It all comes down to this. Nine movies, three trilogies and 42 years later, the Skywalker saga comes to an end with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, a finale that has a lot to do in such little time. The story follows the crew of characters we all love as they come together for one last mission against the forces of evil.
I have very mixed feelings about this movie and the story that it follows, but I also don’t blame J.J. Abrams or the rest of the writing team for how it all comes across. This film had a major task ahead of it; it needed to close out the new trilogy, close out the Skywalker saga and bridge a gap between the two completely different directions taken by Episodes VII and VIII. In quite possibly the most complicated way possible, it executes one of those three things to perfection, one to semi-completion and one becomes this movie’s biggest flaw but not for lack of trying.
I’ll get the biggest positive out of the way. When it comes to closing out the Skywalker saga, which has run over nine films, this is as good as it gets. J.J. packs in so much emotional payoff with original characters, classic references and thematic similarities that you can’t help but be swept away by the wonder of it all. The closing out of this 42-year story is as good as it gets and is handled in a way that I think every Star Wars fan will greatly appreciate.
Then you have this film’s other task, closing out a trilogy where the two films that preceded it were heading in two seemingly completely different directions. That’s where things get very tricky. This film, to put it simply, is 90% a sequel to The Force Awakens and 10% a sequel to The Last Jedi. It’s clear that J.J. has taken this film in the original direction he planned for the characters and dances around the decisions made in The Last Jedi. Now, I like the story decisions made in this film (most of them) and I think they all work and make sense when you consider what The Force Awakens was setting up. The problem is, because there’s no second film that developed that story beyond The Force Awakens, we’re left with just this film and it feels like there is a massive hole in between the two… because there is.
I loved the story beats and reveals that are hit here, but without the development of those beats through a middle film in the trilogy it all comes out of nowhere and honestly, as much as it’s explained, doesn’t make a tonne of sense. This is literally like we have parts one and three of a trilogy and there’s a massive hole in the middle. So where the story is great, it’s intense, it’s intriguing and it holds many satisfying surprises, the first half is bogged down with exposition as J.J. plays catch up to try and make everything that’s happening make sense.
All things considered, he does a great job, it’s just a shame that the reason this story feels very sudden and out of nowhere has nothing to do with the quality of this film, but of the direction taken by TLJ. It all plays into the fact that what we have here is three great films, all of which I love, that don’t blend together to form a coherent trilogy at all.
In other departments, the performances this time around may be the best they’ve been so far. The ensemble cast has grown over the years and built up so much chemistry that where it felt like they were friends in TFA, now it’s clear this is a tight-knit crew of great actors. Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac and John Boyega are the heart and soul of this new trilogy and they nail every scene to perfection. The energy between the three of them makes for a tonne of fun when they’re all together as you get three distinct personalities all crossing paths. All of their characters also have a lot to do over the course of the film which is great to see for the first time in this trilogy.
Even Adam Driver has a considerable presence in the film and an arc that makes up a majority of the film’s runtime. He’s someone who has grown a tonne over the course of the trilogy and is an even more formidable villain this time around.
Then you have the supporting performances, both new and old, who are great when it comes to fleshing out this universe. The late Carrie Fisher has a rather heavy role in the film considering she left us before shooting on this film began and her scenes are handled with the utmost respect for her legacy. Newcomers Keri Russell and Naomi Ackie are introduced as somewhat intriguing characters. I was especially drawn to Keri Russell’s character, as she doesn’t really have much to do despite being a cool-looking character, and really hope we get more of he in some capacity going forward… perhaps a Disney+ series.
There are a lot more characters in this film who I’m not going to cover either for spoiler or because I’d rather not hint too much at how much they’re in the film. But, I’ll just say there are characters who’s presences I loved and a couple that I feel needed a bit more exploration.
What makes Star Wars, “Star Wars” is the music and visuals that are still just as phenomenal as ever. Every shot captures the unique aesthetic of Star Wars brilliantly and John Williams‘ score is breathtaking, with so many spine-tingling moments harking back to previous films. It’s all tied together by J.J. who manages to craft a film that, despite a number of drawbacks, is a deeply engaging and thrilling end to a generations-old story. I’m still very torn with how this trilogy has turned out, but it’s all we have to go off and if this is the worst we can do, I’ll take it.
Seeing as there’s so much about this story that I love, it’s hard to take its score down based on the fact that it doesn’t work as a trilogy. But the fact of the matter is, regardless of where the fault lies, the choices made feel quite jarring and out of nowhere with next to no setup aside from some brief exposition in the first act and the opening crawl. My opinions will no doubt change after multiple viewings, also once I’ve conjured up a spoiler review, but for now my feelings are split. I still highly recommend seeing it for how it closes out the entire saga in a phenomenal way, regardless of the narrative disconnects within this trilogy.