I’ve been a fan of Star Wars since I was a kid. Like many fans of George Lucas’ epic original trilogy of a farm boy leaving his home to learn how to use the ways of a mythic ‘Force’ in order to fight an almost insurmountable evil alongside a princess, a couple of space smugglers, two droids and his old mentor, in the vast darkness of space, I was entranced by the flashes of laser blasters, various space ships and of course, the often blue and red and then green beams of lightsabers as they clashed in duels between the Jedi and the Sith. How could a child not be excited to see such stuff? George Lucas brought his imagination to life with these stories of galactic swashbuckling and dogfighting and it was an impressive cinematic achievement!
I’m very proud to have been a living witness to two trilogies in my lifetime so far and now, with The Rise of Skywalker, we have reached the end of a third trilogy of Star Wars.
A big part of what makes a movie great is, I believe, the story…the plot. And good character development. Action and spectacle will follow.
When The Force Awakens debuted in 2015, this fanboy lapped it up because it was a return to what we loved about Star Wars. It introduced us to brand new characters as well as reintroducing us to older, returning fan-favorites too. Where we left Luke Skywalker, his sister and friends had evolved into the emergence of a would-be successor to Darth Vader in the form of his grandson, Kylo Ren but also ‘a new hope’ in the unsuspecting scavenger, Rey. Fans and critics argued that JJ Abrams’ Episode VII was a copy of A New Hope and I agree with that argument. However, watching the Millennium Falcon zip across the sand dunes of Jakku being chased and then chasing Tie Fighters around wreckage of old Star Destroyers and AT-AT Walkers, it was a very nostalgic callback to when I was watching the awesome dogfights showcased in the original and prequel trilogies. It was pure and utter magic. Coupled with the witty banter that Rey and ex-Stormtrooper Finn would share while fixing the Falcon, it felt like a genuine start of the loving bond they would later share as this new trilogy progressed. Much like Luke and Han Solo had in the original Star Wars.
When 2017 saw the release of The Last Jedi, everyone was not expecting things that occurred in Episode VIII to happen the way they did. I, for one, accepted and even embraced what writer/director Rian Johnson set out to do. Particularly how brave it was to bring forward ideas about how Luke Skywalker had become as an old man and how he would react to Rey asking him to come back and help defeat his nephew Kylo Ren and the First Order. Then the whole idea that Supreme Leader Snoke would fall by a very cunning but neat ‘flick of the wrist’ Force move by his very own ‘pupil’ Ren, it was a bold move indeed by Rian Johnson to employ, which would result in Ren showcasing and then fulfilling his desire to become the new Supreme Leader himself.
Which brings us to Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker. On paper, it had the unenviable task of closing out the whole Skywalker saga which started with Episode IV – A New Hope. Does it have spectacle? Check. Does it have action? Check. Does it have a good story? Yes and no. I’ll be honest, it’s taken me a few weeks since this one opened right before the holidays at the tail-end of December 2019 to think about how I would review this one. I actually took the opportunity to watch it twice before finishing my review as I was curious to see if my view of The Rise of Skywalker would change or stay the same after a second viewing. Some may argue that watching it twice before reviewing a film isn’t the right way to go about it but hey-ho, here it goes.
JJ Abrams introduces a lot of interesting ideas in this last of the Skywalker saga and for the most part, it was enjoyable. I appreciated some of these ideas more on the second viewing while some other parts of the plot are still questionable. My biggest gripe is that, even at two and a half hours long, the pace and story seemed rushed – especially in the first hour. It’s no Avengers: Endgame but, perhaps if there was an additional maybe 15 or so minutes of runtime, it would’ve felt more fulfilling, story-wise. I’m not going to go into specifics as such but overall, the conclusion of this saga includes some breathtaking, epic lightsaber duels between Rey, now a burgeoning Jedi Knight and Kylo Ren, particularly on top of the wreckage of the second Death Star from Return of the Jedi in the middle of a stormy sea.
There’s also the heartwarming ‘performance’ of the late great Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa. The film makers have done a truly remarkable job of putting together the scenes she appears in using old footage of her from The Force Awakens. One does really feel like she ‘never left’ as it’s a beautiful and believable performance. There are other notable and unexpected cameos too from the original trilogy and then there’s the true ‘big bad’ who’s been apparently lurking in the shadows as only the Sith can with the Dark Side of the Force all this time. Alas, Emperor Palpatine, I’ll be honest, could have been given more to do for his part in this film but that’s coming from what I was referring to earlier about parts of the story being rushed. I’m still in awe as ever with Ian McDiarmid’s portrayal of the old Emperor aka Darth Sidious. Like many of the actors that play the Star Wars characters that us fans know and love, McDiarmid as Palpatine is as iconic as ever. What I also enjoyed about ‘Rise’ is that it’s actually funny in parts too. The comedy is on point especially from beloved droid C-3PO as he unwittingly launches one-liners that zing past left and right. And the bond that Rey and Finn started in The Force Awakens has now evolved to include Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron and this ‘new school’ of Star Wars protagonists are a nice reflection, alongside Chewbacca, of the original crew of Luke, Leia and Han Solo. Now fully joined together to become the spark that’ll light the fire that’ll burn The First Order down. Once and for all.
The Rise of Skywalker is a fun, action-packed and nostalgic ride. And although it may have some debatable aspects in terms of the story getting to a fitting conclusion to the whole Skywalker saga, it won’t please everyone and perhaps it’s for the best. It deserves to be watched a second time at least as it was more enjoyable for me on the second run.