THE RISE OF SKYWALKER reaffirms the greatness that is STAR WARS.
By Matt Cummings
It goes without saying that over the past 20 years, the Star Wars franchise has seen more of its fair share of criticism, negativity and downright poisonous vitriol than it probably deserves. Afterall, it’s a piece of Americana, woven into the societal fabric that makes our filmmaking different than that of any other country. And yet, we stand at the end of a 42-year run of movies wondering just what happened to THE LAST JEDI, worried that our favorite (and perhaps most sacred?) film series was ready to be sent to the Spice Mines of Kessel. But, STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER is here to (mostly) save the day; it’s a terrific epic, an action-filled thrillride that we haven’t seen in 35 years and final chapter to an engaging character story about loss and redemption.
With the Resistance on the run and the First Order seemingly ready to take over, news of the return of a deadly enemy forces Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Leia (the late Carrie Fisher) into a final battle against the conflicted Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who has taken over The First Order. Together with some old friends both human and droid, our heroes must locate a large fleet of Star Destroyers before The First Order carries out the final order: the elimination of all who stand against them. The result will see a Jedi rise, another fall, and the galaxy poised to either finally be free or to slump into permanent darkness.
RISE is fabulous right out of the gate: the first hour is filled with both fan service, memorable action, some great snappy dialogue between our heroes and some genuinely surprising moments. As the film continues, it’s clear that Director JJ Abrams is both looking to answer every question we as fans had about the previous two releases, but is also keen to sweep away most of the incredibly divisive THE LAST JEDI. What he leaves in its place is memorable not just because he’s bold enough to answer many of our questions but is willing to package it with some of the best lightsaber and space battles we’ve seen since ROGUE ONE. That’s not to say it’s a perfect movie, as it jumps all over the place and doesn’t answer some key questions left over from LAST JEDI. But its narrative succeeds so often that I can easily forgive its more glaring weaknesses.
While a giant spectacle, SKYWALKER is also about the loyalty and love that a family demonstrates towards its own. There’s fun shade throwing between Finn, Poe and Chewbecca and between droids both young and old. There’s those “conversations” between Rey and Kylo as each tries to recruit the other to their side. There’s also a few scenes with the parents of this franchise, as Leia tries to prepare Rey for the terse battle that is yet to come. We tend to forget these elements when watching a Star Wars movie, but the best of them create and nurture that sense of family, whether it’s behind the controls of the Falcon, on a desert planet, or in deep space before the surprising final battle.
Everything presented here is an attempt to close the door on 40 years of storytelling. That’s a tall order and sometimes Abrams cuts his film a little too tightly, with too many familiar scene wipes before setting us off on another chase. The pace will put some viewers off, and there’s most likely a 3-hour (and maybe better?) version of this on a hard drive, but I’ll take the various resolutions here any day over the terrible narrative that was THE LAST JEDI. There, Luke (Mark Hamill) was a whiny, sniveling old man who had lost his faith for really no reason; he had become a shell of the god boy that Dark Horse comics had revered for so many years. In SKYWALKER, Luke’s presence as a now-wiser ghost leads Rey on a final mission to seek both the true story of her family and the terrible ending that befell them. Her realization of some new-found and frightening powers instantly suggests where our story is going, courtesy of a troupe of writers including Chris Terrio.
SKYWALKER is also as nostalgic a ride as one will ever see in a franchise. We visit almost every world from the original series, we’re treated to familiar faces and situations, and the music from Composer John Williams (whose run ends with this film) resonates as this film’s heartbeat. Say what you want about the film itself, but Williams leaves an indelible impression with his final score. There’s also several surprises sprinkled throughout that should leave audiences gasping. Fisher’s scenes – a combination of cut TFA scenes and new CGI effects – is given a proper and stirring ending that should elicit enough tears to fill a large tub of popcorn.
It’s clear that Star Wars is in a transition period, with another installment currently slated for 2022/23. But that date’s a tall order given the rough ride Producer Kathleen Kennedy has wrecked upon this franchise. While some worry about vision and leadership, I’m heartened by THE MANDALORIAN crushing it and SKYWALKER ready to impress. It is distressing to witness the divisiveness already building from early reviews: why a large and growing core of writers would disregard such a beautiful-looking movie that takes bold chances (and largely succeeds) is something that will just have to play itself out with fans. It may take years before they and others truly appreciate this film, but let’s hope it doesn’t take too long. Star Wars has many stories left to tell, and I for one am excited to see what this next chapter brings. The immediate future is bright, even if my view is in the minority.
STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER reaffirms my nearly 40-year love for a franchise that’s seen its share of bruises. It brings back the best elements of what made the original so magical: not just the epic scale and the battle of good vs evil, but the remarkable interaction of well-conceived characters struggling to understand themselves and each other in front of the grandest backdrop possible. Perhaps it’s a little too much fan service and doesn’t quite explain everything that it sets up, but don’t let that or the white noise that is the Internet keep you from enjoying this one; and perhaps, you like me will also shed a tear as the most important film series of any generation comes to an emphatic and stirring close.
STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action and has a runtime of 141 minutes.