MAJOR SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS EPISODE IX: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER BELOW! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
I have a strange relationship with the Star Wars franchise.
I wasn’t alive during the original trilogy, I was very young during the prequel trilogy, and I was very much getting into film during the sequel trilogy.
Despite that, I feel as though I’ve grown up with these movies. I’ve seen them countless times, played the effortlessly cool and entertaining LEGO video games, and gasped in sheer delight when a new trilogy was unveiled by Disney and JJ Abrams. In 2015, they released The Force Awakens, a film I’m infamously not very warm towards, despite my excitement. It’s quite inexplicable, really. I love the new characters, didn’t mind the rehashing of A New Hope, but I still felt like something was missing. That something was gifted to me in a bright-red paper box with a tag that read “The Last Jedi, Directed by Rian Johnson” which would turn out to be a film that I absolutely adore. It rejuvenated that sense of Star Wars in me, so much so that I unabashedly looked forward to whatever was coming next and would be first in line to get my ticket.
Somewhere along the way, The Last Jedi became a cool thing to hate. Johnson’s courage at taking such a beloved franchise and being so subversive with his material and approach to directing was something that should have set a precedent, something that should have been rewarded rather than an acclaimed director churning out yet another simplistic take on Star Wars. But between the disgusting racist fanboys and those who failed to appreciate smart, visionary filmmaking where it counted, the backlash from Episode VIII surely saw to it that Disney were done taking risks with the trilogy. With Abrams now back in the driver’s seat, Episode IX was something to be excited for, most definitely, but it was never going to have that edge that Johnson gave us in The Last Jedi.
On Thursday night, I saw a screening of Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. Stuffed into a cramped Odeon theatre with dozens of other fans, from casual to hardcore, I witnessed Episode IX unfold in the very way I assumed that it would. Considering my comments about visionary filmmaking, you would be smart to take that as a negative.
But it’s not.
Nor is it an especially huge compliment towards the film either, but it’s not a detraction. I don’t blame Abrams for playing it somewhat safe, as opposed to what he could have done. I don’t blame Disney for wanting to wrap this up in a neat, yet still engaging way. Because backlash like Johnson faced isn’t something one wants to take on, especially if there’s a way around that can still leave people somewhat satisfied. And I know, audience satisfaction isn’t the main reason a movie should be made the way it is. It should be for the sake of the art, and let the audience react how they wish. But closing out what is basically a nine-movie series that spans five decades and billions of dollars isn’t just any other movie. It’s the closing door of something that’s very near and dear to people’s heart. So I can definitely understand them not throwing curveballs with this one.
That doesn’t mean to say I wouldn’t have liked something a little bit meatier, because yes that would have been great. Though what I saw will suffice for me, I think. Because I recognise that realistically, in the climate it was produced under the circumstances it was produced, it couldn’t have been any other way.
So about the actual movie.
We regroup with our characters one year after The Last Jedi, just a simple thing that does its part to ignore the events of the last movie, and our opening scene is one of my favourites in the series. It’s largely atmospheric, focusing on Adam Driver’s still-enigmatic Kylo Ren who, as we’ve been told from the opening crawl, is searching for a way to reach Exegol so that he can destroy Emperor Palpatine who has been heard sending a cryptic broadcast across the galaxy. It’s a very impressive sequence, and does well as a nice prologue to what’s about to come.
The rest of the movie follows suit in quite the usual Star Wars fashion: a group of heroes go on a mission, go on another mission, rescue a friend, go on another mission, and defeat the bad guy at the end. This is much the same but, again, not a detraction. These movies have a basic formula and they mostly work. The pacing in this one can drag a little here and there because it is quite a long movie for what it is, but it’s mostly enjoyable enough to keep the time passing.
I’m not going to go over major plot points, but I will talk about the outcomes of them, such as the ending, so last warning for spoilers if you still haven’t seen it! Go see it, then come back and join the discussion!!
My major positives with The Rise of Skywalker (hereon abbreviated as TROS) derive from how invested I am in the characters and their journeys, as well as the actors that portray them. Our main group of heroes have great chemistry with each other, as well as marking the first time that our new trio Rey, Poe, and Finn go on an adventure together. Rey and Poe have some personality clashes, which I liked considering they’re both very alpha, mostly unwilling to capitulate unless the situation needs them to. Finn is able to bridge their relationship together, and this is the first movie in the trilogy where I’ve actually liked Finn. I’d never really warmed to him previously and I’d never know why. I was much more interested in Poe’s reckless bravado, but TROS touched a little more on Finn’s past as a Stormtrooper and I think that was what made him interesting for me in the first place and they sort of left that alone for a lot of the time. It’s interesting because TFA made Finn feel a lot like the main character, but it’s Rey’s Jedi mastery that makes her the protagonist of this trilogy. Ridley puts into another good shift as the hero of the story and (another SPOILER warning) the titular Skywalker by the end of the movie. I’m still not sure how I feel about that, given that it basically erases what I loved about Rey’s storyline in TLJ, wherein being no one can still make you eligible for heroism. You don’t have to be descended from legacy to create your own. TROS’ ending scene negates this by having Rey claim herself as a Skywalker, which apparent permission and go-ahead from Leia and Luke’s force ghosts. It doesn’t quite feel organic, but it does tie the trilogy together in a way that makes at least a little bit of sense.
While editing this, I realised that I don’t love the film as much as I did while writing, or as I did while walking home from the cinema trip to see it last week. I’m conflicted now, because my love of Star Wars was always derived from the hard choices they make, the brilliant story writing, and interesting mythologies. TROS alienates the movie from most of these, choosing the easy route over the complexity of telling a story that challenges its audience. I still like the movie, and will probably see it again to properly confirm how I feel, but it’s certainly not going to age well for me. The next time I watch TLJ, I know that it’s going to dampen my love of TROS simply because of the potential it had. A lot of people had a gripe with another Disney property this year, Avengers: Endgame, for its supposed fan service tendencies, but I dare say that TROS is a much larger culprit: see Ben and Rey’s kiss as one example, and the lack of anything for Rose Tico. This ties in with ignoring pretty much everything that was launched by TLJ, including giving Rose the literal bare minimum to do – with just over a minute of screen time, I can’t help but feel like her minimal appearances were a placation of those who belittled the actress and the character. She was fairly important to Finn’s story as well as the story overall in TLJ, but here she is shafted.
I’m realising now that this review has taken a tangent and feels a little whiny. I’ll conclude with some overall thoughts that are positive.
John Williams writes some brilliant music as always and it’s deeply effectual in all the right places, drawing on previous themes while composing some lovely new music. The cinematography while perhaps not as iconic as TLJ is still gorgeous and has some really beautiful moments. Keri Russell is a delight even though she’s masked most of the time and only really serves to remind us that Poe has a past (and that he’s not in love with Finn to the dismay of all of us and Oscar Isaac). This still firmly feels like Rey’s movie but it does do a good job at giving other characters significant things to do. Finn, Poe, Ben, and C-3PO get some nice poignant moments. The Leia stuff definitely feels stilted but they made the best out of the situation and it was lovely to see her.
Perhaps I’ll edit this and repost with a another viewing, but for now I’m warm towards it, even though I recognise its deep problems.
I’d love to know what you all thought! Leave a comment or come talk to me on Twitter @Jamie_Carrick_! The saga may be over for now but that doesn’t mean Star Wars is.
May the force be with you.