Released: December 2019
Director: J. J. Abrams
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $275 million
Stars: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, and Ian McDiarmid
When a threat of revenge is issued by the long-dead Emperor Palpatine (McDiarmid), Rey (Ridley) is drawn into another confrontation with Kylo Ren (Driver) in the search for an ancient Sith device that will reveal the location of the resurrected emperor and decide the fate of the entire galaxy,
So, this is it; for better or worse, the “Sequel Trilogy” of Star Wars (Various, 1977 to present) movies comes to an end. For me, this has been a disappointment since Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens (ibid, 2015), which was little more than a retelling of better Star Wars stories but with better effects and writing, and only exacerbated by the dreadful Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (Johnson, 2017). Rather than show us a galaxy thriving under the leadership of Leia Organa’s (Carrie Fisher) New Republic alongside Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Jedi Master Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) reconstituted Jedi Order, we inexplicably have a galaxy threatened by the First Order (who are somehow, consistently, more powerful than the Galactic Empire ever were despite all the losses from the Death Star and Starkiller base…) and being opposed, once again, by a rag-tag resistance group. The Last Jedi then pissed a lot of people off by dropping the ball on Rey’s origins, killing off Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) without any fuss or fanfare, and doing away with Luke purely so that Rey could shine as the titular “last Jedi”. Somewhat spooked by reactions to The Last Jedi (and the two spin-off movies, despite the fact that I actually preferred both of them to the entire Sequel Trilogy), Disney roped J. J. Abrams back into the fold to get the Star Wars franchise back on course and, what we’re left with, is a hodgepodge of fan service, damage control, and desperation as he frantically tries to wrap up not just the Sequel Trilogy but the entire Skywalker Saga itself!
The Rise of Skywalker kicks off with Ren immediately locating one of only two Sith wayfinders and travelling to the forgotten Sith planet Exegol where he encounters Palpatine, who wastes no time in providing half-assed explanations regarding his resurrection/survival, Snoke’s origins, and motivations for Ren reconstructing his helmet and getting back out their to kill Rey. The implication seems to be that Palpatine transferred his spirit into a clone body and was controlling Snoke like a puppet to convert Ren but…it’s not dwelled upon much at all, which really makes you feel like you’ve wasted your time watching any of the previous movies.
Plus, like, the emperor surviving really undermines the Rebellion’s victory and takes a lot of power and urgency away from Ren, who is otherwise portrayed fantastically by Adam Driver. Imagine if Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) had been as wonderfully torn between rage, indecision, and love; Ren is constantly on the edge, flipping between extreme focus, exploding in anger, and struggling with committing to the Light or Dark Side.
As for Rey, she’s been spending her time training with Leia and studying the Jedi texts she obtained from Luke while Finn (Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Isaac) return with news of the emperor’s return. Thankfully, this leads to the three of them heading out to Pasaana to try and find the other wayfinder and end the emperor before he can launch his master plan (called “The Final Order”…which really should have been the title of the movie as the title is dogshit…). One of the strengths of Abrams’ Sequel Trilogy has been the writing and dialogue and Finn, Poe, and Rey have great chemistry together; they bicker and talk like real people and real friends, which is always refreshing after sitting through George Lucas’ stilted, robotic writing.
In all honesty, the plot of The Rise of Skywalker boils down to a glorified fetch-quest; the heroes bounce around the galaxy trying to track down the wayfinder and, eventually, find themselves teaming up with Star Wars staple Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) and exploring the remains of the second Death Star, where Rey’s super-duper true origins are finally revealed. Alongside such blatant fan service, The Rise of Skywalker is also gloriously peppered with epic space battles and some of the best lightsaber battles we’ve ever seen, all bolstered by some of John Williams’ best work. Unfortunately, I cannot get over the missteps the franchise has taken since The Force Awakens and the film feels a bit rushed and slapped together in places as Abrams desperately performs damage control to rush the film, the sequels, and, stupidly, the entire saga to a conclusive finish…and still ends with the door left so blatantly open for future films in the series.
So, if you hated Rey before, you’re probably going to hate her even more when it’s now revealed that her parents weren’t nobodies; instead, Rey is inexplicably Palpatine’s granddaughter…which raises so many questions like: when did Palpatine have a son? Who was his mother? Why would he ever left his progeny live? Why has it taken him so long to track them down and kill them? These questions are trumped by a far more pressing one, though, which is literally the question of why Palpatine is even alive at all. Obviously, this is a cheap move to ensure that audiences will flock in droves to see the film out of nostalgia but it really takes away from the victory on the second Death Star and Abrams did very little to justify it. I really feel like we needed a more blatant explanation of his survival and the nature of his relationship with Snoke but, instead, it’s hand-waved away in the laziest way possible.
Also, while he’s been rebuilding himself and his power, the emperor also build an entire fleet of Star Destroyers, all fully manned and armed with planet-killing weapons. Where did he get the resources and manpower for such an endeavour? Fucked if I know, but he did. Not only that, but Richard E. Grant is randomly in charge of the fleet as General Pryde, because I guess Colonel Sandurz was busy that day and I guess Adrian Edmonson was unavailable and Abrams saw how Johnson reduced the already pathetic General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) into a whiny little cry baby. But it’s okay because it turns out Hux is so jelly of Ren that he’s been leaking information to the Resistance and, right when you think that means he’s going to do something interesting, he’s just shot dead by Pryde. Speaking of uninteresting, the fabled Knights of Ren finally make an appearance in this movie; they’re a handful of black-clad, anime-sword-wielding enforcers who…stand around doing nothing, beat up Ren for a bit, and then get killed like a bunch of punks! The big story here is the continued turmoil that Kyle Ren is going through; although he aligns with the emperor, he secretly (well….it’s not really a secret; he yells about it at almost every opportunity) seeks to turn Rey so they can team up, bump uglies, and usurp the emperor together. When Leia gives her life to distract Ren, he ends up having a heart-to-heart with a vision/memory/something of his father and rejecting his lightsaber. Reclaiming the name of Ben Solo, he helps Rey to defeat the emperor (and, by extension, the entirety of the Sith, it seems) but dies to bring Rey back to life, becoming one with the Force in the process. It’s a bit of a weak ending as it means the entire Organa/Solo/Skywalker bloodline is dead but Abrams tried to make up for it by having Rey travel to Tatooine (because God forbid we don’t go back there again!) and dramatically declare herself to be “Rey Skywalker”…despite having no claims to the name.
Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is clearly the best entry in the Sequel Trilogy but, as a finale to the entire Skywalker Saga, it fails in quite a few ways. Also, it’s hard to watch without the sour taste of its predecessors tainting the film, no matter how engaging the action is or how meaningful some of the film’s heartfelt moments are. Abrams throws all the fan service he possibly can at the film and you can almost see him plastering over the cracks in the film but it’s all at the detriment of telling an original story and nowhere is this more evident than in the credits of the movie. I get that Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill are legends to this franchise but their roles are so minimal in this film yet they get top billing over Ridley, Driver, Isaac, and Boyega and that’s a bit of a joke, to be honest. In the end, I’m glad that this film has brought the main saga to an end. Hopefully, Star Wars can focus on its Disney+ shows, regroup, and, the next time someone decides to make a film trilogy, they will sit down and map out an actual plan rather than just picking out their favourite Star Wars moments and slapping them into a space/action drama and calling it a day.