As I always do for reviews of films that have just come out, the first half will be spoiler-free and i’ll insert a warning before the spoiler-filled second half so fans who haven’t seen the film yet can back out.
Starring Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams and Ian McDiarmid.
The Rise of Skywalker had an AWFUL lot to do. It had to provide a satisfying conclusion to the Sequel trilogy, tie up a multitude of loose ends and character arcs and act as a fitting finale to the entire 9 movie saga. An additional challenge was to try and reunite a fanbase deeply divided by Force Awakens and Last Jedi.
For those who don’t know, I like both of them, despite their flaws – though I suspect after this, I may look back on Force Awakens a lot less fondly, because a lot of the problems here stem from how little set up and world-building Abrams managed in Force Awakens.
Anyway, sad to say, Rise of Skywalker ultimately fails to meet its objectives – it doesn’t even get close to being something the fanbase can reunite over. The fact that its critical review score is actually LOWER than Phantom Menace’s was a bad sign, and while I don’t always agree with critics, here my only issue with them is that they arguably didn’t go far enough.
First, the positives, because the film itself isn’t all bad. The way it handles the late Carrie Fisher’s role as Leia is commendable and gives the character a fitting send-off, if not one as grand as was probably planned. Billy Dee Williams shines in his limited role as Lando, perhaps even giving his best performance in the role. Richard E. Grant and Keri Russell make for superb additions to the cast as a First Order General and one of Poe’s smuggling comrades respectively. Kylo Ren’s arc is well done, even if it may not have been exactly what you expected (or indeed wanted) done with the character. The Kylo/Rey connection established in Last Jedi is very well used here, and one of the few ways that Abrams adds to the previous film rather than detracting from it. John Boyega, Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley all do well with what they are given.
Other than that… um, well the opening crawl sets things up well… C3PO is less annoying than usual… John Williams score is okay if a bit bland…Ian McDiarmid clearly relishes his return as the Emperor (that isn’t a spoiler – its in the damn opening crawl). Okay, sod it, I just ran out of positives.
The film has a litany of problems. For starters, it needs to be about an hour longer. It tries to cram WAAAAYYYY too much in. We cut from scene to scene and planet to planet so rapidly in the first half it legitimately gave me a headache. Moments that could have worked with more time to take them in or would have been tenser with a slower pace simply fall flat. Think of the classic scenes in Star Wars history – Han and Luke rescuing Leia from the Detention block, the X-Wing assault on the Death Star, Luke’s duel with Vader on Bespin, the Speeder Chase on Endor, Darth Maul fighting Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, Order 66, Anakin vs. Obi-Wan, the Battle of Scarif in Rogue One…. all of them take time to build up to a crescendo. All have a good amount of screen time and are centrepieces or conclusions to their films. By comparison, the first third of Rise of Skywalker is rushed, confusing and frankly, poorly edited. Good special effects are meaningless when the action sequences chop and change and last all of two minutes before the scene changes to another plot strand.
It’s clear that Disney and Abrams had no idea what they wanted the final chapter to look like when they made Force Awakens or let Rian Johnson take over for Last Jedi. Nothing in the first two really set the stage for this one – leaving the film to fall over itself trying to retroactively fit everything together. The frantic rush to set this film up in the first hour is terrible cinema (particularly as the plot is driven by little more than a fetch quest – yeah, and not a memorable one either). Compared to say, Avengers Infinity War, which had far more to do in its first hour but managed it far better, Rise of Skywalker’s efforts in its opening hour are uninspired, convoluted and show up the weakness of the rest of the trilogy. We finally get answers to some key questions, but the answers either aren’t satisfying or are delivering in such an underwhelming way they might as well not have bothered. If you are in the part of the fanbase who like Last Jedi, i’ll warn you, you’re in for a rough ride – the film either ignores or overwrites a lot of what it brought to the table.
The second act is far better than the first, granted, but your enjoyment of this film will hinge entirely on its third act as Rey and the Resistance confront the First Order and Palpatine in a massively against the odds final battle. Sound familiar? Yeah it should – its a half-baked version of Return of the Jedi’s finale, involving characters you care much less about than Han, Luke, Leia and Vader, and features some very uninspired twists and generally lacks imagination. The climatic spaceship battle is very disappointing – even Phantom Menace’s assault on the droid control ship is better devised. But ultimately, whether you approve of the choices the film makes about Rey, Kylo and the Emperor’s plotlines will probably be the key factor in whether you like it or, like me, consider it to be a massive disappointment.
Overall the film has decent acting, good special effects and is entertaining enough in places, particularly its middle act. If you’re a mainstream cinemagoer only in it for entertainment value, you may like it. But if you’re a hardcore Star Wars fan or like the films you watch to have some semblance of intelligence? Brace yourself.
Rating: 2 out of 5. The last film I rated this lowly was Suicide Squad. I’ll just let that sink in.
I could go on, but everything else I want to say requires spoilers, so if you haven’t seen it yet, bail out now!!
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW!!!!
First up, how many wasted characters have we had this trilogy? Captain Phasma was criminally underused, Benicio del Toro’s conman DJ goes unmentioned here, Hux has to be the least interesting character in the whole franchise (despite having two more films than Darth Maul got – I mean somethings wrong there), Rose gets sidelined unfairly (good job JJ, you basically let the trolls win) and the film introduces so many new characters, you suspect mainly to augment Disney’s toy sales, that none of them get the chance to make a lasting impression, which is a shame, because Zori, Jannah and General Pryde are all quite good characters, and had they been introduced in films 1 or 2 in this trilogy, they could have added a lot to it.
Lando and The Emperor at least get some screentime, but only about 5 or 10 mins each respectively. Instead most of the journey is spent with the leading trio and Kylo Ren, but the problem is, they lack the memorable nature of the original leads or even Obi Wan, Padme and Anakin in the prequels. Its not John Boyega’s fault, he gets nothing to work with here. Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver do well, but are arguably the only two characters who are well served by the script. The biggest failing is Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron – the guy was originally designed to only be in the first 30 minutes of force awakens, and it shows. His history is poorly expanded upon and attempts to portray him as a han-esque rogue or leia-esque leader have never been merited by the material he’s got. Ultimately, I think Isaac may have been miscast, he’s a fine actor but has never seemed a natural fit (except when acting opposite BB8 or blowing stuff up in an X-Wing, then and only then has Poe worked as a character).
But, character problems aside, this film creates so many problems for the wider Star Wars universe. If Rey and Kylo’s force healing abilities are so strong, how come Obi-Wan couldn’t save Qui-Gon in Phantom Menace? Why couldn’t Anakin use it to save Padme in Revenge of the Sith, rather than selling his soul to the Emperor in panic? Why couldn’t Luke revive Vader? If Force Healing is a Jedi ability, it really should’ve been used before now – it makes no sense for far more well-trained Jedi to be unaware of it.
More unforgiveably, the film gives no explanation for Palpatine’s survival. All those theories about whether he was a clone, a force ghost or got resurrected – a complete waste of time. Just like all the speculation about how the White Walkers would be defeated in game of thrones – the actual answer is far less interesting than the ones the fans came up with in their imaginations and knowledge of the lore.
Also, Snoke was just some generic evil force user Palpatine created? That really isn’t satisfying. Rey being a Palpatine DOES make sense, but it would have hit far harder if Snoke had told her that last movie – Kylo doing so here was very undramatic. Other questions raised by Force Awakens go completely unanswered. How did Maz get Luke’s old lightsaber? No. How did the First Order become so powerful compared to the Republic? No. Why did C3PO have a random red arm in Force Awakens? No. Put all this disappointment and rubbish world-building together and you can see why i’m annoyed.
Had Rian Johnson or JJ. Abrams done the whole trilogy themselves, it might have been more coherent. But Abrams has proved yet again, just like with Star Trek, he utterly lacks creativity and while his films are always entertaining, they consistently lack depth. Say what you like about the prequels, at least they were well structured and built to a clear conclusion. Lucas’s vision is sorely missed here. The Star Wars Legends novels created a convincing, vibrant and believable universe post-Return of the Jedi. Disney hasn’t.
Some ideas here are good ones – Luke training Leia but her giving up to avoid her destiny is interesting, but needed some build-up or foreshadowing that it never got. Kylo’s turn to the light is done well, but like everything else in the film, its rushed and his about turn is far less convincing than say, Vader’s.
Finally (because i’m near 2000 words and don’t want this to turn into a dissertation – although I could probably go on that long) the last act just doesn’t work for me. Ben Solo survives a fatal fall then dies for no clear reason. The spaceship battle is mediocre – we know the reinforcements will save the day, and the scene carries little conviction – its hardly an epic helms deep or knights of the vale type rescue. Palpatine’s motives change with the wind – its hard to know if he was just manipulating Rey and Kylo the whole time and lucked out or merely took advantage of an unseen opportunity. But the biggest problem is how the Emperor is beaten. One thing I’ve said ever since I knew he was returning was that Rey and Ben couldn’t beat him, even together. Only one person in the entire Star Wars canon (Mace Windu) has beaten the Emperor in a straight fight. Even Yoda could only manage a draw. The whole idea of Rey being the vessel for all the Jedi’s power is ludicrous – had she summoned the force ghosts of Obi-Wan, Yoda, Luke, Anakin, Qui-Gon, Leia and Mace etc., and the group of them combined powers to defeat the Emperor, that might have worked. Her just blasting him away with his own lightning? That sucks and is lazy writing. The Emperor deserved better.
So there you are. I’m sure some of you will vehemently disagree with all this. Good for you. But for me, there’s no doubt – this is the worst Star Wars film ever made.
In the words of Yoda:
Failed, Disney has. A clusterfuck, this is.