Over the last 42 years the “Star Wars” franchise has become one of the most lucrative and resilient properties in all of entertainment. While the series has branched out into books, toys, television shows, spin-off movies and comic books it’s the “Skywalker Saga” that has becoming the anchoring and defining series in the franchise. Now, after four decades, the nine-film series comes to a close with “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”, one of the most anticipated films of this decade. Picking up after “The Last Jedi”, “Rise of Skywalker” finds Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) connecting with an infamous old enemy of the Resistance to help realize a plan to secure the supremacy of the First Order once and for all while Rey (Daisy Ridley) and all her allies embark on one final mission to put an end to the Dark Side forever. This finale had a lot on its shoulders. It had to close out the “Skywalker Saga”, satisfy the famously picky fans of the franchise, right the perceived wrongs of its predecessors, and find a satisfying way to close out the “Star Wars” cinematic ventures for the time being. There’s a lot to examine and unload so let’s see if the force is strong with this film or if it leaves the franchise on a low note. This is my review of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”.
So, I’ll start off by admitting I’m not a member of the dedicated and sometimes volatile fanbase that has made “Star Wars” such a phenomenon, but I do very much enjoy the franchise and respect that a lot of fans have high expectations for any entry in the series. I think because I’m a little more lenient of a fan I’m willing to overlook a lot of the aspects that the core fanbase could seen as detrimental, but on the flip side because I’m looking at it from a more critical perspective as a casual fan I’m also much less forgiving of its basic flaws as a work of cinema. Looking at it from both perspectives I think “The Rise of Skywalker” kind of finds a happy medium between satisfying casual and dedicated fans but in turn suffers in its attempt to be as great a film as the two features that came before it in this sequel trilogy. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy this movie. It was a lot of fun and provides a fun, immersive and enjoyable nearly 2.5 hours entertainment experience. “The Rise of Skywalker” does feel like a “Star Wars” film and incorporates a lot of what we love from the franchise, but that may serve as one of its biggest weaknesses as well.
For an epic finale, “The Rise of Skywalker” doesn’t feel like a big event film. A lot of it plays way too safe whether it’s the heavy reliance on past elements of the franchise or the irritating lack of stakes this final film chooses to embrace. I think a lot of that is due to the fan reaction to the previous movies and Disney and director and writer J.J. Abrams feeling the need to resolve complaints against the past products. In the end it’s probably this most of all that prevents “The Rise of Skywalker” from reaching its full potential. Several characters, such as Rose who played a very prominent role in “The Last Jedi”, are reduced to bit parts while the way a famed “Star War” villain, whose return was teased in the trailer, is brought back into the fold makes this feel once again like an attempt to recapture the magic of past movies without doing anything too risky or different. There’s clearly a lot of effort made to do just enough to find a middle ground and as a result “The Rise of Skywalker” never reaches that epic scale it promises but also embraces enough nostalgic elements and adventure to still be a fun movie. I know a lot of the hard core series fans look down on “The Last Jedi” for the chances it took but in my opinion it turned out to be a better movie because it was more surprising, action packed and took more chances with most of them landing and offering promise for future resolutions that, honestly, this third movie doesn’t capitalize on. “The Force Awakens” might have been just as derivative as “The Rise of Skywalker”, if not more, but it was a more tightly packed and well-paced film that took its own share of risks especially with the death of a key character. “The Rise of Skywalker” doesn’t go near as far into creative territory as its predecessors nor it is as engaging which to me makes it the worst of the sequel trilogy.
The tragic attempt to compromise with the story leaves “The Rise of Skywalker” feeling like the most predictable movie of the series in the 2010s…and we had two spin-off films that were prequels so think about that. There were plenty of opportunities for “The Rise of Skywalker” to do something grand and risky, but few of them pay off. For example, there are several moments where it looks like key characters are meant to meet their demise but except in two cases, neither of which are terribly shocking, the film doubles back on many of these big risks making the whole experience feel like the stakes are nowhere near as extreme as they should be. This character looks like they died…oh wait they actually got out without people knowing. This character goes through a process where they’ll never be the same again…oh wait, never mind there’s a way they can be brought back to normal like nothing ever happened. This new character we just got to know and respect has been killed in a First Order attack leaving one recurring character suffering a tragic loss…oh wait they escaped so no character development there I guess. A lot of this movie feels like cop out after cop out and missed chances to avoid doing anything too out of the ordinary at risk of disappointing fans. Halfway through the film I just found it hard to believe anyone we loved would die and when someone finally did it was underwhelming because even that was predictable. Not to mention there are numerous storylines and character arcs that are either unresolved or completely ignored by the end of the film despite being set up as potentially prominent B or C stories. The writing and story just isn’t as well done as the previous two films and while there may be a lot of reasons for that it leaves this finale a bit underwhelming.
But with that all said “The Rise of Skywalker” is still a fun movie and does a lot to try and satisfy the core fanbase that has made the franchise one of the biggest in history. THere is a lot of effort put into it from the set pieces to the effects and even the performances so while it may be a clunky film it’s still a product worth enjoying and does give you more than enough to keep you engaged. For all the side stories left unresolved we do see several important character arcs, including Rey’s and Kylo Ren’s, that are finally resolved and the final battle against the big bad of the film was pretty satisfying in its own way. It’s really good to see Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver give it their all to conclude the performances that made them household names and I do feel like while the quality of their fates will be argued for years I personally believe their arks were satisfyingly brought to a close. The atmosphere is immersive and the relationships between characters new and old are believable enough to make us care even for people and aliens we’ve only known for minutes of screen time. I also feel like this movie does well to honor the legacy of the Skywalker family and the significance they had in the overarching story of the “Star Wars” universe. The story itself, while cliché and oddly paced, did keep me invested for the entire run. Even though “The Rise of Skywalker” fails to be the spectacle it needed to be and does feel like a more generic movie than I think many expected, it’s still a good movie at worst. Taken on its own this is an above average big budget blockbuster that does what it needs to do and succeeds even if it could have, and should have been so much more.
“The Rise of Skywalker” might end up being among the most underwhelming movies of 2019, but I still recommend it. Whether you’ve followed the series from the start or only recently became a fan there’s a lot to love about this final film in the “Skywalker Saga” even if there’s not enough to consider it an unquestionably satisfying end. I would even double down on calling it the worst, or maybe the better way to say it is my least favorite of the three films in the sequel trilogy, but considering how solid this revival of the franchise has been over the last six years even at its worst it’s still above average. More than probably any other movie this year your enjoyment of this film will come down to your level of fandom and expectations. On one hand it provides plenty of satisfying fan service and a few fun twists and turns worthy of the “Star Wars” saga that help lift it well above most blockbusters of the time, but on the other hand it feels like a dramatic step back in terms of quality, inspiration and risks compared to the previous two movies. So, with that in mind if you’re looking for a good overall film this is simply above average “The Rise of Skywalker” will more that satisfy, and you’re looking for an exceptional “Star Wars” movie this is far from the worst we could have ever gotten. In my humble opinion its was a satisfying but undeniably imperfect end to one of the most beloved cinematic sagas of all time.