Cast: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega. Directed by J. J. Abrams.
With the fandom split over The Last Jedi’s controversial and out there decisions, and no one bothering to see Solo go solo, The Rise of Skywalker has the no small task of ending the nine-film saga of the family Skywalker and the battle between Jedi and Sith coming to a head.
While the joy of this film is in the not knowing, there are elements that will have to be discussed. For all it’s flaws, and it was somewhat flawed, The Last Jedi tried to do something different with the series, expanding it’s scope and setting up questions while perhaps not offering the answers to the previous film we had hoped.
J.J. Abrams is not Rian Johnson, Johnson was a filmmaker known for smaller more out there movies so to give him the reigns to the franchise was a bold move, Abrams’ stock-in trade is nostalgia from Mission: Impossible III to his two Star Trek films to Spielberg homage Super 8. The Force Awakens was a loving re-tread of A New Hope and in a similar way The Rise of Skywalker plays out like a remix of Return of the Jedi.
That’s not to say there aren’t things to enjoy, Abrams knows how to stage an action sequence, and despite it being a big CGI movie, there is something to be said about the staging of a sand-speeder chase / shootout, or the showdown between Kylo Ren and Rey in two different places at the same time. Much like Avengers: Endgame not only is this ending a beloved saga but it’s giving you the hits the way you want them and saluting the series.
As with the other new movies there are cameos aplenty and you’ll miss most of them if you’re not paying attention from actors, to characters from the extended universe – if you’re up on your Star Wars Rebels you’ll find some things to enjoy in the vocals.
The main cast come into their own, perhaps because the crutch of the original troupe has been stripped away by storytelling or tragedy, and each one manages to show who they can be. Adam Driver’s conflicted antagonist gets the juiciest role, with all the pain and anguish that lets you root and hiss at him. While Daisy Ridley never escapes the wide-eyed role she has inherited from both Hamill and Christensen. Both John Boyega and Oscar Isaac get the measure of the film and play their roles perfectly.
The film also deals with the Carrie Fisher shaped hole very well, had you not known she had sadly died before filming began you wouldn’t know, the mix of outtakes, body doubles and what one assumes is a small amount of CGI works very well to give you farewell performance instead of an offscreen death that so many feared would happen.
The film does, however, falter when it comes to surprises, yes the cameos are fun and a few revelations are OMG inspiring, but for its flaws at least the prequel trilogy didn’t seek to emulate the original and felt different, and divisive as it was The Last Jedi took some interesting turns.
Here we do suffer from a film with little interest in The Last Jedi’s legacy and being more a sequel to The Force Awakens, none more so than in the criminal under usage of Kelly Marie Tran (No Majesty Alt-Oscar nominee) as Rose Tico. The new characters sadly don’t land either, and the usual boring “do they like each other” thing wears thin very quickly. Not least when the film spends too long focussing on the insufferable C3PO.
But even as the film finds itself on rocky ground John Williams score keeps you grounded, Rey’s theme and the Resistance theme are both used brilliantly, and any scene where the score comes in is filled with the same magic of the original. It could be time to grant Williams another Oscar for his work, as the score is as rousing now as it was when it first came out.
By the end of the film your patience for fan service might be nearing its end as scene after scene is the same as asking an excited eight year old what they like about Star Wars (and I like this, and this, and this), and the repeat button gets old fast.
That said, considering it had the no-small task of ending the beloved saga, and was a fan service event that had to please a fractured fandom, the film is a triumph, easily sitting alongside the others and giving the world a closing chapter in the story of people from Tatooine who became more than their beginnings. It doesn’t take risks, but it does bring balance to the force. The series, like the force, will be with us always.