In 1977, George Lucas brought Star Wars to the unsuspecting masses. He feared that nobody would like it, but was proven to be totally wrong. Now here we are, 43 years and 9 mainline films later, with his saga finally at a close. For many, that closure wasn’t what they had hoped for, with some swearing off the franchise altogether. There are stories of a troubled production and studio meddling but, for now, I’m leaving that aside and taking a look at the film we were given- Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.
We follow Rey, Poe, Finn, and the rest of The Resistance as they grapple with the return of an ancient enemy in the form of Emperor Palpatine. Our heroic trio, alongside C-3PO and BB-8, set out on a quest to find the last Sith Wayfinder- a device that tells the location of the secret Sith planet of Exegol, where Palpatine and his armada await. Meanwhile Kylo Ren has regrouped with the Knights of Ren to hunt down Rey and convince her to turn to the darkside of the Force. Our plot, in essence, is a “fetch quest” with an added side of a cat-and-mouse chase. A lot of people have taken issue with this, stating that it doesn’t feel like Star Wars and that it all but destroys the character arcs of our main heroes. Personally, I disagree with this take as it’s the first time we’ve seen our main cast interact with each other and how their relationships work. Furthermore, I don’t seem to recall any complaints that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was a fetch quest- which is a story element that I have always enjoyed, regardless of where it is used. This is also, I think, the funniest that C-3PO has ever been, riffing off the other characters who he has clearly bonded with, but that doesn’t mean he’s the only source of humour. Finn and Poe have a wonderful dynamic where they bounce off each other like the oldest of friends, leading to the odd chuckle.
There’s a lot of sentimentality and nostalgia at play here, which is to be expected from a franchise-ending film. Carrie Fisher returns through the use of recycled scenes and audio, Mark Hamill is here as a force ghost, Billy Dee Williams slips back into the role of Lando with ease and even Harrison Ford makes one last hurrah as the galaxy’s best loved smuggler. On top of this is the aforementioned return of Ian McDiarmid as the delightfully insane Sheev Palpatine but, for me, the films best moment comes during the climactic battle. Drained off life-force and on the verge of death, Rey calls out to the Jedi of old to give her one last push. When the voices respond, they consist of not only characters from the mainline instalments but also from the animated shows Clone Wars and Rebels. These shows have always been canon but this finally makes them canon within the film series itself in a feat that not even Marvel has managed to pull off.
Once again, the background components are all wonderful. The score is as fantastical as it has always been, with an ethereal chorus thrown in for good measure. Perhaps its best moments are when it chooses to be truly triumphant and full of hope. Conductor John Williams even manages to sneak in an on-screen cameo this time round as a barman. The cinematography is staggering in places, with the scenes on Exegol being massive in scale. It shows the return of the Sith physically looming over any character in the frame and adds a sense of dread. The set-pieces on the planet of Passana are the most colourful that I remember seeing in any instalment, providing the briefest moment of levity. Between sets, costumes, props, lighting and sound design this film is spectacular. This has been consistent throughout the entire saga and without them, they simply wouldn’t exist.
With that, we have reached the moment I’ve been dreading since walking out of the cinema on December 16th 2019- discussing the movie’s flaws. The backlash that The Last Jedi received pales in comparison to that of The Rise of Skywalker and I will not triple the length of this review by discussing every single issue that people had. I am of the opinion that at least half of these criticisms, if not a little more, are trivial and that there are only a few truly valid ones. Whilst on the moon of Endor, we meet a former stormtrooper named Jannah who rebelled against the First Order alongside her entire squadron. Until this point, Finn has been one of a handful over the course of the entire franchise to do this, so having an entire squadron completely invalidates that. I’m sure that it was done with the intention of giving Finn a sense of belonging and a family but he already has that with The Resistance. There is also a distressing lack of General Hux who, until now, has been going through his own interesting little arc. Even when the film does make use of him, it doesn’t further his arc in any way and they destroy any chance of seeing that arc completed by killing him in the least satisfying way. Lastly, we are informed that Rey is the grandchild of Emperor Palpatine, in a twist that I personally am ok with. It does, however, leave us with the question of who Rey’s grandmother is. Of course I am aware that the novelisation and original script explain this away, but going only on what the film tells us, Palpatine did the nasty. Ew.
It is no secret that The Rise of Skywalker was supposed to be, at least, 20 minutes longer and that had it been the length envisioned by JJ Abrams, it would have explained away a vast amount of the complaints. It is my hope that, one day, we will know exactly what happened to this film and that, if we are very lucky, we might see that version of it. The few issues that I have with this film do not obliterate my enjoyment of it and, as endings go, I find it to be a fun watch. At the end of the day, it’s Star Wars. Fans will either come to appreciate it for that or they’ll forget about it and move on. This feud is only for now, but Star Wars lives in our hearts forever.
May the force be with you…