MOVIE REVIEW: Star Wars – The Rise of Skywalker [Spoiler free] 2019

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (2019)

Directed by JJ Abrams

The greatest saga of a lifetime; the story that began in 1977 when I was 4 years old has finally come to its end.  And what a satisfying end it is.

JJ Abrams had an unenviable task: fix the mess that Rian Johnson created with 2017’s Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.  Instead of winding towards a logical conclusion, the Johnson film steered the story into strange new directions poorly suited to the second-last film in a nine movie saga.  The death of Carrie Fisher the same year threw a giant wrench into the whole thing.  How was JJ to wind up a massive story like this, finishing not only his trilogy but the other two as well?

I’m not going to tell you, except that he managed to do it.  It’s not perfect, but no Star Wars movie has been perfect since 1980.  Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is the best movie of this final trilogy, and is certainly better than 66% of the prequels.  He managed to pick up the ball that Johnson shat out, weave it tighter, and make lemonade from lemons.

The Carrie Fisher scenes are somewhat difficult to watch.  You know the actors are not reacting to her, but performing to pre-recorded scenes.  Her dialogue is necessarily vague and cloudy.  It’s unfortunate because Episode IX was supposed to be her film.  Nothing can be done about that.  But wisely, JJ recruited Billy Dee Williams back into the fold as the debonair rogue, Lando Calrissian.  Lando’s role is larger than expected which will please many fans.  The film is also bolstered by cameos from just about every living Star Wars actor (no, not Jake Lloyd) in ways that brought nothing but smiles.  Look for Hobbits and late-night talk show hosts too.

The villain this time, as you know from the trailers, is Ian McDiarmid’s Emperor Palpatine.  How did he survive the events of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi?  It only takes one line of dialogue to sell it.

With the stakes higher than ever before, the Sith and the Jedi meet one last time.  If you’re looking for an inkling of the plot, read the old Dark Horse comic series Dark Empire.  Not only did that series feature a resurrected Palpatine, but also Luke Skywalker doing Force projections.  It’s highly likely that JJ Abrams took inspiration from Dark Empire, though The Rise of Skywalker is far superior to that old book.

Suffice to say, our heroes once again must face incredible odds with little on their side except friendship and heart.  The movie stumbles after we are told repeatedly that they must succeed, or all of this – everything – has been for nothing.  Then they go on a silly rescue, instead of completing their mission.  There are also, perhaps, too many meetings between Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) which blunts their overall effect.  At least the heroes, Rey, Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) bond like the classic trio.  You’re aware that you are watching a knockoff Luke-Leia-Han trio, but don’t forget, that’s the kind of stuff fans used to say they wanted.  “No more wooden crap like the prequels,” they moaned.  Now they moan when it’s what they said they wanted before.  Sceptics will not be won over by The Rise of Skywalker.

Another possible weakness that fans might resist is a tenuous connection to the Disney+ TV series The Mandalorian.  Rey and Kylo Ren can do something that a Mandalorian character can do.  Some will accept it as fitting in with classic Star Wars lore.  Others will baulk and call it “Disney ruining Star Wars again.”

The cutesy stuff is kept to a minimum (though there is a new droid called D-O introduced for no reason) and emotions run high.  Nostalgia is heavy.  Action is fast, though JJ unwisely resorted to slow motion techniques again, which breaks visual style from the six Lucas-guided movies.  He would have insisted on the movies being consistent.  Lens flare, though, is gladly reduced.

Hindsight is always 20/20, and The Rise of Skywalker must stand up to repeated viewings and further analysis.  It does drag at various times in the middle, but when it drops bombs, it goes nuclear.  Special mention to Keri Russell for a fine performance as spice runner Zorri Bliss, and again to Billy Dee Williams.  He never abandoned Star Wars, you know.  He returned in the animated series Star Wars: Rebels as suave as ever.  And of course, John Williams.  His score contained some really cool motifs, like a re-imagined Emperor’s theme that fit like a glove.

The Rise of Skywalker is probably the best ending to a saga we could have expected (and certainly better than what Lucas had planned).  If you want to live your life as a person who only has six Star Wars movies in their head-canon, that is absolutely fine.  (I know people who to this day consider Star Wars to be three movies.)  It can easily be argued that this entire trilogy was just tacked on.  But JJ did his best for it not to feel that way; for it to appear like this was always the ending.  Did he succeed?  That’s up to you.

4/5 stars

44 comments

  1. That’s a positive review, though I was expecting more of a 3 or 3.5 given some of the flaws you mentioned. Anyhoo, I still don’t feel at all enthusiastic about seeing it… I think Abrams and Johnson done it in. Neither flick to this point was well written – one could be mistaken as the work of a hack, while the other was perhaps the worst of the saga (quite an achievement).

    The positive is my expectations are low. I dare say I’ll see it before it’s out of the cinema. Perhaps a trip to see it with some pals in the new year.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bringing back Palpatine was a huge red flag to me. I’d already lost interest, but bringing back a villain who clearly died just seems like a desperate cashgrab from the fans. Total creative bankruptcy, basically J.J.’s whole career. They can’t come up with any interesting characters, so they’ll just recycle them from the past despite the fact that they’re trying to pave their own way.

      But Mike says it’s explained well. Who knows?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I had a feeling Palestine would make an appearance, but I don’t disagree that Abrams is creatively bankrupt. He’s basically stealing a living.

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        1. Was it cool then? I’ve never read the book, y’see. Perhaps the difference is people have been awaiting something special… back then, in a book, people took what they got. Maybe.

          My biggest issue with Star Wars is that they’re just not really good films. Maybe if I saw the original 4 now, without the attachment to them, I’d feel that they just aren’t great?

          I suspect it’s simply a case of those original films doing what they did so well. Setting out a blueprint for that kind of fantasy flick… and anything that comes along feels like it’s aping it.

          But hey, at least it’s not Cats, right?

          Liked by 1 person

        2. I have to be truthful. When Dark Empire came out, my sister and I both didn’t like the return of the Emperor. We felt the same as you do now. The comic was well received, a lot of people really liked it.

          I think JJ nicked the comics for ideas, but I think one reason it works better here…and I’m verging on spoiler territory but I won’t go there…a lot of this was set up in Episode III. And we didn’t have Episode III in 1993. So a resurrected Emperor then seemed a pretty weak idea, but today, I kinda feel like Lucas set it up this way in Episode III. I’ve said too much!

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        3. I don’t think you’ve said too much… I know the scene you’re referring to and I was talking with a pal about that way back when Force Awakens was released. So, I’m pleased the saga was as predicated as I thought! Ha!

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        4. I found a lot of this movie had moments I predicted. I like to think that means JJ was on the right track! LOL

          OH! And yes, thank goodness it’s not Cats. Somebody’s gonna lose their shirt on Cats.

          Liked by 1 person

        5. Ha. I know someone who walked out of Cats after 40 minutes.

          By the way, for clarity: when I mentioned the problem with Star Wars I meant this trilogy. And by original 4, I meant original 3 (I was caught between referencing Episode 4 and just referencing them all).

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        6. It never even occurred to me to bring him back, but like I’ve said before, I’m not a huge fan. I like the first three, but that’s about it. Never had any of the toys are anything. Just movies to me.

          Liked by 1 person

        7. My earliest memories are of the toys. R2 was first. My friend John got C3p0 for his birthday, so my mom got me R2 so I could play with John. And it cascaded from there.

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        8. Speaking of Lucas Arts, they’re having a sale on all their old point and click adventure games. I’ve been revisiting the shit out of them. I’ve the first three monkey islands for years. They’re classic. Curse of Monkey Island especially. For the sale I picked up the remastered Full Throttle and Grim Fandango, as well as the original versions of The Dig and Loom. Spielberg wrote The Dig. Isn’t that nuts?

          Liked by 1 person

        9. I only ever had a sampler of The Dig! It covered, like, the first fix or six moves of the game. We got a Lucasarts sampler set for Christmas that year. It had Sam & Max Hit the Road, Maniac Mansion, TIE Fighter (the main reason we wanted it) and the sampler disc. There was a motorcycle game on there too. That must have been Full Throttle.

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        1. In a perfect world I’d agree with you. But I’m willing to accept that bringing him back is a bit of a tradition now. Kind of like Optimus Prime dying and coming back more than once in every continuity.

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  2. I’m at the point with this trilogy that I kinda just roll with it. I’m only here to be entertained and it hasn’t had the potential to live up to first six since 2015. I like the movies a lot in isolation, but not as a continuation of the saga

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  3. Great Review Mikey!
    I will have to see this as I know there are more than 3 Star Wars movies but those are the ones I remember best!
    The only other one I saw was that one from a few years back that Hamill appeared in the end and got paid a million bucks for. I can’t even recall the title of that one haha
    But I will check this one out!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I love how open Hamill was about thinking The Last Jedi was a shit sandwich. The dude just doesn’t have a care. He knows Disney can’t replace him. Love that man.

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  4. Nice Mike! I am really looking forward to it. I am off next week, so I will find a day to go see it. And I think I read that Dark Empire book too many years ago to remember so I don’t really remember it, but the cover makes me think I did read that.

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  5. I’m more okay with TLJ than most (though I’m also not as a huge a Star Wars fan), so I’m keen to see how the story goes from there. Do love the new trio and am sad that this is the last chapter. They really have great chemistry.

    Anyway, it’s so good to finally read a positive review after seeing a surprising amount of backlash! I’ll be watching this soon. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you I read and enjoyed your post very much. Some great points there. I will probably end up discussing some of them when I do my full-on spoiler review, which I usually save for the Blu-Ray release.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m pleased you were pleased with the conclusion, Mike – interesting idea about how many of the films are acknowledged by fans. Some say it’s a trilogy, some will acknowledge 6, others the whole set + the Christmas special!

    Liked by 1 person

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