REVIEW: A Better Film Lives in ‘Rise of Skywalker’ (2019)

Rating: 4 out of 4.

“Far from perfect but offers enough action and heart to satisfy the majority of moviegoers.”

This is a spoiler-free review of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Set after the events of The Last Jedi – which saw the resistance at their weakest – we are thrown straight into the action as Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) look to finally defeat the First Order, led by Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Add on the returning threat of Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) and the pieces all appear in place for an epic conclusion that could leave the majority satisfied. However, what follows, while satisfying on certain levels, suffers from a tirade of problems that will leave many frustrated.

To keep this review as spoiler free as possible, I won’t get into specifics,but it is safe to say that Adam Driver is the stand out performer. As Kylo Ren, he has always been a powerful presence on screen that balances both the light and the dark. In The Last Jedi his internal conflict was at a tipping point. With The Rise of Skywalker we see how far these choices have taken him and whether anything can bring him back from the darkness. Daisy Ridley has now comfortably found her stride with the character of Rey and has been able to portray an incredible depth of emotion. She is given a lot of material to work with here and she does well to help make it believable through her grounded performance.

It is however sad to report that the screentime of a lot of fan favourites such as Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) and General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson) is lacking. Moved to the background when their performances were highlights of the sequel trilogy, it was disheartening to see these characters reduced to set dressing in favour of new characters with little backstory. Outside of the main trio of heroes, we do not get a chance to see many more of the heroes to shine. Even newcomers Jannah (Naomi Ackie) and Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell) only serve to further plot and do not feel full formed as characters themselves. Jannah in particular feels underutilised, especially when you consider her characters backstory and its connection to another of the lead characters.

Something hard to deny is that John Williams has done some incredible work with the score. Using elements from all his previous work, as well as fresh interpretations, the soundtrack is full of life and truly lives up to the incredibly high standards that Williams has set for himself. Without the score, The Rise of Skywalker’s biggest moments of levity would perhaps not ring quite as strong as Williams finds the perfect moment to elevate  emotions. Having scored every episode of the Skywalker Saga, it seems fitting that Williams ends on perhaps his most powerful yet.

One thing that became clear in The Rise of Skywalker was how much of an impact Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi had on how we view the Star Wars franchise. At the time, there was a lot of controversy surrounding the film, but now two years on we can see how Johnson’s interpretation and reflective look on our heroes and how we perceive them was perhaps a one of a kind moment. The Rise of Skywalker feels like a missed opportunity to continue the incredible themes and ideas started by Johnson. Plot threads that were resolved previously become reopened as though to undo previous work. Where The Last Jedi looked to be its own entity despite what fans may believe, The Rise of Skywalker looks to please fans without wanting to have a reason to do so. Some choices feel made specifically to appease the toxic side of the fandom and in the end feel calculated decisions not by a free filmmaker but someone terrified by their audience. 

The Rise of Skywalker offers a lot of good material for fans of the sequel trilogy as we finally see the heroic trio fighting together and adventuring, much like Luke, Han and Leia had done previously. Those moments feel joyful and what Star Wars is about is feeling joy. While the conclusion of this film will leave some unhappy and others shocked, their is a sense that the past is being honoured, and circle that started with Anakin is brought to a poetic conclusion. The film is far from perfect but offers enough action and heart to satisfy the majority of moviegoers. A better film lives somewhere within this story,  but I am left with a sense of hope that the future of this franchise still shines bright.

Dir: JJ Abrams

Prod: JJ Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, Michelle Regwan

Cast: Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver

Release: 2019

Available: In Cinemas Now