Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure Running Time: 2 hrs. 21 min.

Release Date: December 20th, 2019 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: J.J. Abrams Actors: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Ian McDiarmid, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Domhnall Gleeson, Keri Russell, Kelly Marie Tran, Richard E. Grant, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie

 


 

R

umors of puppetmaster Emperor Palpatine’s existence persist, causing Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) to venture off in search of the hidden world of the Sith, while the meager remnants of the Resistance struggle to find support. Despite the thunderous theme music and the iconic yellow text crawl, the events summed up in this opening are perhaps the least eventful – and most unnecessary – of all the “Star Wars” films to date. Clearly, it’s expected that this preamble occur, even if there’s no need.

In the initial moments, a new alien species is seen, new structures are unearthed, and elements of the otherworldly Dark Side antagonists are glimpsed – even if fashioned for little more than a single scene. Back in 1977 when “Star Wars” first debuted, the Sith were the sleeker, hipper, edgier, better-dressed brethren to the Jedi; the rebellious younger brother of sorts. But here, they generate a horror movie vibe, as if inhabiting the world of a grim, modernized vision of Frankenstein’s monster. After all these years, the villains aren’t as cool as they are simply icky.

Though the opening reveals some not-so-surprising revelations (spoiler-type items are introduced quickly so as not to keep audiences waiting for what they know to be inevitable – particularly from the film’s advertising, which gives away the setup), a dependable action sequence follows, again transitioning between new imagery – from an icy, Borg-like planetoid, to a stalagmitic region, and then to a green gaseous world – as if to cram as many fresh environments into the mix as possible. And it all leads to intermediary activities, including Rey (Daisy Ridley) continuing her training under the casual guidance of Leia (Carrie Fisher), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) using the Millennium Falcon to rendezvous with a spy, and Ren coordinating the assemblage of the Final Order (a monstrous fleet of soldiers and warships combining to finally wipe out the opposition). Plus, Rey must eventually find out why her abilities with the Force continue to grow. “Never be afraid of who you are.”

Since this closing chapter to the sequel trilogy is once again helmed by J.J. Abrams, he has a rare opportunity to undo – or correct – the many things that former writer/director Rian Johnson did to the storyline. But right from the start, Abrams embraces heavy homages to the original trilogy, which border on disagreeable repetition rather than welcomed reappearances. Neatly tying together Johnson’s additives or restoring Abrams’ own concepts appear as trivial concerns. A round-table meeting with sharply-uniformed, uncertain, First Order officers ends in a typical Force-choke; a desert planet is overpopulated with alien denizens, much like the many establishments on Tatooine; the Knights of Ren, a gang of intimidating Jedi trainees sporting barbaric short-range weapons, feel all too similar to Snoke’s crimson-armored Praetorian Guards (themselves a twist on Palpatine’s Royal Guards) – or even The Children of Thanos (it’s difficult at times for certain concepts in “Star Wars” not to resemble something from the Marvel universe, or vice versa); and a Death Star-type infiltration retreads much of the Vader/Obi-Wan showdown and the Leia rescue (though the architectural comparisons are amusing, hinting at the evolution of the Imperials into the First Order). And, disappointingly, there’s still no answer as to who or what Snoke was supposed to be – obviously an idea that fizzled out when the role was deemed dispensable.

As in the previous episodes, plenty of contrivances populate the premise. A convenient Sith Wayfinder is the only clue to locating an unknown planet; conveniently, Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) returns for an extended cameo; a First Order Captain’s medallion is conveniently handed to Poe for his very next act of espionage; and Poe just happens to know a droid-hacker when a droid needs to be hacked. How convenient. There are also too many just-in-the-nick-of-time sequences to count. Nevertheless, the film also knows how to blend in with the “Star Wars” adventures that preceded it, crafting new vehicles, monsters, technology, weaponry, costumes, and visual splendor, even if all of it is used in the same kinds of chases, battles, dogfights, and rescue missions from before. Yet Rey gets to do some stunning things with the Force, proving to be more formidable than ever; C-3PO is utilized in spectacular ways for comic relief, representing a dependable return to the humor of the original trilogy; and plenty of practical effects and rubbery puppetry highlight the charm of tangible props (diminutive droidsmith Babu is one of the best examples).

The stakes are higher, the allies are scarcer, and the enemies more plentiful, building to a grand climax. Of course, with the shift in writing comes the jettisoning of a few major characters, backtracking on bits of history and themes, and a romantic counterpart reshuffle. Yet the conclusion is rife with jaw-dropping sets, lightsaber duels, emotional confrontations, and sentimental throwbacks to recognizable elements not only from the original trilogy but also from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” bringing to an end (if only temporarily) a remarkably vast collection of cinematic legends and lore, and an acclaimed legacy of sci-fi fantasy prominence.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10


The Skywalker Saga


Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999)

Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002)

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)