NOTE – Like all reviews I do this – this is spoiler free, but given how big the movie is, I felt like mentioning it again.
So for those of you who have been following my Star Wars journey so far, you must’ve noticed that I was really loving a lot of the movies. Much to the surprise of a lot of my friends, I was actually a really big fan of The Last Jedi, and eagerly awaited Episode IX – honestly excited to see how J.J. Abrams would take and conclude the different thematic threads and character arcs. Unfortunately, I was left far from impressed. Despite being gorgeous to watch and having more than a few amazing iconic scenes, The Rise of Skywalker, feels hollow and emotionally vacant. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the movie – I’ll certainly go watch it again – but it was disappointing to say the least.
I have a lot I don’t like so I’m going to start with some positives – because there are quite a few and I don’t want them to get overshadowed. John William’s delivers some of my favorite renditions of tracks in this film. If I didn’t have Spotify, I’d be inclined to buy the score. In particular, “The Old Death Star”, sent chills down my spine as soon as it started playing. The echoes of Vader’s “Imperial March” feel even more captivating and alluring here. The film is also visually stunning. There were multiple moments that had me giddy with excitement and getting to see the absolute vastness of the Force was a joy to behold. The power of the characters felt palpable (pun intended) and I genuinely appreciated how badass space wizards could actually be. Great set design helped heighten battles and made them feel that much more metaphysical and grandiose. I had goosebumps more than one time and know that the spectacle is going to delight more than a fair share of people. If you like space ship fights, this movie has some jaw dropping ones in terms of scale and design. There are multiple shots in this movie that you could print out and frame and subsequently get lost looking at.
Acting in this movie is also off the charts. Even when I wasn’t invested in the plot and felt betrayed by how the story unraveled – I was always at least partially invested because character moments felt genuine. Adam Driver has been my favorite part of the Sequel Trilogy and I’d watch this movie again just to see his portrayal of Kylo. It’s astounding just how many different emotions he can put on display – and his constant journey and inner struggle between the light and the dark felt real and emotionally resonant. Every time he was on the screen I cared. It probably helps that his character arc is the only one I genuinely enjoyed – so kudos for that. Daisy Ridley is phenomenal as Rey and makes the new Jedi’s inner conflict feel as justified as the plot will let it. Even though I really didn’t like the way the story took her arc, I appreciated passion and effort put in to make it believable. My review would be remiss if I didn’t mention just how much I loved the inclusion of older cast members. Billy Dee Williams is infectious as Lando and constantly had me smiling when he showed up. Ian McDiarmid’s is over the top, campy, and perfectly evil as always. Palpatine still oozes with the same familiar dark charisma and the inclusion of of some fan favorite dialogue made his scenes that much more enjoyable. Who doesn’t love the Emperor, am I right?
Plot wise – the story picks up well after the Battle of Crait. Palpatine is back , Kylo is attempting to shore up his control of the First Order and the galaxy as a whole, and Rey is off training. From the first scene – the movie feels rushed and constantly jumps all over the place. This is especially noticeable in the first half of the movie – but pacing is whack. It’s almost like a four hour movie was packed into the 2 and a half hour run time. We constantly travel from planet to planet – from one chase scene to another brush with danger. While it all looks visually stunning, there’s an noticeable lack of tension because there’s never enough time to really get settled in or invested in what’s going on. Huge emotional moments get undercut as a result which takes a lot of the impact of the movie away. Furthermore, the movie plays out a lot like a video game with a lot of fetch quests., which is a shame, because some of the items the main crew look for seem like they could’ve been more interesting if they were mentioned or alluded to in previous films or developed more in this one. Their inclusions are also made less relevant because each “item” only seems to lead to another so it diminishes their significance.
Most of these plot issues stem from the identity crisis the film seems to have. It simultaneously tries to pick up story threads from The Force Awakens, retcon a lot of the interesting elements from The Last Jedi, and pander to a Star Wars fan base that has made its vocal disdain for the Sequel Trilogy known online. Unfortunately, there’s not nearly enough time to make each of these decisions cohesive – we go from fan service to a serious moment and then back , creating a whiplash in expectation and tone. I’m someone who loves fan service, but it just felt overdone and undeserved in a lot of scenarios and dropped me out of the movie more than once. Based on the exposition thrown at us in the earlier portions of the movie, it’s clear to see that J.J and Rian had different visions for character arcs and how the themes of the Skywalker franchise should be explored. It just made me wish one or the other had made all the films so that we could’ve received a wholly consistent trilogy instead of one that tried to do everything. Maybe that way we wouldn’t have had so many strange character interactions, deus ex machina like moments, strange reversals of previous plot threads, and confusing explanations for previous events.
For me – the biggest disappointment (that I can talk about at least) is how flat the movie feels thematically. A lot of the more interesting and nuanced themes from The Last Jedi, are completely discarded and replaced with generic beats and moments from Return of The Jedi. It makes the movie feel cheap because it doesn’t expand or try to take the story to a new philosophical height. Instead, it seems to revel in pandering to an audience that just wants to see a generic battle of good vs evil – which is fine, if not a little disheartening. Say what you want about the Prequel Trilogy- at least it expanded the philosophical discourse of Star Wars in diverse ways. It stumbled in a lot of ways, but it opened up the venue to a lot of , I was almost certain that the movie would play around with the concepts of fate, destiny, the dark side and the light side and what those ideas really mean but instead it seemed to just want to travel down the well-trodden path from the Original Trilogy. That’s not to say there’s no innovation – there were certainly interesting moments and ideas that made the Force seem more mystical and built on its vague nature. The problem is just those moments are few and far between and often times are underdeveloped or straight up undercut.
TLDR: The Rise of Skywalker is a beautiful mess of jumbled ideas and inconsistent thematic threads. While there were a lot of gorgeous shots and character actions I loved, I had my fair share of moments where I felt apathetic to the pretty visuals on the screen. It’s just sad that what could’ve been the best movie in the franchise turned out to be so topsy turvy.
Final Rating: 7.7/10. If you like Star Wars you owe it to yourself to watch the film. People who loved The Last Jedi might feel let down with the story choices made. However, on the flip side, if you didn’t like the last movie – you might end up liking this even more than me – it’s packed to the brim with fan service and goes over the story beats we all loved from the Original Trilogy. No matter what , you should watch the movie. At the very least it’s a visual and auditory treat.
Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts! There are quite a lot this time.