Film Review: ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’

A celebrated science fiction-fantasy saga comes to its conclusion… 

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The end of a saga nears in ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ (image credit: Lucasfilm/Walt Disney Pictures).

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Ian McDiarmid, Billy Dee Williams

Directed by:  J.J. Abrams / written by:  Chris Terrio & J.J. Abrams (story by Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow, Chris Terrio & J.J. Abrams) / 142 minutes

What’s it about?

As the final battle between the forces of good and evil approaches, Rey prepares to complete her training as a Jedi and Kylo Ren investigates the apparent return of Emperor Palpatine…

In review

Forty-two years after it began, the original Star Wars story reaches its conclusion with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker the final chapter (‘Episode IX’) of what is now known as ‘the Skywalker Saga’.  It’s an entertaining and nostalgic ride that’s undeniably flawed, falling victim to a lack of a cohesive vision and direction for this sequel trilogy which began with 2015’s smash hit The Force Awakens and tries very hard to please fans jaded by the risky creative choices made by writer/director Rian Johnson in the divisive previous entry, 2017’s The Last Jedi.

The story of The Rise of Skywalker picks up in the wake of the events of The Last Jedi and sees General Leia Organa’s diminished Resistance struggling to survive as they continue the fight against the relentless tyranny of the First Order, under the rageful leadership of Supreme Leader Kylo Ren.  As mysterious transmissions from the supposedly deceased Emperor Palpatine are heard throughout the galaxy, the paths of Ren and Jedi-in-training Rey are once again drawn together as the powerful Dark Side of the Force beckons and the final battle between good and evil looms.

Returning director and co-writer J.J. Abrams (replacing Jurassic World’s Colin Trevorrow, who departed the project following creative differences) repeats much of what he brought to The Force Awakens, producing an action packed, visually striking and emotional Star Wars adventure that’s saturated with fan service, inducing the film with heaps of nostalgia that’s enjoyable and pleasing to a certain extent, but this reliance on sentimentality can also prove burdensome to the already convoluted and messy plot.  Abrams certainly builds a series of energetic and exciting set-pieces with land speeder chases, lightsaber duels and explosive space battles all confidently and rightfully in place although the CGI effects-heavy finale makes for a slightly muddled third act (which much like The Force Awakens has a tendency to repeat plot points of previous films, specifically Return of the Jedi).

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John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac in ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ (image credit: Lucasfilm/Walt Disney Pictures).

The cast of The Rise of Skywalker are all solid with standout performances from Daisey Ridley and Adam Driver as Rey and Kylo Ren, respectively, with the pair confidently driving the core narrative.  Oscar Isaac once again enjoys an increased presence as the fearless Poe Dameron, bolstered by the fun camaraderie he shares with John Boyega’s Finn.  Beloved classic characters Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2 are also back (and in a smaller capacity, Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker) and the charismatic Billy Dee Williams makes a welcome return to the Star Wars universe as the ever-buoyant General Lando Calrissian.  As for the return of Emperor Palpatine (last seen plummeting to his presumed demise in Return of the Jedi), Ian McDiarmid is at his scenery-chewing best and provides a devilish and sinister threat, yet the character’s role largely feels like a retread of the past.

Of course, there needs to special mention of the late Carrie Fisher (who, honourably and fittingly, receives top billing) who via the use of unused footage is incorporated into The Rise of Skywalker.  Given the limitations of those cut scenes (particularly in terms of dialogue), Fisher’s appearances can come across as a little distracting at times yet Abrams and his team do well with what little was available to them and ensure that the sequences featuring Leia are both respectful and have an importance to them.

If there is one grand fault of the sequel trilogy it’s that it didn’t take enough time to bring the trio of Rey, Poe and Finn together more and sooner rather than later and although strides are made to correct that in The Rise of Skywalker it feels like it’s too little too late and the sense of unity and friendship between the three can’t hope to match the inseparable familial bond shared by original heroes Luke, Han and Leia.

Undoubtedly a reaction to the reception of The Last Jedi and an attempt to re-invoke much of the praise which greeted The Force Awakens, The Rise of Skywalker ultimately plays it safe and results in an entertaining if not wholly satisfying finale to a long running cinematic serial.  It’s still a superior effort in comparison to the maligned prequels but likely the weakest instalment of the modern Star Wars sequels.

The bottom line:  Visually stunning and boasting some great action sequences albeit encumbered by a problematic narrative and uninspired story choices, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a flawed but entertaining finale to the franchise’s original saga.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is in cinemas now.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

13 thoughts on “Film Review: ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’

  1. I enjoyed the Rise of Skywalker, it was a flawed, and rousing finale to the saga. I liked it a lot more than I did TLJ, and I think they certainly played it very safe with this final film. Still, The Rise of Skywalker has its moment, and is overall quite a satisfying and exciting movie.

    • I’m in two minds at the moment, I actually feel that the Last Jedi was slightly better – that too wasn’t perfect (and yes, there are many who loathe it) but I think it was more commendable for daring to take Star Wars into new creative areas.

      It’s likely my opinion of RoS will improve when I pick up the Blu-ray now I’ve processed everything and in the meantime look forward to seeing the Mandalorian once we get Disney+ in the UK.

      • I am a bit myself. I enjoyed the Rise of Skywalker, but there were some elements I wasn’t keen on. I wasn’t a fan of Last Jedi, but it had its moments. I think when we look back and reflect on the Sequel Trilogy in its entirety we might see the films in a different light altogether perhaps? I can’t wait to see the Mandalorian as well, that sounds so exciting! 🙂

      • Indeed, I think the Prequels and Clone Wars animated series ect, will now all be looked at in a different light now the Sequel trilogy is complete. I have a feeling the inevitable box set of the entire star wars saga is going to be very hard to market now, unless they finally release the original films (Pre Special Edition) on Blu Ray.

      • There’s actually a (pretty expensive) Skywalker Saga Blu-ray and 4k Ultra HD boxset up for pre-order but no word on whether it includes the unaltered original trilogy…I doubt it will to be honest given only the Special Editions are available on Disney+. We live in hope I guess!

      • I didn’t realise there was a box set for pre-order yet. I guess we can only hope that one day the original Star Wars Trilogy will be made available one day.

  2. Very spot on review that captures a lot of my thoughts on the film. I liked it a lot more than I expected since I was disillusioned with the recent saga films.
    It is too early to say where this film ranks with the others but what was important to me is how satisfied I felt even though the flaws in the film are painfullly obvious. However, they certainly knew how to reach this Star Wars fan especially in its final moments!

    • Thank you and I’m glad that you enjoyed Episode IX – I think my opinion of the film will soften a little on my eventual subsequent viewings but in the end the new trilogy couldn’t live up to the original (nor would anyone expect as such). I’m looking forward to seeing the Disney+ and where they take the Star Wars franchise next.

  3. Despite it surely being a visually stunning movie, I fear I’m going to have a lot of issues with it. The Last Jedi was quite a tragedy to my eyes and I can only imagine the flaws you pinpoint here being even more of an issue for me… I’m glad you still enjoyed this one though. Formidable review as always, Chris. I think I’ll wait for a digital release before watching this one. I wonder who will lead the next “trilogy” or.. series.. if recent rumours are true.

    • Strangely, it seems a lot of viewers who loathed the Last Jedi (I didn’t, it wasn’t perfect bu I think it made some bold and interesting choices) are liking the Rise of Skywalker a lot more but, although I’m interested to see it again when it comes out on disc, for me it just all felt a bit uninspired and tried to do too much. The repetition of certain plot points from the original trilogy didn’t help I feel. I think any new Star Wars trilogy needs to explore new avenues and do something a little different…but I think Disney may be a bit stuck as that was the intention with TLJ and the response to that marked a return to ‘formula’.

      Ah well, I’m still looking forward to seeing the Mandalorian and the other Disney+ Star Wars shows that are in the works.

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