Movie Review | Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker
Movie summary: The surviving Resistance faces the First Order once more in the final chapter of the Skywalker saga. (IMDb)
Where to start with this movie? I wasn't particularly impressed by The Last Jedi thanks to having seen a lot of the same material done better elsewhere, but it's still a better movie than this - hell, The Rise of Skywalker makes the previous film seem much better with how poor this is. And it's not just one thing either, there is a lot wrong for a 2.5 hour movie.
Just to start with, what is with that first hour or so? It jumps about constantly, with various people doing things and very little explanation as to why. It's not just a failure on a story-telling or character level either, the editing is borderline nonsensical, with transitions happening at random and no flow from one scene to the next making everything feel more than a little jumbled.
The Rise of Skywalker never really recovers from this start either, because we're not given any real reason to care about anything that happens other than the generic desire of seeng good triumph over evil. For a 'final' entry in a forty year saga to have such low-level stakes despite what the movie tries to tell us is ridiculous.
Thanks to being heavily featured in the marketing, it's no spoiler to say that the Emperor has returned to threaten the galaxy again and yet it all feels so superficial. We're told he was behind everything in this new trilogy, but that just feels like an insult to not just The Last Jedi, but even JJ Abrams' own The Force Awakens: those new threats built up, ending the previous movie with an unstable Kylo Ren in charge of (apparently) the largest military force in the galaxy? Nah, it's just Palpatine again.
Abrams was accused (with some justification) or ripping off A New Hope with The Force Awakens and this feels like him doing his best to repeat Return of the Jedi, regardless of how that just doesn't fit with what happens in the previous movie in the trilogy. A climactic showdown with huge fleets battling it out while the Emperor tries to corrupt a young Jedi? Yep, you've seen this before.
The problem is that this doesn't just negatively impact the story, rehashing what we've already seen once before, but it harms the music too, with John Williams reusing a lot of the score from the original trilogy here. I wonder if being forced to repeat himself and be unable to push himself creating something new is what made him decide to step away from this series...
The strongest themes still belong to Rey and Kylo Ren, because they remain the centre of the story and are the best part of The Rise of Skywalker. Their music is always welcome to hear because they're both pretty damn good it feels like they too could've become iconic outside of the fanbase if the movies around those characters had been good enough to support their story.
Credit must go to Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver for the work they do here, but it feels a little too late thanks to the different views on Star Wars exhibited by Abrams and Rian Johnson. This clash of directorial style left too much to do in this final part and, no matter how good the performances, the narrative isn't there to give events any true dramatic heft.
The worst thing? Kylo Ren doesn't get any lines in the last 45-60 minutes. Honestly, one of the most important characters in the story is reduced to a mute action figure and, if Adam Driver wasn't such a talented actor able to emote so well, it would've been a criminal waste of such a pivotal figure in the trilogy - although his final fate is hardly deserving of the performance he gives either.
As for Daisy Ridley's Rey, I still love her and Ridley has been one of the highlights of these new movies for me. Is she overpowered? No. Is she just very powerful? Yes. There is a difference between those two things, especially as The Rise of Skywalker at least makes it clear that she has been training relentlessly since the events of The Last Jedi and really should be more capable with her Force abilities than we've previously seen.
Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron definitely feels wasted though, no matter how likeable and charismatic Isaac is as the daring Resistance General. He's given no personal arc to speak of, simpy being a character going from place to place and having adventures because the story needs Poe to do that for events to play out as they do.
If there's any criticism from me for the main cast, it is unfortunately for John Boyega as Finn. He's certainly not bad, as he's far too much fun to watch on-screen, but there's a certain spark missing here that he had in previous movies - especially The Force Awakens - and it feels more pronounced because events unfold so fast in this movie that it feels like he's only just managing to keep up.
As for where those events lead? The huge fleet battle mentioned above that doesn't come close to what we've already seen in Return of the Jedi or Rogue One, both of which are far more impressive and feel far more like a truly dangerous situation for those involved than in The Rise of Skywalker. We just don't care enough, and there's so much happening that there's very little for the audience to focus on either.
And one slight spoiler for the ending and where the generic, uninteresting huge fleet for the Resistance comes from: it's clear that JJ Abrams is going for a 'Portals'/"On your left" moment to match Avengers: Endgame and it just doesn't work at all. The scale may be epic in scope, but because it isn't set up properly, it doesn't feel as powerful as it really should for the final showdown of the Skywalker Saga.
Despite the best efforts of Ridley and Driver, The Rise of Skywalker just falls completely flat and is a poor way to close out a nine-film story. It wastes so much potential, always going for the easy and safe option as it races towards its disappointing conclusion. If anything, this movie is a perfect case of 'what could've been?'
Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker is a mess, trying to fit in two movies worth of plot into a two-and-a-half-hour run-time. It starts badly, recovers a little and then falls apart for the climax, leaving you wondering how Lucasfilm could've screwed things up so much - especially when compared to Disney stablemate Marvel Studios and Avengers: Endgame.