Review - Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Well, here we are. Star Wars is allegedly over now, although we all know that's a lie. Disney have been pretty open actually and just referred to this as the end of the Skywalker Saga but still, that means this is the conclusion of 42 years of work. As such, this is a film with lots of things in it, aiming to tie up many, many loose threads. Rest assured, I won't spoil anything in this part of the review but I'll do my best to break this heap of things down. As ever, it is the story of good fighting against evil, Rey working out who she wants to be and other characters supporting her on her journey. Already, I am fighting for the details. As I write this, I saw the film earlier in the day and after wandering aimlessly around San Francisco (I know, #humblebrag), it has almost entirely faded from my memory. It is simply a series of events. A happens, then B happens, then C happens. Any decent writer will tell you that structure should be much more like "A happens, therefore B happens, however that means C happens" because it's an engaging structure, a structure and engagement this film does not have. Because of that, it makes all the plot beats just grate on me. There are reveals and twists that rubbed me the wrong way and not even because I'm a Star Wars fan. I'm not, Disney have successfully beaten that out of me over the last five years. No, now, just like the Linkin Park song, I have become so very numb. Ironically, the chorus really sums up my feelings. I'm so tired but so much more aware, all I want is to distance myself from these films because they're draining my life away. I never thought I would quote Linkin Park in one of my reviews but what can I say, when a song nails a feeling, it nails it.
I'm so tired but so much more aware, all I want is to distance myself from these films because they're draining my life away.
Let's hand out some compliments to the cast of this film. First off, unfortunately, there are some great actors here who are properly wasted. There's Keri Russell who gets to show nothing but her eyes, Dominic Monaghan who was once a member of the Fellowship of the Ring but is now essentially an extra and poor Kelly Marie Tran who, after her important role in The Last Jedi, has now also been shuffled off to the side. Fortunately, many of the central cast are still here and still pretty great. Daisy Ridley is still Rey and still carries out that character through to wherever the hell her story takes her. John Boyega is good too, delivering one liners every now and then to lift the film up. I also love Oscar Isaac, who is very much the Han Solo of this sequel trilogy. Those three have great chemistry on screen and after two films of keeping them apart, it's worth watching the moments where they come together. Best of the whole bunch though is Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. Since the last film, I've seen both him and Isaac do superb work in much smaller films and while they obviously don't reach those heights (I preach again, Marriage Story is still the best film of the year), Driver is such a charismatic villain. Genuinely, you believe his plight as he tries to work out whether he wants to lead the Sith or turn to the good side and while he isn't on screen as much as I would hope, he makes the most of each and every moment. There's a couple of actors I was not expecting to pop up in this film (one genuinely sideswiped me for a few minutes) but generally, it's a couple of great performances held up by a sad amount of wasted potential.
In a film as muddy and messy as this, I will take anything close to genuine emotion
Before we get into spoilers, I'll drop a few more compliments around because while I am not a fan of this film (you may have worked that out already and we'll delve more into it in a moment) there is plenty of good stuff in here, largely in the behind the scenes construction of it. Part of that is literal, in that the set design is excellent. It does that thing that so many great sci-fi film follow ups to old classics do, where the space technology all looks like what people in the seventies thought the future would look like (think the sequels to Alien or Blade Runner) and I love that. Even the CGI is pretty good, there's one planet that seems to be just one giant ice block and again, looks damn great. The real weight of this film though comes from John Williams' score. His score is the reason that so many moments from the last eight films work and that is no exception here. I got goosebumps in many scenes, not because of any real emotional connection but because Williams knows how to tickle those sensitive sonic bones. Sure, many of the motifs are taken from earlier films but the fact is, they work. In a film as muddy and messy as this, I will take anything close to genuine emotion and what I want to make clear is that, as is always the case on these mega-blockbusters, it's the people behind the scenes who really deserve the credit that is rarely given to them.

Okay folks, we're moving onto spoilers now so avoid any bits between the red text if you haven't seen the film yet and still plan to.

Spoilers start here!

Boy oh boy, there was some stuff here that bugged me, nothing more than the reveal of Rey's ancestry. See, it turns out that she is the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine, the big bad of this entire saga. That is very stupid. For all there is that is weak about The Last Jedi, making Rey a nobody is a powerful message because it means her power comes from her, not some long lineage. The only thing about it that was interesting was that it brought in a very unexpected Jodie Comer as Rey's mum, whose charm is always welcome. On that note, I disliked the whole involvement of Emperor Palpatine in this film. What his involvement means is that he has been the mastermind of all these nine films, a great evil lurking around the whole time. It is the worst example of the already awful trope of "I was the architect of all the bad stuff that happened to you" and it bugged the hell out of me, not least the fact that he was literally growing Snoke clones. Also a problem is that by the Emperor returning, deaths don't feel meaningful anymore. When Kylo dies in Rey's arms, it didn't affect me much because he could well return in a decade or two. Gone is the "Let the past die" discussion of Last Jedi, now "No one's ever really gone" and that hurts my engagement whenever any peril arises. Finally though, in that last scene of the film, we return to Tatooine and in the second worst surname reveal in the Star Wars franchise, she adopts the surname of Skywalker. UUUUUUUUUUUURGH. It's awful, I hate it, it made me wish I was getting drunk. Again, I'm not even a Star Wars fan anymore, but these are moments that just feel geared towards making fans cream in their jeans and not in service of any actual story telling or character growth.

Spoilers end here!

J.J. Abrams knows how to start stuff, to pose awesome questions and make you come back for later instalments. He did it as a director on The Force Awakens, he did it as a producer on Cloverfield and I'm told he did it on Lost too. The problem comes in answering those questions, be it the finale of Lost, the mess of The Cloverfield Paradox or now, here. There are good qualities to this film, it is not without redemption, yet I found it a completely thankless experience that I was very happy to walk out of once those credits rolled. That's why I have little choice but to give The Rise of Skywalker a

If you can stand anymore discussion of this film, I really would recommend watching both the Your Movie Sucks review and the Red Letter Media discussion of the film. Both are very funny but also offer really interesting discussions on the film and how they think it failed. Discourse is good, people out there like this film and don't attack them for it, engage in discussion with them. Polarisation never helps with talking about any films, let alone Star Wars so let's try and avoid that online. Be good, be nice and listen. Even if your mind hasn't been changed, maybe you've learned something.


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