December 18, 2019 Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Movie Review)
Few franchises—if any—carry the weight of Star Wars. The saga’s iconic characters, stories, and imagery have remained at the forefront of pop culture for over 40 years, and now that tale which began in 1977 comes to an awe-inspiring close with Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. Writer/Director J.J. Abrams (Lost series, Star Trek 2009) bears the responsibility of delivering a fitting and satisfying conclusion to the entire Skywalker saga. Soaring into theaters worldwide on Friday, December 20th via Walt Disney Pictures, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker sees Abrams taking back the reigns from The Last Jedi Writer/Director Rian Johnson and attempting to course-correct to his own original vision for the final trilogy.
Before production even began on The Rise of Skywalker, Abrams was forced to deal with working the story around the tragic and untimely death of beloved star Carrie Fisher (Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope 1977, The Burbs 1989) —who still stars in this film as General Leia Organa through the magic of composite archival footage—and the polarizing response from fans to Johnson’s 2017 film The Last Jedi.
Now, the rebel resistance is all but decimated, leaving almost no hope of defeating the tyrannical First Order led by Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver: Girls series, Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi 2017). The new main trio Finn (John Boyega: Attack the Block 2011, Pacific Rim: Uprising 2018), Rey (Daisy Ridley: Murder on the Orient Express 2017, Peter Rabbit 2018), and Poe (Oscar Isaac: Ex Machina 2014, X-Men: Apocalypse 2016) are left to pick up the shattered pieces of the once mighty Resistance as the First Order grows stronger than ever before.
Anyone who has ever been on the internet knows that there will always be outliers and those who will never be satisfied. That said, Abrams neatly—sometimes too neatly—ties up loose ends and attempts to answer fans most burning questions. With so much story to pack into its 141 minute runtime, the film does suffer from a few pacing issues, particularly at the start with several plot points being introduced at breakneck speed. However, as the story unfolds that pacing evens out and gives way to poignant character-driven moments that can draw tears from even the driest eyes. Each and every actor puts forth a monumental performance, and even the newest characters like Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran: XOXO 2016, Sorry for Your Loss series) will have audiences cheering. The care that each actor pours into their respective role shines on screen, ensuring that the characters remain the beating heart of this story—as it always has been.
It is great to see women and people of color as heroes in such an iconic and beloved series. Still, the Star Wars universe, vast as it is, is still lacking in LGBTQ+ and other representation. Plenty of evidence that main characters Finn and Poe could be that for fans, Isaac himself even fought for this outcome, but Abrams tepid attempt to shoehorn in forced heteronormative romances felt contrived. Small glimpses of promised “representation” in the background are something, sure, but merely a scrap of what could have been. Now that offset series like The Mandalorian exist, here is hoping that LGBTQ+ fans can see themselves represented in Star Wars on screen.
All that in mind, The Rise of Skywalker is a lot to process on first viewing. It is a film that carries incredible emotional weight, and at times provides more questions than answers. The film plays on nostalgia and audiences’ love for its characters, oftentimes playing into expectations rather than upending them. These moments do strike true and feel satisfying, but the true joy of The Last Jedi was how it upended expectation. The Rise of Skywalker feels as though its trying too hard to satisfy everyone, and the story suffers for it.
Abrams somehow manages to balance massive set pieces and heart-pounding action sequences with touching character moments, but there are a few too many new elements being tossed in at once for the story to feel completely cohesive. Overall, it is the characters and their stories that make The Rise of Skywalker hit home. We will always be left to wonder how the Skywalker saga would have ended were it left in Johnson’s hands, but Abrams took Johnson’s bold twists and smoothed them out to play into fan expectations and desires. It is something that must be experienced. The results satisfy overall, but many fans may leave the theater feeling conflicted. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker 4 out of 5 stars.