It is a period of civil war. It is late 2017. Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World) has been fired from Episode IX after having been hired two years prior only to be replaced by JJ Abrams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) the same month, with Chris Terrio (Argo) acting as co-writer. Cut to December, (and although it has a vocal group of defenders) Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi receives a mixed reception from fans. Many wondered what fate would fall upon Episode IX. To fate’s end, the final installment in the Skywalker Saga we got is messy and cluttered but a thrill ride all the way through.
In The Rise of Skywalker, the last surviving remnants of the Resistance face Supreme Leader Kylo Ren and the First Order in one last-ditch effort to restore hope and balance in the galaxy. For better or worse, old friends and foes from the past resurface just in time to make the finale. Relationships come into question when our heroes must embark on an artifact chase (signature Abrams-trope) across the galaxy. There is no time to question choices, for this journey truly marks the beginning of the end.
Two of the major highlights of the film are the performances and chemistry between the main cast. Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), and Oscar Isaac (Poe) bounce off each other perfectly. Fans are finally treated to the much sought after team up they have been waiting for. Expect lots of sass with these three. Adam Driver (Kylo Ren) and Ridley are as compelling as ever as the sequel trilogy’s leading hero and villain, perfectly encapsulating the struggle and longing for where they belong. Billy Dee Williams’ Lando Calrissian is a very welcome familiar face and is just as charismatic as when we first saw him in Empire Strikes Back.
Carrie Fisher unfortunately passed in December 2016, with fans mourning the loss of one of the saga’s most iconic characters. Abrams and Lucasfilm made the decision not to recast the role and instead utilized un-used scenes of Leia from The Force Awakens to help complete the story. While noticeable, this technique ends up working surprisingly well and does not detract from the viewing experience. Perhaps the film’s greatest achievement- Leia Organa has an organic and honorable send-off despite the odds initially being against the filmmakers.
Disappointingly, the new sequel trilogy cast members feel underutilized. Newcomer Jannah played by Naomi Ackie is swift and fierce with a compelling backstory. However, she only appears in the latter portion of the film. Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose is sidelined and hardly featured in the film or factors into the plot, only having a handful of lines after being such an essential part of The Last Jedi. Lupita Nyong’o’s Maz Kanata and Keri Russel’s Zorri Bliss appear ever so briefly, leaving much to be desired for their respecting characters. You just cannot help but think that so much of the spectacle could have been cut in favor of more screentime for these characters.
Maestro John Williams takes his final bow in the Skywalker Saga, announcing in early 2018 that the film would be his last for which he would compose the score. Williams delivers a familiar yet fun score and re-uses a few motifs from past films, but at first glance appears that for the first time- Williams does not create any new distinct themes. This is not meant to be any sort of jab at the iconic composer. Like many films, another watch or thorough listen to the soundtrack may be in order for a proper evaluation.
Abrams puts the action into overdrive (maybe a bit too far), delivering some of the biggest set-pieces the saga has ever seen. While The Rise of Skywalker boasts loads of CGI, there are still lots of practical creatures and the majority of the film is on-location. This makes for some fantastic visuals and true moments of magic only a Star Wars film can produce. Despite its downfalls, the film still features memorable moments that no other film in the franchise can claim in sharing.
Ultimately, The Rise of Skywalker is a fast-paced massive thrill ride. Abrams could have easily pressed on the breaks for a more fulfilling viewing experience. When legitimately dissected, it does not veer too far from the path of its predecessor and actually complements The Last Jedi to an extant. It is a lot to take in but being the finale of the saga, it still finds some footing and should absolutely be given a fair shot. There is a lot to love and a lot of fun.
Score: ★★★ 1/2