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When Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, the deal came with the promise of more movies, including a new trilogy in the Skywalker saga. That sequel trilogy launched in 2015 with J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens and continued in 2017 with Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Now it ends with Abrams’ Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, with him returning as director, working from a script he co-wrote with Chris Terrio (Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice). The movie is also tasked with concluding the entire Skywalker saga, which kicked off more than 40 years ago with George Lucas’ 1977 film. All that’s to say Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has no small task ahead of it – not to mention the burden of expectations that come with one of the most popular movie franchises in history – and the film doesn’t totally stick the landing. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker gets bogged down in exposition and course-correcting The Last Jedi, but does have some fun moments and fan service.
Much of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’s first act is focused on exposition and establishing Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) – in addition to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) – as the main threat to Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), General Leia (Carrie Fisher) and the rest of the Resistance. It’s a lot of story packed into the first part of the movie, enough that it could have been a film all its own – and, unfortunately, it comes off as the overly rushed middle chapter of Abrams’ sequel trilogy rather than a sequel to Johnson’s The Last Jedi. It also does a great deal of heavy lifting in terms of retroactively setting up Palpatine’s return in an attempt to make the Emperor’s reappearance in the story less sudden. However, it’s not effective and instead just slows down the pace of The Rise of Skywalker’s first act, stumbling until the movie finally gets going.
Once Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker gets past that early exposition, there’s some fun to be had. Abrams and Terrio’s script sends the sequel trilogy’s trio on a mission that takes them around the galaxy, running across friends both old (Keri Russell’s Zorri Bliss) and new (Naomi Ackie’s Jannah). Ridley, Boyega and Isaac finally get to showcase their dynamic and they’re electrifying to watch. They deliver a wonderful found-family relationship that’s clearly filled with love – which extends to droids like BB-8 and new addition D-O, who’s is a scene-stealer. But their trio is too quickly overshadowed by Rey’s conflict with Kylo Ren in the latter half of The Rise of Skywalker, while Finn and Poe deal with their own struggles. Still, Ridley and Driver prove yet again to be a compelling duo on screen. Their conflict is complicated by Palpatine’s rise in a way that won’t work for all viewers because it walks back certain choices made in The Last Jedi, while continuing threads established in The Force Awakens. Altogether, there are sure to be favorite moments for every kind of Star Wars fan, but therein lies the problem of The Rise of Skywalker.
Over the last 40 years, Star Wars has become such a massively popular franchise that The Rise of Skywalker faces the impossible task of trying to please everyone. Abrams, Terrio and all those involved in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker make a valiant effort to do just that and give everyone what they want, but the result isn’t so much a cohesive movie as it is methodical wish fulfillment loosely strung together by an overwrought plot. There are answers to all the questions Abrams posed in The Force Awakens while there is undeniable retconning of certain answers Johnson delivered in The Last Jedi. There’s the inclusion of Fisher’s Leia through unused footage, which isn’t seamless but works well enough. There are gorgeously choreographed lightsaber battles, heavily CGI-ed (but still cool-looking) space battles, and the Knights of Ren are there sometimes. There are even some porgs. To be sure, there’s something for everyone to like – if not love – in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, but the reverse is also true: There’s something for everyone to dislike, if not hate, too.
Ultimately, Abrams spends so much of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker trying to give audiences what they want out of a Star Wars movie that it seems he forgot to deliver a good movie. There may be aspects of The Rise of Skywalker that surprise audiences, whether in Abrams and Terrio’s story or Abrams’ directing decisions, but nothing that has teeth, nothing that challenges viewers or subverts expectations. And, to be sure, that will please some fans just as it will irritate others. It’s a relatively safe movie, attempting to return the sequel trilogy to the heights of The Force Awakens and move away from the divisiveness of The Last Jedi, but it’s bound to be just as divisive for playing it safe as The Last Jedi was for the risks it took.
For all that Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker stumbles its way to the finish line of the Skywalker saga by stuffing the film too full and ignoring or outright retconning elements of The Last Jedi, it’s a fine enough addition to the franchise. Again, many (if not all) Star Wars fans will find something to enjoy in The Rise of Skywalker. Once the film moves beyond the issues of the first act, it sets a good pace that’ll keep viewers entertained through the entire two-hour-and-20-minute runtime. As such, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is worth checking out in theaters if only to see how the sequel trilogy ends, or if viewers are seeking some big sci-fi spectacle, which Abrams delivers in spades. Given how much is stuffed into the movie, it may be worth repeat viewings, but only for dedicated fans who found enough to like to warrant a return trip. The Rise of Skywalker may not have stuck the landing of ending the Skywalker saga on a high note, but it’s a reminder that perhaps forging a new path is the only way to a brighter Star Wars future.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker starts playing in U.S. theaters Thursday evening December 19th. It is 141 minutes long and rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action.
Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments section!
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019