Let’s be honest. The reason you, the skeptic who hated on The Last Jedi for two years (not me, but you know who you are!), went on this site and clicked on this review is to find out whether or not Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is any good. But the answer to this isn’t a simple one. Now before the cynic in you dismisses the movie entirely just because it’s not an overwhelmingly positive “yes,” just know that it’s not terrible either. To put it simply, in a year where we had Avengers: Endgame and the finale of Game of Thrones, The Rise of Skywalker, the conclusion to the 40 year Skywalker saga, is squarely in between: neither as amazingly uplifting and universally praised, nor as abysmally disappointing and anticlimactic as some other fantasy finales that pissed me off.
For every infuriating GOT-esque rush job this movie has, there’s at least a few pretty fun action sequences or jaw dropping surprises. And therefore to some degree it becomes a bit frustrating. You find yourself constantly rooting for the movie because some things are great, then completely tear it apart. That said, let’s start with the light side!
For me, the action in the film is pretty top notch. There’s at least 5x more lightsaber battles in this one than in Last Jedi (meaning there’s about five lightsaber battles total). Most between Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). And these are well choreographed and fun to watch. There are action sequences we’ve never seen before in a Star Wars film (Rey vs. a Tie Fighter!) that are so incredibly cool. And the duel between them on the ruins of the Star Destroyer in the middle of a raging sea is quite powerful. There’s also some pretty epic space battles — an opening chase with Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Issac) is quite spectacular, as is a siege with Finn and Jannah (Naomi Ackie) on a Star Destroyer.
Additionally, the character choices for Rey, and especially Kylo Ren are quite strong. A lot of people in our audience were particularly shocked about a revelation regarding Rey. But quite frankly the star of the show was Kylo’s arc. Without going into spoilers, perhaps the one aspect of this entire sequel trilogy that has developed consistently throughout this third of the saga has been Kylo’s character. From Force Awakens to Rise, Kylo’s character reaches the most logical and organic climax. In fact, what I saw as perhaps the best scene in the entire film — with the most payoff, potentially in the entire sequel trilogy — was a solo Kylo scene. Driver has done a tremendous job playing possibly the most conflicted character in the canon, and thankfully he was primarily written well throughout this franchise.
Overall the acting was solid. Kelly Marie Tran, as well as Driver, Ridley, Issac, Domhnall Gleeson and Boyega are as solid here as they were in the previous installments. Ridley and Driver specifically are the highlights, truly carrying the movie, but so is dear Ian McDiarmid, reprising his role as Palpatine (won’t share to what capacity, but he absolutely eats up this role in a way no one else ever could). Billy Dee Williams is as charming as ever. And the newcomers (Keri Russel, Naomi Ackie, Richard E. Grant) are also fantastic (for as much as we see of them anyway… more on that later).
Another positive is the score. It will be insanely sad to say goodbye to John Williams as he retires from Star Wars for good after this film. But Rise, as with all saga-films, has a beautiful soundtrack with a multitude of callbacks that appropriately give themes to the characters we’ve grown to like over the past four years.
Finally, one of the coolest parts of the film, which may prove controversial for many, has been the inclusion of new Force abilities. JJ Abrams and Chris Terrio have introduced a series of very cool abilities; some which drive some of the more dynamic, interesting lightsaber battles in the franchise’s history. They also call back to many of the more mythical aspects of The Force that we’ve read about or heard about, but never seen on screen. In that respect, it’s very cool to see some new tricks coming out of the canon, outside of telepathy, telekinesis, lightning, and the usual suspects.
While it doesn’t seem like the above positive aspects are numerous, the positive impact of said aspects is palpable enough that the specific issues I have with the film didn’t necessarily ruin the experience for me. In other words, I had fun. It’s a fun movie. However, it’s also insanely problematic, and while the highs are really high, the lows are incredibly infuriating.
The biggest, and worst issue in the film, oddly enough, is the editing. I don’t know what hack and slash company Disney outsourced to for the final product, but this was by far the most rushed, slapped together Star Wars film I’ve ever seen. One second our characters are in one location, and the next, without warning or build up, they’re just sprinting to another. More than that (and not something I can fault JJ or the studio for given the circumstances), the Leia scenes are where the movie’s editing problems truly stand out. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the cinematic equivalent of the Milhouse editing scene from the “Radioactive Man” episode of The Simpsons in a real film before… until now! Using deleted scenes of our beloved Princess/General, Carrie Fisher, may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but boy oh boy, does it just not work. It becomes the most awkward thing imaginable when we hear a long one-sided conversation with a character, only to have a simple “Yes” from previous recordings of her voice reply to things, or to play random snippets of said audio, and elaborate with a conversation that doesn’t really work with the flow of the film. It’s not their fault, but it just doesn’t work.
Another major issue here, from a narrative standpoint, is the multitude of unanswered questions from this entire trilogy. Remember when Maz Kanata found Rey’s lightsaber in The Force Awakens, and said the story of how she found it would come at another time? Yeah, I guess Maz didn’t read any of the next films’ scripts, because, NOPE! The movie also hilariously and unnecessarily introduces an open question about something Finn wants to tell Rey, but by the end of the movie, that’s almost entirely ignored, for… reasons?
I realize many people criticize the Marvel Studios school of storytelling where breadcrumbs for future titles are scattered in every movie as part of planning. But like –c’mon JJ, Johnson, and Kennedy! A little bit of planning would have gone a long long way if you’re trying to tell a larger story! Also without spoiling anything, The Rise of Skywalker almost instantly does away with anything pertaining to The Last Jedi, and does so with almost so much disdain. Look, I get that the people on the internet hated it. But T.S. guys! You already committed to this story. You need to see it through. You can’t just try and retcon a trilogy mid-trilogy! That’s not how storytelling works! Otherwise what the hell was the point of the previous movie? Between these two points, I can honestly say, a little less fan service, and a little more story planning could have done The Rise of Skywalker a lot more justice than it got, which is incredibly sad.
Okay, so remember when I said I’d get to the characters/newcomers above? I’m going to get into it — all the newcomers are wasted. We get about five minutes each of Keri Russell and Naomi Ackle’s characters, because the movie just doesn’t seem to care about them beyond a plot purpose they have to serve to generate a convenience for the core four characters to shine. In fact, they do this with a lot of characters including Lando Calrissian — one of the most legendary characters in the canon. How do you waste Billy Dee Williams, for godssake?! Don’t even get me started on Mark Hamill. Everyone shows up abruptly, says a quick line, disappears abruptly, comes back to help a little, disappears again (thank you crappy editing). And as a result of the sloppiness and filmmaker’s lack of real investment in any of them, the triumphs of any of these characters are absolutely lackluster, because the audience themselves aren’t invested in them. If the movie’s not going to develop them, or do anything outside of a random convenience, why bother having them. And it’s sad. Because all of these SHOULD be amazing moments that just fall flat!
Which brings me to my final, and perhaps most infuriating topic: the movie falls into the trope of sidelining every minority character — Yes even including Finn! Yes occasionally Finn and Jannah do something useful, but ultimately, it’s to enable Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver to fight a bit more. Literally during a climactic battle between Rey and Kylo, Finn is literally pushed to the side and forced to just watch them go at it. Rose, as a character, does absolutely nothing in this film, and poor Kelly Marie Tran’s role is limited to as many lines as Greg Grunberg’s Snap Wexley. What was the point of introducing her at all in The Last Jedi as a main player, when she’s essentially a cameo in this? The irony of all of this was how promising this all was when the saga restarted in 2015 with Force Awakens, and cast a minority male as a lead with Boyega. But now, Finn’s just a sidekick. The movie isn’t even bothered to explore/complete a subplot about his character’s possible force sensitivity (which may seem like a spoiler, but given there’s no resolution at all, it’s not much of one). Why go so far only to move a million steps back?
Look, overall, when I walked out of the movie, I realized I still had fun. However, it’s insanely problematic and at times infuriating. However, for as infuriated as I was at times, I did leave the theater on the final scene feeling kind of okay. That said, looking back, I can submit that I was left feeling like it was a mostly a serviceable ending to Rey and Kylo’s story. Just not a satisfying ending to the Skywalker saga, I’m afraid. This could have been a really really great movie. And instead it’s just “fun” yet wasted potential. That said, I can actually say this with absolute certainty: At least it’s not Phantom Menace.
Overall Score: B- (if I’m being generous)/ C+