Written PostJosh Reviews Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Josh Reviews Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Walking out of J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015, I was thrilled.  It felt like a joyous return to the fun spirit of the original Star Wars films, something the dour, talky Prequels felt like they’d forgotten.  But after a little time thinking about it, the film’s flaws (it’s derivative nature, and its myriad story and plot problems) started to become apparent.  I found watching Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker to be a remarkably similar experience.  The film is a fun thrill ride.  It kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time.  The tone is spot-on, and wow, the film is visually stunning.  The Rise of Skywalker was hugely enjoyable to watch on a big screen with a packed crowd.  But it lacks the depth and thematic weight of the best Star Wars.  In contrast to The Last Jedi (a film that, while flawed, is one that I’ll fiercely defend), this isn’t a film with much of anything to say.  And it contains many of the same third-act nonsensical plot problems that The Force Awakens has.

OK, let’s dig in!  Before we begin, though, two programming notes.  First, my Star Wars t-shirt design is available at Woot for only TWO MORE DAYS!  It’ll be up for sale through Tuesday night only.  Please support this site by clicking through and making a purchase!  It’s a great gift for any Star Wars super-fan in your life.  Second, the other way to support this site is to take advantage of my being an Amazon affiliate.  This means that if you click through to Amazon from any of the links on this site, I’ll get a tiny percentage of the price of any purchase you make on Amazon for the next 24 hours.  You can use the Amazon banner ad at the top of the home page, or any specific Amazon link within one of my blog.  You don’t have to purchase the specific item I linked to!  Just use one of my links to get to Amazon, and then purchase whatever you normally would.  If all the readers of this site would just click through to Amazon through one of my links, whenever you do your shopping, it’d be a huge help towards keeping the lights on here.

OK, back to The Rise of Skywalker!  There are spoilers ahead, so I recommend stopping here if you haven’t yet seen the film, and coming back to read this after you do.

The Rise of Skywalker exhibits the same tendency seen in The Force Awakens to give us the-same-but-bigger rather than anything new.  In The Force Awakens, we got another Death Star but now this one was even huger, the size of a planet!  In The Rise of Skywalker, the Emperor now has a bazillion Star Destroyers!!  And each one has a Death Star gun on it!!

The film lacks the gravity and richness of the best of Star Wars.  Say what you will about the flaws in Return of the Jedi, but I love the somber tone and stillness of the Luke-Vader-Emperor stuff in the third act, and I love the richness of the idea that victory is Luke’s NOT fighting, not giving into anger and hate.

The Rise of Skywalker also gives us the expected but still disappointing Last Jedi course correction.  (The Last Jedi, while a huge hit, didn’t make quite as much money as The Force Awakens, and that engendered a small but very vocal group of haters on the internet.)  The Rise of Skywalker sadly kowtows to all those internet haters who bashed that film for being new and for subverting expectations.  And so Kylo Ren is back in his mask (as he was in The Force Awakens) and, despite The Last Jedi’s statement that Rey’s parents weren’t anyone significant (which fit into that film’s larger theme that the Force could be utilized by anyone, that it didn’t belong to the Jedi or the Sith), here in The Rise of Skywalker Rey’s parents are back to being important.

But the worst slap in the face to fans of The Last Jedi is The Rise of Skywalker’s complete sidelining of Rose.  This is a huge insult to everyone who had been so excited that a smart, brave woman of color who didn’t look like a supermodel was now a Star Wars heroine.  I am baffled by this decision, and I feel sorry for Kelly Marie Tran.  I just don’t understand how J.J. Abrams or anyone else involved in this film could feel it was O.K. to simply forget about Rose.  Why wasn’t the role of the new female character who accompanies Finn through much of the action in the second half of the film (the former stormtrooper Jannah, played by Naomi Ackie) given to Rose???  Why bother inventing a new character when Rose was right there??

This is an easy movie for critics to savage, and they have.  But while the above issues are huge problems for me, I also think The Rise of Skywalker is better than most reviews would have you believe.  Certainly the experience of seeing this film in theaters for the first time will be a lot of fun for most Star Wars fans, I think.

If there’s one thing that J.J. Abrams does better than almost anyone else, it’s that the man knows how to make a thrill ride.  This movie moves!  It’s pretty impressive how The Rise of Skywalker is able to keep up its incredibly fast pace straight through from start to finish (though I’ll admit there were a few times I wanted the movie to slow down and take a breath).

I loved the renewed focus on the trio of Rey, Finn and Poe.  I loved seeing them firmly established as close friends at the start of this movie.  (Remember that Poe only meet Rey for the first time at the very end of The Last Jedi!)  I love that the movie gives us a chance to see them as a well-functioning team.  In particular, I was very happy to see lots more of the Finn-Poe friendship and the Finn-Rey friendship, both of which were such important elements in The Force Awakens.

Daisy Ridley does some of her best work here as Rey.  Her emotional moment after returning Kylo Ren to life was so beautiful.  I loved seeing how Rey’s powers have continued to grow.  I loved the awesome shot at the beginning of Rey floating as the nucleus amidst a swirl of rocks.  I do wish the film’s script had done more to wrestle with what we’ve seen of the anger within Rey.  The hint of Dark Rey (that she encountered in the ruins of the Death Star) didn’t go anywhere.  (One of the most interesting aspects of the original Star Wars trilogy is that Luke Skywalker’s greatest enemy was never Darth Vader.  It was always Luke Skywalker.  See the critical Dark Side cave scene in The Empire Strikes Back.  This new trilogy gave us hints of a similar conflict within Rey, but never really explored that.)

I didn’t need the revelation of Rey’s connection to Palpatine.  I preferred The Last Jedi’s position that she wasn’t related to anyone special.  But if they had to go there, it worked ok.  I liked how the scene in which Kylo Ren told her the truth was structured to parallel the Vader-Luke scene from The Empire Strikes Back.  (Ren holds out his hand, she backs up to a yawning chasm.)  But they missed an opportunity — I wanted Rey to choose to fall like Luke did!!  (THEN the Falcon could have caught her!)

Return of the Jedi took a cheap way out of the Luke-Han-Leia love triangle, in my opinion.  (By revealing that Leia was Luke’s sister, she didn’t have to choose between Luke and Han.  That’s always felt like an “easy” way out of the story developed in The Empire Strikes Back.)  I was surprised and disappointed that they punted on the love triangle here too.  The movie tells us early on that Finn has something important to say to Rey, leaving the audience to wonder if he wants to tell Rey that he loves her, or that he loves Rose.  But then, in the end, neither happens?  That’s such a weird choice.  Though I will say that I really liked the final shot of the three friends tearfully and joyously embracing.  (On this subject, I thought it was a weird choice that Rey’s one kiss in the saga was with Kylo Ren.  That’s not what I wanted to see.  I guess I saw this differently than the filmmakers, but I always saw this as more of a sibling relationship between the two of them.  Let her kiss Finn!)

It’s a delight seeing Lando back!!  I’d been enormously bummed that he wasn’t included in either The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi.  Billy Dee Williams is fantastic.  I’m glad the movie gives him a decently substantial role, and he’s great in all his scenes.

I found the conclusion of Kylo Ren’s journey to be very satisfying.  Adam Driver is amazing.  He is such an emotionally intense actor.  He brings a tremendous energy to all of his scenes.  And, wow, the way Mr. Driver’s whole physicality changes when he becomes Ben is amazing.  I loved seeing that goofy grin and a moment of joy on his face at the very end.  I liked how they handled Kylo Ren’s story in the film.  I figured they had to redeem him in the end, but I was glad that all was not forgiven and that he didn’t get to live happily ever after.

One of the best aspects of The Rise of Skywalker was the film’s fantastic use of Threepio.  The scene in which he says goodbye to his friends was heartbreaking — one of the best moments in the film!

The film also made great use of Chewie!  I was happy that he had so much great stuff to do in the film.  Chewie’s anguish when he learns of Leia’s death was so painful!  That was a very effective and moving scene.

Speaking of Leia, I was delighted and impressed at how well those cut scenes from The Force Awakens were integrated into the film.  I was never expecting Leia to be in as much of the film as she was!!  Of course there was a little choppiness to those moments, but overall, the Leia scenes were beautifully well-integrated.  The effects really looked seamless to me.  This was an amazing accomplishment in editing and visual effects.  Frankly, I thought Carrie Fisher was a little stiff in her scenes in The Force Awakens (I thought she was MUCH better in The Last Jedi), so when I heard that they were utilizing cut scenes from that film, I was very nervous — how bad must the cut scenes have been to have been excised from the film?  But I thought Ms. Fisher was fantastic in these scenes!  (Which begs the question: why were these scenes cut from The Force Awakens??)  I’m so happy that Leia was in such a large part of the film, and I’m pleased that J.J. Abrams and his team were able to give Leia a satisfying ending.  I love that she was the one to start Kylo Ren’s turn back to good.  Also: I loved the tantalizing glimpse that Leia DID train as Jedi!!  So many Star Wars fans, including me, had dreamed that Leia had become a Jedi after Return of the Jedi.  I was bummed in The Force Awakens to learn that she hadn’t.  So it was cool to see this flashback here.  I only wish the film had slowed down and explored that more.  (Why exactly did Leia give up her Jedi training?  If she saw Ben’s turn to evil, why didn’t she or Luke do more to stop that from happening?)

I’d given up on learning anything more about Snoke’s story, so I was pleased that the film took a moment to finally give us a bit more information about him.  That one line from the Emperor — and the one shot of Snoke-parts in a tank — was such an efficient way to tell us everything we needed to know!  That was nicely done.

It was nice to see Maz back in a few scenes, though I wish she’d had something more substantial to do.  She seemed like an important new character in The Force Awakens, but neither subsequent film has done much of anything with her.  Disappointingly, we never found out how she wound up in possession of Luke’s original lightsaber in The Force Awakens, despite the “story for another time” line.

Ha, General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) meets the exact right end!  I’m glad he went out like a punk.  These movies always treated Hux like a joke.  He was never anything close to the menacing heavy that, say, Tarkin was in the original Star Wars.  So it worked for me that he went out on a joke moment too.

I liked the new First Order heavy, General Pryde (Richard E. Grant).  I liked that he was more competent and menacing than the ridiculous Hux.  Probably this guy should have been the main First Order leader since the beginning.

I wish both new female characters were better developed and had more to do.  They both seemed like interesting new characters, and were both played by strong actors (Keri Russell and Naomi Ackie.)  But sadly, the new droid was better developed than they were!  (I loved that new droid, by the way!)

The Han scene was amazing.  What a surprise!  I’m delighted I wasn’t spoiled about that.  Both Harrison Ford and Adam Driver were terrific.  I loved how this scene was structured to parallel Han’s death scene in The Force Awakens.   I didn’t like that scene in The Force Awakens (I thought it was somewhat obvious and poorly staged on that ridiculous bridge), but this callback redeemed it for me.  This might be my favorite scene in the movie!

I wasn’t expecting Rey to return to Ach-To!  That was another fun surprise.  It was fun to see Porgs again!  I was waiting to see Luke again, and his scene with Rey didn’t disappoint.  I loved the moment in which he uses the Force to lift up his X-wing.  (I’d been waiting for that since seeing the submerged X-Wing in The Last Jedi!)  And of course the callback to the Yoda scene in The Empire Strikes Back was great.

I was surprised to see that Luke, as a Force Ghost, could interact with the physical world like that (catching Rey’s lightsaber and Force-lifting the X-Wing).  But we did see Ben sit on a log in Return of the Jedi, and Yoda calling down lightning in The Last Jedi, so there’s precedent.  Plus, I like learning new things about the Force!  I liked the new Force-connections in The Last Jedi, and I liked this Luke scene, and the Force-healing, and the new way that Rey and Ren could actually physically interact through the Force as seen in this film.

I loved hearing all of the Jedi voices at end.  That’s a scene I need to re-watch!  I’m pretty sure I heard Yoda (Frank Oz), Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor), Anakin (Hayden Christensen), and Mace Windu (Samuel L Jackson).  I think I also heard Qui-Gan and also Kanan from Star Wars: Rebels (which made me VERY happy!).  I’ve also read subsequently that Ahsoka was in there, which is awesome but also sad because she’s not dead yet in the Star Wars canon we’ve seen…!

The movie falls apart somewhat in the third act.  Just like my heart sank in The Force Awakens when it became clear the third act was going to be yet another retread of a Death Star assault, so too was I bummed here at the silliness of the Emperor’s keeping all of his starships so closely packed together that they couldn’t maneuver… and all controlled by a dinky little radar tower device that the Rebels could blow up to defeat the ginormous fleet.  Sigh.  Come on, the writers couldn’t come up with anything better than that?

I did at least like the switch that the bad guys figure out what the Rebels are up to and deactivate the tower.  But if one ship could use their own navigation tower to guide the other ships out into space, why couldn’t ALL the other ships do the same?  What kind of space-ship can’t navigate its way around?  And if the ships really COULDN’T navigate their way out of the craziness around the Emperor’s secret planet, why keep them all there?  Especially AFTER the Emperor announced his return to the galaxy!  Earlier in the movie, we saw one of these Star Destroyers blow up a planet… so why at the end if the movie was ALL the rest of the Emperor’s huge fleet still huddled together around the Sith planet?  I’d assumed they were spread out across the galaxy by that point, and was very disappointed to discover they weren’t.

The destruction of that planet, by the way, was just as underwhelming as the destruction of the Republic planets in The Force Awakens.  There was no emotional impact to either of those scenes.  Compare those sequences with the destruction of Alderaan in the first Star Wars.  I didn’t know anything about that planet either, when watching Star Wars, but that moment still packed a huge punch.  (Why?  Because we see the weight of it in Princess Leia and Ben Kenobi’s reactions.)

Why did the Emperor announce his return to the galaxy in the first place?  It just gives the Rebels time to defeat him!  And why announce his return TWICE?  (Once in the opening crawl and again later in the movie.)  None of that makes any sense to me.

And, ugh, I didn’t find the visuals of the thousands of Star Destroyers in the Emperor’s fleet impressive.  It just seemed insanely dumb to me to have so many ships clustered so tightly together they couldn’t move or shoot!  It’s just so ridiculous!  It undermined the whole final sequence for me.

Fans and writers have been speculating for decades about how the Emperor might have survived the destruction of the second Death Star.  One of the very first of the modern “Expanded Universe” stories, set after the events of Return of the Jedi, was Dark Horse’s wonderful comic book series Star Wars: Dark Empire, published from 1992-1995.  That comic, written by Tom Veitch and illustrated by Cam Kennedy, made exactly this same suggestion, that the Emperor survived via cloning and a Force-assisted transfer of his consciousness.  It’s not a very creative solution, but it works well enough in the film and thankfully the film doesn’t dwell on this.  I wasn’t excited when the trailers hinted at the Emperor’s return.  I want the saga to go forward and not retread old characters.  But it worked well enough in the film, I guess.  Ian McDiarmid was great as always.  The biggest problem for me was that the Emperor’s plan seemed so stupid.  This was another weakness of third act for me.  Really, his whole plan is that he wants Rey to kill him?  After surviving all this time?  That doesn’t seem like something the Emperor would do.  (Also, wasn’t the Emperor sending lackeys to KILL Rey for the whole early part of the film?

I was blown away the John Williams’ amazing score.  I need to see the film again to truly appreciate the score, but I was so happy to hear so many callbacks in the score to the music of the entire saga.  I particularly loved the good-guy version of Kylo Ren’s theme, after he turned!

Other thoughts:

* As I have written before, I don’t like the film’s title.  It’s somewhat redeemed by the final line of dialogue.  But still, I think “Rise of” is a boring and overused title.

* Wedge!!!! I was so pleased to see Wedge!!  That made me so happy!!

* I loved seeing the Ghost (from Star Wars: Rebels) in the armada shot at the end.  I wish we’d been allowed a glimpse of Hera Syndulla.

* I loved seeing Rey in an X-wing pilot’s helmet.

* Ha, I liked seeing John Williams as a bartender!

* I liked hearing James Earl Jones’ voice as Vader, and also Andy Serkis as Snoke, early in film when the Emperor claims to be every voice that Kylo Ren has ever heard inside his head.

* There were several great lightsaber fights in the film!

* I liked that the Sith wayfinders looked very much like holocrons, which we’ve never actually seen in a live-action film.  But why was there a map to this secret Sith planet in the first place?  I had the same question in The Force Awakens — if Luke didn’t want to be found, why did a map exist to his location?  That’s sort of dumb.

* I liked hearing Emperor quote the line from the Prequels to explain how he cheated death (from the scene when he tempted Anakin to evil because of his knowledge of that same thing).

* It was truly shocking when Sith lightning rips from Rey’s fingers.

* Rey’s leap over Kylo Ren’s tie fighter was spoiled in the trailers but was still super cool.

* Light speed skipping really doesn’t make sense.  Also, how could the Tie Fighters track the Falcon through hyperspace?  Do all First Order ships now have this ability (which we saw — also, unfortunately, without any explanation as to how this was achieved — in The Last Jedi)?

* It was cool to see the ruins of the second Death Star.  (Though I’m uncertain what planet they were on?  The film moved too fast for me to catch that detail.  Is this another planet in the Endor system?)

* Why does it take Leia’s body until the end of the movie to fade into the Force?  I loved seeing her and Luke together as Force ghosts at the end.  (Not poor Han though, huh?)

* I was glad that Snap Wexley (Greg Grunberg) was in several scenes and that he got a fiery hero’s death.

* Dominic Monaghan’s character was sadly a non-entity with nothing to do.  I was sad to see the great Mr. Monaghan wasted!

* It was nice for Chewie to finally get his medal.  (Though he already did in Adywan’s fan-edit of Star Wars, which is my preferred version when watching that movie!)  When Maz approached Chewie at the end, I wanted her to give her “boyfriend” a big kiss!

* I liked hearing Rey called Red Five, Luke’s call-sign!

* It was great to see Rey return to Tatooine at the end.  I liked seeing her sliding down the hill, as she did when we first met her in The Force Awakens.  It was satisfying to hear her take on the Skywalker name, and of course we had to have a shot of the two suns.  That was a nice final moment.

* Is there balance in the Force at end?  I’m a little uncertain.  I was surprised when Rey buried Luke and Leia’s lightsabers — was the idea that there was now no more need for Jedi, without the Sith around?  That’s poetic, but there are still bad guys in the universe!  Let’s remember that the Jedi Order kept busy for centuries, even without any Sith around (that they knew of).  I thought Luke’s desire to end the Jedi was proven wrong in the end of The Last Jedi?  But then Rey pulls out her own lightsaber.  I liked seeing that she’d built her own lightsaber.  Is the idea that she is a Jedi, or that she is sort of her own thing now?  Her lightsaber being white — like Ahsoka Tano’s!! — seems to indicate she’s found a place of balance in the Force…

Whew!  Well, this is apparently the end of “the Skywalker Saga” but I’m sure it’s not the end of the Star Wars saga.  I am excited and curious to see where the franchise goes from here…

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