SPOILER WARNING: The following review contains MAJOR spoilers for “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” If you have not yet seen the film, you should seriously turn back now.
For as long as I can remember, I have been a “Star Wars” fan. One of my favorite memories is the time my dad took me to see my very first “Star Wars” film in 2005 with the premiere of “Revenge of the Sith.” Jump forward ten years later and I am back in the theater seat for the grand return of “Star Wars” to the big screen with “The Force Awakens.” Because of surgery, I didn’t get to see it until that Christmas Eve, but for a little over two hours the pain was gone and I was immersed back into that galaxy. While “The Force Awakens” isn’t my favorite of the bunch, I still hold a great attachment to it for that and for the immediate goosebumps I got as soon as the fanfare and title crawl began. I say this to explain that this won’t be much a review from someone fully immersed in the interworkings of what it takes to make a film, but rather from a fan.
With “The Force Awakens,” I think the film played things a bit too safe (outside killing Han Solo) but as an introduction to the new characters, it was excellent in that regard. It just isn’t one I’m dying to rewatch as much as others in the saga. “The Last Jedi” was certainly polarizing to fandom, but I stand on the side that I very much loved the movie. It isn’t without flaws, but Rian Johnson nailed it on the Rey (Daisy Ridley), Luke (Mark Hamill) and Kylo (Adam Driver) side of things definitely. It features some of the best moments of the saga too with the entire throne room sequence and Yoda’s return being the standouts. So overall, my thoughts on the sequel trilogy have been positive.
Now at the capstone of the saga, my feelings on “The Rise of Skywalker” definitely shifted from my first viewing to the second. The film moves at a breakneck pace, so I think it’s hard to absorb all that it throws at you the first time. Probably not a sign of a good movie but as I said, “Star Wars” fanboy viewpoint here. I walked out of the first a bit disappointed with how it seemed to retcon a lot of what “The Last Jedi” introduced. I think there are certainly some elements of that still, but many of those upon second viewing made a lot more sense in the context of what comes at the end. The biggest element of this is the reveal that Rey is the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). I thought it felt like the dumbest submission to one of the countless fan theories at first, but now I kind of like how it fits into the overall narrative. Her duality with Ben Solo and the “dyad” they form, as the film refers to it, was a solid puzzle piece to their conclusion.
While Rey is the main hero of the trilogy, both her and Ben have an equal stake in the sequel trilogy being their story. Something I’m glad director J.J. Abrams stuck with was the bond they shared from “The Last Jedi.” As it has grown more powerful, they can now interact with each other’s environments even more, which has an excellent payoff in the climax. I enjoyed aspects of how Rey’s tale was wrapped up, but Ben’s return to the light really stole the show. Mimicking the mannerisms of his father Han when he arrives on Exogol was a very nice touch. Adam Driver seriously is the highlight for me in this entire trilogy from the new characters.
Going into the film, one of my biggest concerns was how the Emperor’s return would be handled. Ian McDiarmid’s performance of Darth Sidious though is end-of-“Revenge of the Sith” level but cranked up about 100 notches and I absolutely loved it. I buy the use of Sith alchemy for his return and his appearance certainly sells the very weak state his body is in. The best part is that we get his introduction in the first five minutes of the film, that way we’re not anxious to get by with the actual plot just to see him. Having him as the overarching villain of a trilogy of trilogies is really the only way I think it could go.
For me, the most profound moment from this film is Rey’s, where all of the Jedi of the past speak to her. Hearing ones like Luke, Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor and Alec Guinness), Anakin (Hayden Christensen), Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson), Yoda (Frank Oz) and Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) are undoubtedly cool. What I loved even more though was hearing Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein) and Kanan Jarrus (Freddie Prinze Jr.). I was most surprised that Kanan’s was one of the most distinct voices in there. I found it funny though that after Ahsoka, one of the female Jedi voices they had to rely on was someone like freaking Jedi Master Adi Gallia (Angelique Perrin). This bolster to Rey to help her defeat Palpatine is cool and gives a nice wrap to many of the Jedi who came before. Force ghosts would have been cool, though it would have been a bit crowded with all of them on screen.
From the OG trio’s inclusion in the film, I found them to have fitting ends here. Having Leia (Carrie Fisher) as Rey’s new master is a natural step in her arc, and with the footage they had of the late Carrie Fisher, I felt they did the best that they could. Her final sacrifice to her son Ben though was a special moment and one that felt like a fitting end to her character. Then you get Ben facing the memory of his father. It doesn’t feel shoehorned in just to get Han Solo (Harrison Ford) back, but rather an important moment in the redemption of Ben Solo. Harrison Ford is great, but again Adam Driver steals the show at representing the conflicted soul Ben is cursed with. Luke’s Force ghost pep talk to Rey back on Ahch-To was solid, but the moment in which he lifts the X-Wing out of the water with Yoda’s version of the Force theme playing was excellent; harkening back to the task he was unable to do set before him by Yoda in “Empire.”
As far as other legacy characters, I felt C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) had the biggest chance he’s gotten to shine in a film since “Attack of the Clones.” All of his humor is great but he has touching moments as well. I do think it was a missed opportunity for J.J. not to put a first-person camera shot when he gives his, “Taking one last look sir, at my friends” line; harkening back to the same shot we get when Anakin leaves him to start his Jedi training in “The Phantom Menace.” Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) gets the most touching moment of the entire trilogy though when he finds out about Leia’s death. Joonas Suotamo’s body language easily translates the great sense of grief to the audience that Chewie is experiencing at that moment. I am disappointed with how this trilogy has basically treated R2-D2 like a decorative lamp in most scenes. The one redeeming moment he got was his reunion with Luke in “The Last Jedi.” He flies as Poe’s astromech in the final battle, but it makes no sense as you’d think given Poe’s special bond with BB-8 he would be flying with him instead. You have Lando Calrissian back with Billy Dee Williams, so there really isn’t anything more I need to add there.
Being the last film of the saga, you’d think it would spend more time giving the established cast more time to shine. Instead, J.J. has added more characters to the film which leaves things feeling a bit crowded. I like all of them and their actors, but I feel like their inclusion takes away time from the main cast. I think the biggest offense of this was the near removal of Rose (Kelly Marie Tran). She has some lines of exposition, but her role next to Finn in “The Last Jedi” has been basically removed. I like Jannah (Naomi Ackie) and what she brings next to Finn, but it feels like her character was added just to take the place Rose would play. That is one retcon of “The Last Jedi” that I feel will remain a valid complaint. One of my favorites of the trilogy General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) also has a shorter arc, but I actually like what is done with it. He is sort of replaced by General Pryde (Richard E. Grant) who is supposedly a long-term servant of the Emperor, which I feel like would have been more effective if he was someone we had seen before.
I really enjoyed half of the climax that was Rey and Ben dealing with grandpa Palps, but the other half of the battle with Poe, Finn and the Resistance in the air was kind of disappointing. My major issue stems from how Lando and Chewie were able to recruit all of these ships for their side when at the Battle of Crait, when no one in the Outer Rim responded to Leia’s distress call. I know Lando is a charming man, but come on. In a moment where the “Avengers: Endgame” absolutely nailed its similar portals scene, this was kind of a letdown for the big finale. The closest thing we get is three words of dialogue from Wedge (Denis Lawson). I will probably chalk it up to me being too much of an obsessive fan, but how awesome it would have been to see just cockpit glances of characters from other shows, books and games to check-in. We do see the Ghost in the final battle so at least we know some of the crew in “Star Wars Rebels” are present. It could have been just like the random pilots seen in “Rogue One” and “Return of the Jedi” but with known characters. Seeing them check-in or something wouldn’t confuse the audience but also go a long way for fans of the extra material.
One other thing I disliked is kind of common throughout the entire trilogy. I don’t know who’s call it is, but would it have killed you guys to add some recognizable alien species. I love a lot of the new designs Neal Scanlan brought to the table (especially my boy Babu Frik) but the lack of some of the iconic species honestly takes me out of it a bit. I know its a big nitpick, but just put a Greedo mask on someone and slap two tentacles on a guy’s head and call him a Twi-lek and I’ll shut up. Unless they are a named and returning character, I did not spot a single returning alien at any point in this trilogy. Other canon material, like “Star Wars Resistance,” all do a good job of mixing the old with the new so I’m not sure where the issue stems from in this trilogy.
For visuals and music, obviously, ILM and John Williams knock it out of the park as always. I think “The Last Jedi” is still my favorite score of the trilogy (and film), but the one here seems like something you’ll appreciate more as you listen again and again for the little easter eggs Williams threw in. His music for the final battle against the Emperor is absolutely fantastic though with the chanting from what I believe is Sidious’ dark-side acolytes/followers. Also the sort of Sith whispering you get at moments in the score, much like with Darth Maul in “The Phantom Menace,” is sinisterly good. The visual effects are also fantastic at the end, particularly everything Palpatine does. His unleashing of full waves of lighting to the entire Resistance fleet is a sight to behold. Then you have Rey reflecting it back at him Mace-Windu-style, once again being defeated by his overconfidence. For other visuals, most of the new planets feel unique from what we have seen before. One of the coolest-looking parts of the film is the shot of the huge group of natives dancing at their Festival of the Ancestors. I don't know what sticks out to me about it but it is one of my favorites in the entire trilogy.
I think its best to end this with what I think of the actual final moments of the film and in turn, the saga as a whole. Much like “Return of the Jedi,” we are treated to a celebration of the Emperor and his forces finally being defeated. All the characters have their reunions, and Chewbacca even gets his medal from Maz (Lupita Nyong'o). At first, I thought this moment was incredibly hamfisted in just to finally give him his medal, but upon my second viewing, I realized it was more for Maz to pass on a memento of his friend Han which sat much better with me. Also, Maz is apparently a puppet in this film which I do like but it seems kind of random since it wasn’t like her CGI was bad in “The Force Awakens” or “The Last Jedi.” I found the three shots of the Star Destroyers falling over Cloud City, Forest Moon of Endor and Jakku to be a bit random. I like the symbolism for the new cruiser falling next to the old one on Jakku and Endor one kind of makes sense given thats where “Episode VI” ended, but Cloud City seems completely random. It feels like a way of replicating the additions from the special editions of “Return of the Jedi” where we see planets from the prequels and OT celebrating the end of the Empire but doesn’t quite work the same. I feel like it would have maybe been better if there were more shots from planets present in all three trilogies, but I’m not certain.
Rey’s return to the Lars homestead though felt a bit weird to me. Obviously Luke has a special bond to that place, but really the only thing that ties Leia to it is her grandmother Shmi being buried there. I get what J.J. was going for, but it doesn’t feel like the most perfect of locations though I can’t really say that I know of a better one. The appearance of their Force ghosts I like, and as much as I would have liked to see Anakin, I think Ben being there would have made the most sense. Then a random old lady shows up (with a creature that looks very much like an eopie but isn’t, because apparently, they couldn’t afford to get one back just like the rest of the lacking familiar species) and asks Rey her name. She responds with Skywalker, which I think will continue to be controversial but is probably the one thing about this ending I kind of like. Overall though, I think it just falls flat in comparison to “Return of the Jedi” and “Revenge of the Sith” in terms of the final moments of a trilogy, which is a shame as this one ends the entire saga as well. Hey, her new lightsaber is pretty sick though.
“The Rise of Skywalker” has its flaws, but overall I find it to be a serviceable end to the Skywalker saga. I didn’t come away completely satisfied though, which given how high expectations are to cap off a film series like this, I didn’t really expect it to. I really think the film would have benefited from a longer runtime, giving more characters time to shine and time to breathe between its bigger moments. I’ve seen some bring up that the film has too much fan-service, but I honestly think there wasn’t enough. Overall I really enjoyed what this trilogy brought, but feel like having an overarching vision between directors would certainly have helped it quite a bit. Still though, I think J.J. did a nice job at carrying on most of what “The Last Jedi” setup, but not quite all. Walking away from the saga, it’s funny to think that the prequel trilogy was the most cohesive and planned out of the three. I will say that the more that I think about “Episode IX” the more I think I love it.