Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Review

After staggering out of a rammed midnight showing of this visually dizzying, narratively stuffed conclusion to the Star Wars sequel trilogy, this critic made the mistake of reading social media reactions. Amidst the hyperbole, rage and adoration, one comment stood out like a lightsaber in the darkness: “Eight year-olds will see this and think it’s awesome”. 

If that does not neatly summarise all that is great and terrible about The Rise of Skywalker, I fear nothing will. For this is a film which - despite the franchise baggage, social media furore and middle-aged fanboy expectations stacked against it - succeeds almost totally on its status as delirious, colourful, awe-inspiring spectacle that will delight younger viewers in the same way the previous trilogies thrilled their parents and grandparents.

Calling back to the corny Saturday morning serial elements of Lucas’ original outlines, Skywalker’s opening crawl declares “The dead speak!”. Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid, salivating at the chance to employ his brand of high-camp evil) has returned, his malevolent spirit now working to conquer the galaxy once and for all. A year on from the events of The Last Jedi, the fledgling Resistance has grown, but are still outmatched. Rey (Daisy Ridley) trains under General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher, sensitively included thanks to a wealth of unused footage from The Force Awakens). Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran, more than a little side lined) have grown into great leaders.

Meanwhile, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) tightens his grip on the galaxy and - urged on by the resurgent phantom menace - obsessively searches for Rey, his counterpart in the Force. Their relationship - one of the few consistent elements of this trilogy - deepens further in this instalment, and both actors play it beautifully. Whether you go with their plot trajectory or not, Ridley and Driver have given this series something it sorely needed - emotional performances that rely on loaded glances or unspoken truths over bellowed declarations of hatred or love. Driver - as the face that launched a thousand ‘ships - is particularly wonderful.

Boyega and Isaac build effortlessly on their easy chemistry, but the winning comedic turn here comes from Anthony Daniels as C-3PO. In such a huge roster it’s nearly impossible to give everyone their due, hence underwritten roles for saga newcomers Naomi Ackie and Keri Russell, or Domhnall Gleeson’s slimy General Hux.

Thoughtful character moments (never in short supply in The Last Jedi) find little room to manoeuvre in a rushed first act and are relegated to a ludicrously high-stakes conclusion. Abrams and fellow screenwriter Chris Terrio (Batman V Superman, Justice League) opt instead for pure space opera sugar rush, launching alien after spaceship after planet after cameo at the audience and praying even half of it sticks. Certainly, you’d be hard-pressed to find a dull moment or flat gag in the entire 140 minutes, but thematically - rampant as this film is with unnecessary revelations and odd side quests - it’s no match for Rian Johnson’s previous entry.

The plotting may be fiercely inconsistent, but Skywalker is always a visual labour of love. There must be something about the Star Wars name that brings out the best in legions of art directors, set decorators, VFX artists and master puppeteers, placing these films light years ahead of similar mega-budget fare from any major studio (the uniform, contrast-allergic palettes of a Marvel movie wouldn’t be found within the same parsec as this film).

Unparalleled in its gumball aesthetics, undeniable in its cathartic resonance but unruly in its narrative curlicues, this falls somewhat short as the final chapter of the all-encompassing Skywalker saga. As a conclusion to this new trilogy, it’s strangely fitting.

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Overall

Despite overblown plot strands, an abundance of fan-service and frenetic pacing, this Star Wars story is still wildly entertaining.

6

out of 10

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
Dir: J.J. Abrams | Cast: Adam Driver, Billie Lourd, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Domhnall Gleeson, Mark Hamill, Oscar Isaac | Writers: Chris Terrio, Chris Terrio (screenplay by), Chris Terrio (story by), Colin Trevorrow, Colin Trevorrow (story by), Derek Connolly, Derek Connolly (story by), George Lucas (based on characters created by), J.J. Abrams, J.J. Abrams (screenplay by), J.J. Abrams (story by)

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