Six movie reviews in, I believe I can no longer start these things with “I don’t write movie reviews,” because clearly I do. I will, however, cop to not writing them very frequently, especially emphasized by the fact that I haven’t written one since
May June of 2018. Don’t blame me; blame the gap between Star Wars movies. Yes, for whatever reason, the Star Wars films really getting my film review juices flowing. If I had to wager a guess, I’d say it’s got something to do with the franchise’s undeniable connection to its own toyline.
I guess that makes my first comment about this movie a rather melancholy one about how The Rise of Skywalker was seriously under-merchandised. Based on very little in the movie itself, the experience this time around felt very different, mostly because I couldn’t just run out and buy all the things I had just seen up on the big screen. For someone who grew up in the midst of the prequel hype where *literally everything* got a toy, it feels really off to me. Of course, I could just be a little bitter that there are no figures of Poe sporting that snazzy scarf announced at this time… Whatever the case, I can’t help but feel the toys really got left out of this installment, and that makes me sad. None of this has to do with the actual film, I suppose, though, so how about I move onto…
THE ACTUAL REVIEW
In my review of Solo, I remarked that it was decidedly *not* an epic, an interesting beast in a franchise of epics. The Rise of Skywalker, on the other hand, aims to be the most epic of the epics, perhaps even the epic to end the epics. Had it not been released in the same year as Endgame, it certainly would have been the most epic film of the year, at least in terms of pure scope. Supposedly, the original cut of the film was 4 hours in length, and having seen the final, far more svelte 2 hour and 22 minute cut, I can easily see where those 4 hours came from.
Picking up a year after the end of The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker gives us our first real taste of progression of time in the sequel trilogy, following the rather tight nit pace of the prior two films. Emperor Palpatine has returned (a fact delivered to us in the film’s opening crawl) and Kylo Ren, now Supreme Leader of the First Order, has sought him out, hoping to quash any contest to Kylo’s (admittedly shaky) rule of the First Order forces. Instead, Palpatine offers Kylo the some spot his grandfather Vader held in the Empire in his new endeavor, The Final Order, and order seemingly built on controlling the galaxy by reducing it considerably in size, or at the very least reducing the volume of living creatures contained within it. Kylo, like the Vader fanboy he’s always been, accepts.
Over on the Resistance side, we are reintroduced to Poe, Finn, and Chewbacca first, as they take the Millennium Falcon on a run to retrieve intel from a First Order spy. They run afoul of the First Order and are forced to make a daring escape, with Poe jumping in and out of lightspeed seemingly at random, delivering a serious beating to the Falcon. They make their way to the jungle moon Ajan Kloss, where the Resistance have set up their new base following their losses in The Last Jedi. There we are reintroduced to Rey, who has been continuing her Jedi training, now under the tutelage of Leia. Through the intel, the Resistance learns of Palpatine’s plans for the Final Order, and a clock is set for our heroes to find Palpatine’s location and end his second reign before it begins. So, our main trio, plus Chewy, 3PO, and BB-8, set out on the Falcon to find an artifact that will lead them to Palpatine.
That’s just the first 20 minutes of the movie, and if I’m entirely honest, it’s not the film’s strongest part. The pacing at the beginning is a bit frantic and jarring, as they cut back and forth between Kylo and the Resistance. Once the trio heads out on their mission, things start clicking into place a bit better, and the film more securely finds its footing, with a fairly steady ramp up to the movie’s galactic-level conclusion. A lot has to happen in this film, and it does its best to balance all of it.
Our returning leads each get a compelling arc of their own. Rey continues to struggle with who she is, and what her significance is to both the Jedi and the Resistance, eventually finding peace by the film’s conclusion. Finn finally manages to shake off that cowardly streak the he had in both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, and holds onto full-fledged hero for the entirety of this film, even finding some more kindred spirits along the way. Poe faces down both his past and his future, as he must come to grips with taking over as a leader of the Resistance, while calling back on his past as a spice runner to help complete our heroes’ mission. Perhaps my favorite thing about the movie is that all three of them go through these arcs together, as for the first time in the sequel trilogy, the main trio spends most of the movie in the same place. They have great chemistry, and I really enjoyed seeing the whole trio interact.
For Kylo’s part, he and Rey continue to have their star-crossed conversations, which eventually turn into star-crossed fights. Though he seemingly turned fully to the dark side at the climax of the last film, his troubled motivations from that film are still at the forefront of his mind, as he continues to wrestle with whether he wants to be “good” or “bad.” Unlike the others, he is mostly isolated, not just from the heroes, but even from those on his own side, giving Driver a lot of time to brood on his own.
There are a ton of returning supporting players, each of whom get something of note to do, but most of whom are in rather reduced roles from their prior appearances, mostly due to the timing constraints of the film. Of the old guard, we get to see both Billy Dee Williams as Lando and Dennis Lawson Wedge again, which was a lot of fun, even in somewhat reduced capacities. Carrie Fischer as Leia has significant, albeit small, part, due to the constraints of how they got her into the movie. I was impressed by how well they worked her in, and happy to see her get a proper send-off. Of the new films’ characters, Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose is hit the hardest by the time constraints, going from just shy of a main character to memorable background character. I’m glad she was still there, but it’s a shame she didn’t get quite as much to do.
We also meet a handful of new characters along the way. My personal favorites were Kerri Russell’s Zorri Bliss and Shirley Henderson’s Babu Frick, two former allies of Poe, but Naomi Ackie’s former First Order trooper Jannah and Richard E Grant’s current First Order Allegiant General Pryde both fulfill important roles.
The Rise of Skywalker endeavors to do a lot of things. It’s the end of the current set of movies and it’s being promoted as the end of the “Skywalker Saga.” It does one of those things a bit better than the other, and that’s ending the current trilogy. It also raises the stakes higher than we’ve seen them before, which certainly takes some doing. From a real world stand-point, it’s also trying win back the crowd that departed with The Last Jedi, while still being appealing to those who stuck around the whole time. I think this is the area where the film is most successful, as it, more than the other two films, aims to have a little something for everyone. The end result is one that I don’t think is going to be anyone’s favorite Star Wars movie, but is consequently unlikely to get the ranking of “worst Star Wars movie” (despite what some early reviews indicated).