STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER review by Mark Walters – JJ Abrams wraps it up

STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER review by Mark Walters – JJ Abrams wraps it up

This weekend sees the release of STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER aka Episode IX, attempting to wrap up the original Skywalker Saga started by George Lucas in 1977, and finish off the story of the new Lucasfilm trilogy that started in 2015 under Disney’s control… ultimately, it’s the ending of a journey 42 years in the making. Typically, STAR WARS hype is through the roof, but some fans have felt disenchanted in the past few years either because they didn’t care for THE LAST JEDI (there’s YouTube channels dedicated to trashing it, continuously), or SOLO wasn’t of interest to them… but it’s hard to believe folks aren’t clamoring for more STAR WARS content, especially after THE MANDALORIAN has been wowing folks on the Disney+ streaming service, and news the Ewan McGregor is officially returning for an Obi-Wan Kenobi series seems to have reinvigorated folks a bit. With J.J. Abrams returning in the director chair, THE RISE OF SKYWALKER definitely has its work cut out for it, and certain audience expectations might make it nearly impossible for it to please even the most passionate fans.

Before we get into this, let’s get one thing our of the way. It’s VERY hard to talk about a movie like this without getting into even minor spoilers, so if you’re the sort of person who simply doesn’t want to know anything at all going in, you may want to skip the next paragraph, which gives a basic plot outline with certain info that may not be widely known yet. What we don’t do here is give away major plot elements, or major spoiler moments that really should be saved for the viewer.

Following the events of THE LAST JEDI, the new movie opens with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) seeking out the location of the rumored hidden Emperor (the same one thought dead after RETURN OF THE JEDI), in hopes of destroying him and becoming the most powerful Dark Side master in the galaxy. He eventually finds what is left of the Sith Lord, who promises to give him what he desires if he kills Rey, thereby removing the only remaining known threat of The Jedi Order. Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) is continuing her Jedi training under General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), while Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) use the Millennium Falcon to retrieve information provided by a spy within The First Order, discovering their plans to bring down The Resistance once and for all. When Rey, Finn and Poe regroup, they continue the mission together, but Kylo Ren is now chasing her down, putting all of them in danger. With the support of new allies, and the help of old heroes, The Resistance must put up a desperate final fight against a newly invigorated First Order fleet… and the odds are not in favor of the good guys.

THE RISE OF SKYWALKER is perhaps the most complex STAR WARS movie to date, partly out of necessity, and perhaps partly because those making it know this is their last chance to tackle the SKywalker storyline. This is a good and a bad thing, as it gives J.J. Abrams a chance to wrap up a lot of plot threads left unresolved, and answer some of the bigger questions THE FORCE AWAKENS and THE LAST JEDI left behind. But there’s a sense of rushed desperation that underlies the production, coupled with the sad passing of Carrie Fisher, which meant the original story (which would have had her as a BIG part of the narrative) had to be refocused more on the newer characters. Carrie is still in the film, thanks to footage already filmed for the other two movies, cleverly integrated and dialogued-around by key scenes… and that part of the film actually works quite well. Less effective is the inclusion of Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who becomes a more sudden and very complicated part of the story here, and makes for a somewhat messy final act for this installment. While I admire Abrams for bringing back a fan-favorite character, it almost feels a bit overdone here and doesn’t really fit into the narrative naturally. All of the standard STAR WARS tropes are here – a mission to retrieve information, a chase, a rescue, a space fight, and a big lightsaber battle or two (…or four). The only problem is this time they seem more by-the-numbers and less exciting. That’s not to say it isn’t fun to watch, as at times it really is, but in the end it’s just more of the same with less of a sense of urgency.

The cast all seem to be having fun, and we finally get the sense that Rey, Poe and Finn have become proper buddies with C-3PO and Chewbacca… there’s some real chemistry there, more so than the previous two films ever gave us. John Boyega and Oscar Isaac have really found an amusing dynamic between their characters, and their buddy humor makes those personalities more endearing in this outing. Daisy Ridley suffers a bit from the rushed storytelling, as even in this third outing we still don’t get the sense that we truly understand her character yet, at least not as much as we should. Adam Driver seems to experience the most growth, getting considerably more screen time here, and really pushing past the petulant child personification Kylo Ren had previously. Kelly Marie Tran’s character of Rose Tico seems a bit underwritten this time out (perhaps intentionally, as she wasn’t well-liked in THE LAST JEDI), Domhnall Gleeson is also a bit wasted, and new characters like Keri Russell’s mysterious acquaintance of Poe or Naomi Ackie’s “Jannah” just don’t add that much to the already complex story. Richard E. Grant is perhaps the most welcome addition among the new characters, but I wish there was more of him here as it definitely feels like there could have been. Anthony Daniels gets a bit more to do as C-3PO, feeling more like an actual member of the team instead of just comic relief. Billy Dee Williams returns as Lando Calrissian, and while he gets a few “save the day” moments, his screen time is fairly limited… but man oh man is he still cool. Mark Hamill is also sadly used very sparingly, which is surprising considering this film’s title.

There are truly great moments in THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, but the film itself is a mixed bag of great scenes and messy moments, made fairly watchable thanks to a good amount of humor and healthy sense of adventure. Abrams does some daring things, such as introduce new force powers that seem at times really random, or putting certain characters in awkward situations to perhaps show us something unexpected. I’m sure this movie in particular was a daunting task to take on, since the idea of the final chapter comes with so much responsibility, and the way Abrams handles it is sure to lead to split reactions with viewers. I didn’t quite love the movie, but found in highly entertaining and in the end fairly satisfying, even if some of it was pretty predictable. This is a BIG movie to unpack as a critic or even just as a fan, and to be honest I’m still not entirely sure how to feel about it. THE FORCE AWAKENS played it safe basically remaking A NEW HOPE for a new generation, and that was necessary as they had to win back the fans after the prequels. THE LAST JEDI attempted to subvert expectations so much that is almost feels a little too unfamiliar, and in the minds of some it was too much of a departure. THE RISE OF SKYWALKER returns to the familiarity as much as possible, but tries really hard to deliver all things to all people, so much so that it falters a bit under its own weight. Film critics don’t always have the luxury of time to process what they’ve seen, but I feel like I can’t properly talk about this installment until I’ve seen it at least once more, and really had a minute or two to gather my thoughts. Chances are you’ll feel the same way, for better or worse.

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER releases in theaters on December 20, 2019. See you there.

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.