THE FORCE WILL BE WITH YOU (ALWAYS)!
In 2015, Star Wars, the massively successful / popular sci-fi franchise, returned to the big screen with the start of a whole new trilogy of the main “Skywalker” episode saga adventure in the movie Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. Under the control of the Disney banner (i.e. Disney buying Lucasfilm), this new adventure set out to the tale of new characters, including protagonist characters of Rey, Finn, and Poe along with antagonist character of Kylo Ren, while “old familiars” from the past Star Wars saga returned to their post; acting as supporting / continuity players in this tale. Directed by J.J. Abrams, The Force Awakens offers a “new look” beyond the original trilogy (taking place thirty years after the events of Episode VI – Return of the Jedi) with new characters and a new story (i.e. new heroes and villains) to the expansive epic Star Wars universe. While the movie was a welcomed addition and did indeed becoming a largely global success at the box office, many criticized Abrams’s direction with the movie; relying heavily on familiarly, fan-service, and nostalgia of past entries, including a narrative that was too similar to Episode IV – A New Hope. Two years later, the next entry in this new trilogy (dubbed either the “sequel trilogy” or the “Age of Resistance” trilogy to some), with the release of Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi. However, director J.J. Abrams did not return to helm this middle trilogy chapter with director Rian Johnson stepping into the director’s chair to chart a course for this feature and taking the story / characters in a new direction. Unfortunately, despite being a financial success at the box office, The Last Jedi received a stark mixed review from moviegoers and critics alike; becoming one of the polarizing Star Wars motion picture to be debate amongst its viewers, with many criticizing Johnson’s changes of what Abrams established in The Force Awakens. Now, two years after the release of The Last Jedi, Disney (Lucasfilm) and director J.J. Abrams prepare for the ninth and final conclusion episode chapter of the fabled “Skywalker” saga, with the film Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker. Does this movie send-off both the “sequel trilogy” and the “Skywalker saga” in an epic conclusion or is the film’s blockbuster ambition wane with a mediocre farewell?
Taking place sometime after the events of The Last Jedi, Rey (Daisy Ridley) continues her Jedi training with General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), trying to get to the heart of understanding “The Force” as well as trying to grasp the shrouded mystery surrounding her heritage. Elsewhere, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) searches the galaxy for the Wayfinder, an ancient Sith device that reveals the location of the planet Exgol, which is home to Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), the powerful Sith lord who mastermind the creation Darth Vader and the Galactic Empire long ago. Meanwhile, the Resistance continues to fight against the First Order; finding Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), BB-8, and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) searching for help take on the overwhelming forces, coming into contact with Zorri (Keri Russell), a criminal pal of Poe’s, and Jannah (Naomi Ackie), who leads a tribal effort to take on the First Order. Joined together in battle, the heroes of the Resistance prepare for the final battle ahead, with Palpatine readying his “Final Order” and looking to seize control of the universe once and for all. More importantly, however, the destinies of both Rey and Kylo Ren will be revealed!
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I’ve said before, I absolutely love the Star Wars universe. The grandness of it all, the expansiveness of its universe, and the epic tales of good and evil that blends fantasy elements in a space opera setting. Of course, I’m not well-verse in all of the Star Wars mythology and lore of this vast sci-fi realm, but I do know more that the average. So, like many out there, I was very interested to see where Disney would take the film franchise with this new sequel trilogy (again, taking place after Return of the Jedi). I do have to say that I liked The Force Awakens. Yes, it was quite repetitive and very similar to A New Hope (especially how everything plays out), but it was still entertaining and got me excited to see where the next two episode entries would go next. As mentioned, The Last Jedi, the follow-up to The Force Awakens, was definitely a sort of “shake-up” to the status quo of what to expect in this next chapter, with director Rian Johnson taking a bit more “bolder” steps in the story and discarding large pieces that Abrams established in the previous film. Thus, The Last Jedi, despite carrying the same story, felt a tad different (at least to me), which was definitely felt through the internet, with the movie receiving the most backlash of any Star Wars film project ever. Personally, it was as terrible as some are making it out to be, but it certainly wasn’t the movie I was expecting / wanted to see. I mean…come on…the whole “First Order chasing the Resistance ship” was a bit wonky and don’t get me started on the whole Snoke thing (quite a surprise, but left more questions than answers). In the end, despite the popularity of the franchise and how the strong based themes of good vs. light (light and dark) pervade the two films, this new Star Wars trilogy seemed to standing on nostalgia poignancy and not much on its own merits; acting (to me) as the potential weakest trilogy thus far of the Star Wars saga.
Naturally, this brings me back to talking about Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, the third and final conclusion to this new trilogy as well as bringing an end to the already established Skywalker episode saga. As I said, The Last Jedi certainly created a division amongst both the fanbase and the causal moviegoers alike, with many drawing attention to the problematic areas through the feature. Thus, Johnson (presumably with the immense toxic backlash that the film was receiving) decided not to pursue the interest of directing the then untitled Episode IX Star Wars movie, with Disney luring back The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams for the project. Much like before, a lot of the film’s production and overall announcements were kept to a minimal and left in secrecy; trying not to “leak” potential news about Episode IX to the general public. Thus, a lot of the “rumors” can to cycle around the world wide web with all the unanswered questions that were addressed in The Last Jedi and how Episode IX would (hopefully) answer them in a proper resolution. So, with most of the mystery of the movie being under lock and key, the glimpses that showed off the feature was the various movie trailers that were promoted, which definitely gave me goosebumps as to what The Rise of Skywalker had in-store. Still, I did have a little doubt in the back of my mind, but (at the same time) I was still highly curious to see this movie and was eagerly anticipating the film’s release. So, I finally saw it on its opening night! And what did I think of it? Well, I have to say that I was satisfied with it. While the movie once again lacks originality and again relies heavily on nostalgia, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker brings this new trilogy to close with plenty of fan-service and Star Wars-esque blockbuster fanfare we’ve all come to expect and enjoy. This final installment doesn’t drastically change what’s come before, but rather reinforces the narrative and nuances found within this epic sci-fi space opera. It’s not the most polished, but it’s overall familiarity is what ultimately works.
As mentioned above, director J.J. Abrams returns to the director chair for The Rise of Skywalker and certain takes the reigns held on; transporting fans and moviegoers back to the large-scale sci-fi adventure that’s well-known and beloved by many. With his previous knowledge of the Star Wars universe (as well as directing other projects such as Star Trek, Lost, and Super 8), Abrams’s main mission (for the most part) is trying to reverse what Johnson did with this trilogy’s middle entry; trying to revert the narrative back to something more akin to how The Force Awakens established. To that effect, the movie certainly comes across as that, with Abrams able to make this ninth episodic entry feel very much so like a Star Wars; bringing back into the fold the classic tropes and razzmatazz nuances that a Star Wars endeavor is known for. Thus, while some might have been dismayed by how Johnson tried to present The Last Jedi’s story in a different format of storytelling, Abrams certainly correct that mistake, with the movie capturing that Star Wars “magic” on presenting majority of the feature with classic feel of old. Also, Abrams opens more of the “universe” to us (the viewers) with the film exploring new worlds to explore, new aliens to encounter, and more entertaining sci-fi fun throughout, including with the main characters and the banter they share back and forth. Plus, Abrams, who is trying to restore some faith in this trilogy, incorporates many numerous fan-service moments throughout the feature, which (to me personally) definitely work. Some are a bit “on the nose”, but the payoff of it all actually works in the movie’s favor. So, Abrams doesn’t color outside the lines, but rather reinforces them; keeping moviegoers (buy and large) engaged with the project…. for better or worse. As a side-note, I do like how Abrams finally introduces the Knights of Ren in the movie….though their briefly used in the feature (could’ve been more incorporated into the narrative).
Additionally, I do appreciate how Abrams continues (and concludes) the main common themes of this sequel trilogy story arc, with the ideal of identity being the most prominent one. This has been clearly showcased in the main characters of Rey and Kylo Ren throughout the previous two Star Wars films, with The Rise of Skywalker bringing these emotion and dramatic beats to a conclusion and, while it might not be the most original idea to toil around, the movie’s platform of a sci-fi epic and how it’s intermingle within its protagonist and antagonist character is something worth noting, especially on these two characters reflect upon their identities (i.e. who they are and what defines them). Of course, this being a Star Wars movie, Abrams continues the on-going trend of large narrative storytelling of a small band of heroes fighting as the oppressive forces of evil as well as the commonly used theme of light vs. dark. It’s a tried and true theme to tackle in a great host of stories (mostly found in fantasy / sci-fi), but Star Wars (by and large) utilizes this theme beautifully, with The Rise of Skywalker wholesomely reinforcing this classic tale of good vs evil. In the end, Abrams steers The Rise of Skywalker in the right direction and, while it does have its problems (more on that below) manages to right many of the wrongs in The Last Jedi and manages to close out this trilogy in a satisfying (if not a fan-service) way.
On a technical presentation level, The Rise of Skywalker is a solid endeavor, which every much speaks to the whole sci-fi blockbuster visual flair that adheres to the rest of the franchise; depicting a galaxy far, far away. As mentioned above, the movie, like any Star Wars endeavor, launches its viewers through a carousel of new worlds to explore, with the film indeed showcasing off these new locales in a visual and fanciful way; revealing new planets such as the desert planet Passanna, the mountainous terrain planet of Kijimi, and the desolate hidden planet of Exegol. Thus, like before, the visual appeal of each one definitely stands out and definitely adds to the various background vistas and locations the characters traverse through on their journey. Additionally, the film’s visual effects team are spot on with the CGI rendering of various creatures, big space battles, and intricate battle sequences as well as the practical effects of the variety of aliens that these films continue to utilize. So, the film’s “behind the scenes” teams, including Rick Carter and Kevin Jenkins (production designs), Rosemary Brandenburg (set decorations), Michael Kaplan (costume designs), and the entire visual effects / art direction, for their solid efforts on the movie’s background setting aspects and visual nuances. Speaking of which, the film’s cinematography work by Dan Mindel is quite good; striking up dramatic shots throughout the feature and making it all feel “cinematic” from start to finish. Lastly, legendary Star Wars composer John Williams composes the score for The Rise of Skywalker and delivers another rousing composition; filled with all the right dramatic notes and melodic Star Wars themes that’s befitting this sci-fi saga.
Of course, The Rise of Skywalker does have its fair share of problems and, while I did enjoy the movie, the feature gets bogged down within its execution for than it should. Perhaps the main reason is because of Abrams’s returning to the helm, who once again keeps the feature pretty much the “status quo” of franchise brand. The Force Awakens, this film takes that nostalgia route, with Abrams making sure to keep moviegoers (and its fans) satisfied by working within the parameters that the franchise has set in the past. This means, Abrams makes The Rise of Skywalker pretty much the “same old, same old”, with the predictable nature of a ragtag group of misfits / freedom fighters running around the galaxy (i.e. planet hopping), getting into trouble with the natives and bad guys, ensuing chase sequences, and unveiling grand mystery to stop the forces of darkness. As I said above, this all definitely works and certainly has become the “bread and butter” of the Star Wars storytelling (regardless of what media / medium it takes), but I kind of expected more; something a tad different or unexpected, especially since this new sequel trilogy has come under fire for relying to strongly on the whole nostalgia feel rather than standing on its own merits. So, getting to point, Abrams doesn’t really color outside the lines; making The Rise of Skywalker fun, but effectively formulaic to the touch. Whether or not you simply give into the nostalgia storytelling or not will depend on your overall likeability of Abrams’s direction and ultimately the movie itself.
This also extends to the film’s script, which was penned by Abrams and Chris Terrio with a story by Abrams and Terrio as well as Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow, which handles a lot of the expositional scenes in the movie. These sequences are the “per usually”, especially in an imaginative world of fantastic elements as well as “filling in” the gaps between the two installments (i.e. catching up viewers as what has happened since we last left these characters), but everything is handled in a rush manner and gets a little bogged down into too many vague exposition scenes that become a bit tedious. Speaking of rush, the film’s story is quite crammed, which is probably my biggest complaint about the film. As I said, the story of what’s going on isn’t that so much bother to me (though it could’ve handled better), but rather how it all briskly moves along. Sure, the movie’s pace offers up a breezy pace for its lengthy runtime, which clocks in at around 141 minutes (two hours and twenty-one minutes), but the film never allows the time to slow down and take a “pause” breather. Thus, a lot of feature’s story zips by swiftly and doesn’t absorb a lot of scenes that are given. It’s always “run here, speeding around there, go here, meet new alien characters, run back again, chasing through here”.
Coinciding with that, the movie’s third act proves to be problematic. Of course, it’s something I speculated that would happen, with plenty of large-scale visuals and grandiose climatic dramatics / emotions, but it’s a bit derivate and not exactly what could’ve been. It’s as if the writers of the story / script for The Rise of Skywalker didn’t know how to end the movie (properly) and goes back to the tried and true tropes of Star Wars references and callbacks. What’s presented works, but ends up being more fan service than anything else. As a minor complaint, if one takes a look at the third entry of each of the Star Wars episode trilogies (i.e. Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, and Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker), this particular film feels to be the weakest final installment of the three. I mean…nothing can compare to the classic narrative of Return of the Jedi or the epicenes of Revenge of the Sith. The Rise of the Skywalker has grandiose and dramatic beats, but feels a bit underwhelming in comparsion.
What certainly does elevate the movie from these criticism remarks is found within its cast, with many returning acting talents from the previous Star Wars movies returning to their post for The Rise of Skywalker. Naturally, headlining the movie is the feature’s main hero and villain, with actress Daisy Ridley and actor Adam Driver reprising their characters roles of Rey and Ben Solo / Kylo Ren. Ridley, known for her roles in Scrawl, Ophelia, and Murder on the Orient Express, does an exceptional job as Rey; bringing a sense of conflict within her character and adds a complexity within the classic hero’s journey arc for her character. It’s nice to see her character of Rey get more “Jedi” maneuvers and fighting sequences in the movie; finding Rey to be more agile and more “in-tuned” with her Force powers. Plus, Ridley conveys plenty of emotion and dramatics, which makes it easy for her to sell Rey’s struggle and triumphs in the movie. wise, Driver, known for his roles in The Report, Marriage Story, and BlacKkKlansman, does a solid job as the conflicted Kylo Ren. While the character has been a bit of a wonky persona, with Driver playing up his insecurities and temper tantrums in the past two movies, The Rise of Skywalker sees a more mature (almost confident) Kylo Ren; finding the character to have evolved a bit since the last time we saw him. Given the story arc of the trilogy reaching a climax in this movie, Driver does a good job in bringing the emotional conflict within his character and that translate on-screen beautifully.
In more secondary roles are the characters of Finn and Poe Dameron, who are once again played by actors John Boyega (Attack the Block and Pacific Rim: Uprising) and Oscars Isaac (Ex Machina and Inside Llewyn Davis). Together, both Boyega and Isaac do a terrific job in their Star Wars character roles; finding a nice rhythm within their personas as the supporting “leading men” of the trio as well as having their own personal “spotlight moments” / one-liner zingers throughout the movie. To be honest, the witty back and forth banter between them along with Ridley’s Rey is actually one of the best parts and definitely feels quite reminiscent to the Star Wars of old; similar to Luke, Leia, and Han respectfully.
With a lot of callbacks and nostalgia reference to past Star Wars entries, the movie sees the reprisals of classic characters of Lando Calrissian and Emperor Palpatine, with the counterpart Star Wars alums Billy Dee Williams (Diary of a Single Mom and General Hospital: Night Shift) and Ian McDiarmid (Margaret and Elizabeth I) respectfully. Both are to see them return to the big-screen for another “romp” within their characters, with Williams as seasoned ace pilot and McDiarmid bringing a theatrical boldness with his villainous return of Palpatine. Additionally, the “old familiars” of the Star Wars supporting players, including C-3PO, R2-D2, Chewbacca, and BB8 returning to bring a sense of continuity nuances to the movie’s narrative as well as humor, especially noticeable with actor Anthony Daniels hilariously witty one-liners as 3PO.
Also, the two newcomers to the movie, actresses Kerri Russell (Waitress and August Rush) and Naomi Ackie (Lady Macbeth and The End of the F***ing World) play the characters of Zorri Bliss, an old criminal friend of Poe, and tribal ally warrior Jannah. While both Russell and Ackie are perfectly fine in their roles, their characters involvement in the movie are kept to an undeveloped way. Kind of wished that there was more to them. Additionally, in a bit of surprise, actress Kelly Marie Tran (Sorry for Your Loss and Ladies Us) returns to play her character of Rose Tico, but is greatly reduced to a minor character in the movie. I’m sure the toxic social media backlash against her from The Last Jedi probably played a part in this decision, but I personally saw nothing wrong with her character and Tran’s acting. So, it’s kind of a disappointment that she made a big entrance in the previous film and sort of gets pushed to the background in The Rise of Skywalker.
The rest of the cast, including actress Lupita Nyong’o (Black Panther and Us) as Maz Kanata, actor Domhnall Gleeson (Ex Machina and Goodbye Christopher Robin) as the First Order second-in-command General Hux, actor Richard E. Grant (Gosford Park and Can You Ever Forgive Me?) as high-ranking general in the First Order Allegiant General Pryde, actor Greg Grunberg (Heroes and Masters of Sex) as Snap Wexley, actor Dominic Monaghan (Lost and The Lord of the Rings trilogy) as Beaumont, and actress Billie Lourd (Booksmart and Scream Queens) as Lieutenant Connix are in minor supporting roles in the movie. While most have a couple of scenes, these characters bolster the ranks of the background and are well-played by the acting talents behind them.
Lastly, I did like how the many handled the character of General Leia Organa, especially since (as many know) that Star Wars alum Carrie Fisher passed away back in late 2016. It’s obvious that the movie sort of does what it can with the character (given the resource and archival / unused footage), but it’s all handle well and fits into the movie’s narrative; playing a part in the story rather than letting Fisher’s Leia fade away off-screen.
We’ve passed on all we know. A thousand generations live in you now. But this is your fight as Rey, Finn, and Poe lead the Resistance in a final showdown with Kylo Ren, the First Order, and the shadowy reappearance of Emperor Palpatine in the movie Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker. Director J.J. Abrams latest film sees the ninth episodic entry in the franchise come to a dramatic closure in this new sequel trilogy; offering up plenty of fun and entertaining Star Wars tropes and nuances that surely make-up for the polarizing The Last Jedi installment. While the movie doesn’t break any new ground in storytelling (feeling crammed and derivate to past entries) as well as stuffing a lot of exposition pieces in a clunky manner, the film finds its rhythm within its grandiose blockbuster aesthetics, large-scale adventure, fun fan-service moments (a bit too many to be sure), and great characters, especially thanks to the cast and Abrams’s direction with them. Personally, I liked this movie. As I said, the movie is overstuffed and does struggle with plenty of expositional sequences and once again heavily relying on its former glory for nostalgia purposes, but I found the feature to be quite enjoyable and certainly felt to be the strongest episode entry of this new sequel trilogy. Thus, my recommendation for this film is a “highly recommended” one as it proves to be a lot of fun and is still entertaining for all, especially those who are just looking for a solid blockbuster endeavor and / or fans of Star Wars. However, it’s one of the movies (like The Last Jedi) that will have a spilt decision amongst its viewers. So, I’ll also say that it’s a “iffy choice” as well. What will become of this new sequel trilogy and how it will measure up to other Star Wars trilogy (and other solo projects) remains to be seeing. It will be interesting to see if, given the amount of backlash that this new trilogy has stirred, how Disney will handle the Star Wars franchise going forward. Still, whatever may come from the “House of Mouse”, Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker stands as a conclusion to the Skywalker saga; offering a steady (if not predictable) fan-service entry in this long-running series. Just remember…. the force will be with you…. always!
4.0 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended / Iffy Choice)
Released On: December 20th, 2019
Reviewed On: December 20th, 2019
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is 141 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action