good stuff going for it, not least the conclusions to the arcs of Rey and Kylo Ren, which is where the strengths of this film lie – mostly. Daisy Ridley puts in a terrific shift as Rey, and perhaps the only criticism to be had of her character is the fact that Abrams brings back the question of her parentage, despite that being definitively dealt with in The Last Jedi. While it’s interesting to know, it fails to actually add anything to the narrative, and one can’t help but feel that the resolution to Rey’s story in the film’s closing moments would have worked better had Abrams stuck to Johnson’s decision.
Ren’s arc is also solid, if a little rushed. Adam Driver is as fantastic as ever on-screen, always keeping us engaged even when we may not be on his side, while his arc provides some of the film’s most rousing moments. Oscar Isaac and John Boyega return as Poe and Finn respectively, and each puts in their best performance of the series. The chemistry Isaac and Boyega have is electric, and, although there’s an undeniable sexual tension between the two characters that sadly isn’t capitalised on, the pair are a total joy to watch. The four of them round out the main cast, and everyone else that appears (of whom there are many) gets a decent amount to do, even if that doesn’t mean much: Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose falls particular victim to this in a move that feels like wilful pandering to the so-called ‘fans’ who bullied her off social media.
The film’s action is also stellar – truly spectacular stuff. That’s one thing Abrams has always excelled at throughout his career (look at his 2009 Star Trek, or Mission: Impossible III), and Skywalker is no exception. Each sequence is shot and edited beautifully and pops with colour, always keeping us on the edge of our seats, and John Williams’ score is put to superb use every time it appears.
Sadly not everything is great; the film’s biggest issue is its villain. Palpatine’s return has been revealed in the trailers, but it doesn’t quite click. The issue with Palpatine is that, as an antagonist, he is… weak. He has no goal other than to obtain power, but that isn’t enough when we could have had the utterly fascinating Ren as the main antagonist. Ian McDiarmid works stunningly with what he has (his Emperor voice will never cease to send chills down my spine), but there just isn’t enough to make him feel like a true threat. The final act also suffers in places. The resolution to it is particularly underwhelming, and two key moments can’t help but feel derivative of Avengers: Endgame, as if Abrams saw that film and thought ‘I’ll do that with Star Wars and people will love it!’ Sorry, JJ – not quite.
But even despite that, there is a lot to love about The Rise of Skywalker. For the most part it balances everything pretty well, and deals with both old and new characters in a way that (mostly) feels right and true, with many opportunities to leave an audience in tears. Yes, it has some fundamental issues, and no, it certainly won’t please everybody, but while it isn’t perfect, it is certainly a fitting end to the Skywalker Saga. And if those final moments don’t have you weeping, I’m afraid there may be something wrong with you.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is in cinemas now.
Images courtesy of Lucasfilm. All rights reserved.