STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: J J Abrams

Stars: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Carrie Fisher, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E Grant, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Naomie Ackie, Keri Russell, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Billy Dee Williams, Lupita Nyong’o, Shirley Henderson, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Greg Grunberg, Dominic Monaghan.

Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Joonas Suotamo in Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

The only major film released this week, the epic conclusion to the Star Wars saga has gobbled up multiplex cinemas much like a black hole swallowing whole galaxies in its wake.

The Rise Of Skywalker is the ninth film in the lucrative franchise and is intended to bring to a close the Star Wars saga begun in 1977 in a galaxy far way by a young filmmaker named George Lucas. It was essentially a story of good versus evil set in outer space but is has cemented itself in the iconography of a whole generation of film goers. And now after some forty years, eight films, a couple of stand alone spin off films, animated series, books, and a billion dollars worth of merchandising later, the series comes to a close. But it must be said that The Rise Of Skywalker is a bit of a disappointment, and there is nothing here to match anything in either A New Hope or The Empire Strikes Back, which for many was the best film in the franchise.

J J Abrams, who rebooted the Star Trek franchise and gave us 2015’s The Force Awakens, the first film in this final trilogy of the Star Wars saga, returns to the director’s chair for this film which aims to tie up various story lines, character arcs and address some of the more problematic elements of The Last Jedi, which attracted a lot of criticism from hard core fans. Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio (Argo, etc) have plundered ideas and various character tropes from previous films in the series, which brings a vaguely nostalgic feel to the material.

But the opening half hour itself is rather messy and rushed and seems to have been edited by someone suffering from ADHD. The pacing is uneven. But things eventually settle down by the second half which delivers in terms of light sabre duels and action with an attack on an imperial battleship and a fleet of destroyers that have developed their planet killing technology.

Again we get a ragtag group of rebels taking on the overwhelming superior might of the fascist forces of the First Order, or the Final Order as it becomes known here, to try and save the galaxy. Long thought dead after 1983’s The Return Of The Jedi, the evil Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) has returned and it seems that he has been manipulating events from behind the scenes. Leia (the late Carrie Fisher, in her final film role) despatches some of her most trusted solders on a mission to find a special artefact that will lead them to the remote planet of Exegol, a Sith stronghold where Palpatine is located and try to stop him.

Rey (Daisy Ridley), the galactic scavenger turned Jedi knight who has been tutored in the way of the force by Leia and Luke Skywalker himself, the charismatic and daringly reckless pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega), the former stormtrooper who defected to fight with the rebels, set off on the mission that takes them to a couple of remote planets and a confrontation on the wreckage of the original death star. But the real hope for saving the galaxy rests with Rey and Palpatine’s protégé Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the power hungry and driven former son of Han Solo who has crossed over to the dark side, who both share a psychic connection and can communicate with each other telepathically. Can Rey convince Ren to return to the fold?

Along to help out, or hinder, are a collection of droids, who provide some comic relief), Chewbacca, and various warriors and new characters like Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell), a spice smuggler who shares a complicated past with Poe, the ruthless Allegiant General Pryde (Richard E Grant) and Jannah (Naomi Ackie), who, like Finn, is a former stormtrooper who has joined the rebels. But many of these characters remain underdeveloped and it is hard for audiences to empathise with them or connect with them.

Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Abrams is aware of the iconography of the series, and he includes enough touches to satisfy long standing fans with the opening crawl, the Millennium Falcon, the aerial dogfights, a collection of weird looking aliens, the bickering droids R2D2 and C-3PO. And Abrams has also brought back three veteran characters who have been stalwarts of the early Star Wars saga, with Leia (although Fisher’s performance here has been largely fashioned together from unused outtakes from the other two films in this trilogy), Mark Hamill, whose Luke Skywalker appears as a holographic figure, and Harrison Ford, who briefly appears as Han Solo, even though his character was killed off in The Last Jedi. And Billy Dee Williams also briefly returns as Lando Calrissian, who gets a chance to redeem himself after having betrayed Han Solo in an earlier film. The prickly and wise cracking chemistry between Boyega and Isaac is still strong.

Driver is the best thing here, and he brings an emotional intensity and depth to his performance as Ren, and he makes this character far more complex and interesting than he seems on paper.

The CGI effects are quite impressive here, especially during the climactic aerial battle between the forces of the rebel army and the imperial destroyers. There is some great cinematography from Dan Mindel (The Force Awakens, etc), who captures some striking imagery. And the production design from Rick Carter and Kevin Jenkins is also quite spectacular. John Williams’ iconic score though this time seems too bombastic and intrusive. Some of the dialogue is also quite trite and cliched, with a few unintentionally laugh out loud moments.

The Rise Of Skywalker brings this third trilogy in the trilogy of Star Wars films to a fitting close, but ultimately it proves to be a bit of a disappointment and not without its problems; it’s overlong and unevenly paced, a bit messy in construction, with some elements not making much sense, and some elements seem unoriginal, with a risk averse Abrams merely reprising beats from the better films in the extended saga. But given how the whole Star Wars franchise is a licence to print money will it be long before we see it resurrected in some other form?

★★☆       

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