Should I Watch..? 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker'
What's the Big Deal?
As if you didn't know!
Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker (also known as Episode IX: The Rise Of Skywalker) is an epic sci-fi action film released in 2019 and was directed and co-written by J.J. Abrams. The ninth film in the Star Wars saga, the film is also the third and final entry in the sequel trilogy following The Force Awakens in 2015 and The Last Jedi in 2017. The film's ensemble cast includes Carrie Fisher in a posthumous appearance, Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong'o, Keri Russell, Kelly Marie Tran, Joonas Suotamo, Billy Dee Williams and Ian McDiarmid. The film follows the efforts of Rey, Finn and the other members of the Resistance as they prepare to make a final stand against the First Order, now led by Kylo Ren and the apparently resurrected Emperor Palpatine. The film received a mixed response from critics but typically, the movie was a hit with audiences - at the time of writing, the film has already earned more than $927 million worldwide.
What's It About?
Haunted by a vision of a returning Palpatine, Kylo Ren - now Supreme Leader of the First Order - locates a Sith wayfinder and uses it to travel to the uncharted and mysterious planet Exegol where he finds the reanimated corpse of Palpatine waiting for him. He reveals to Ren that he created the former Supreme Leader Snoke as a clone while he has assembled a vast fleet of Star Destroyers in an effort to purge the galaxy of the Resistance led by Leia Organa. He charges Ren with killing Jedi-in-training Rey who is continuing her training under Organa and becoming stronger every day. But Ren himself is conflicted as he wishes to usurp Palpatine alongside Rey by turning her to the Dark Side.
Meanwhile, the Resistance learn from a spy within the First Order that Palpatine has returned and where he is. Unfortunately, the way to Exegol can only be via a Sith wayfinder and Luke Skywalker's search for such an artefact went cold on the planet Pasaana. Rey, Finn, Po, Chewbacca and droids BB-8 and C-3PO travel to the desert world in the hope of uncovering the wayfinder - unaware that their every move is being followed by Ren and his endless troops. In order to strike back before the First Order can complete their evil plans, the Resistance will have to call in a few favours from friends old and new...
Carrie Fisher (archive)
Kylo Ren / Ben Solo
Richard E. Grant
Lupita Nyong'o (motion capture & voice)
Kelly Marie Tran
Billy Dee Williams
Chris Terrio & J.J. Abrams*
Release Date (UK)
19th December, 2019
Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
What's to Like?
Perhaps wisely moving on from the boring omnishambles that was The Last Jedi, The Rise Of Skywalker seems intent on making amends to the nerdy hordes upset by the previous episode. The film is awash with references to other films in the series including the prequel trilogy - beloved characters like Lando Calrissian make their long-awaited return, the desert chase between our heroes and Stormtroopers is reminiscent of a certain pod-racing scene and the film revisits locations previously seen such as the Emperor's throne room on board the wreckage of the second Death Star. The film also sees the return of some fantastic action sequences including a visually spectacular light-sabre duel between Rey and Kylo Ren amidst a swirling storm and crashing ocean waves. Again, it feels as though it's harking back to Obi-Wan and Anakin's volcanic clash in Revenge Of The Sith. Safe to say, the film works hard to win back the fans lost.
It's worth saying that these films aren't known for iconic performances beyond Fisher's spunky Princess Leia and Harrison Ford's scruffy-looking nerf-herder Han Solo. What I was delighted to see was Driver stepping up as Kylo Ren, a no-holds-barred baddie that finally takes his place alongside the series' more memorable antagonists. He seems to relish dispatching his underlings when they fail him but at the same time, there is an internal struggle going on that is intriguing and makes him more complex than, say, Darth Maul. The series also isn't that well known for brilliantly written dialogue or narrative and I'm afraid that this film doesn't do much to buck the trend. However, it does provide answers to questions fan will have about Rey's heritage and the mysterious Snoke. Fans put off by the misfiring Last Jedi will find much to savour here, assuming they don't look too hard at what actually is going on.
- John Williams, the composer of the series' trademark score, appears in the films for the first time. He has a cameo as the bartender on Kijimi, apparently known as Oma Tres - an anagram of 'maestro'. Williams has stated that this will be the final Star Wars film that he'll work on.
- In November 2019, a copy of the script appeared for sale online after John Boyega's copy was stolen from his apartment. Boyega left it under his bed and while changing apartments, forgot all about it. Abrams later confirmed that it was parent company Disney who bought it back to prevent spoilers.
- Anthony Daniels is the only actor to appear in all nine Star Wars episodes, having played C-3PO since A New Hope was released in 1977. Weirdly, it's the only time C-3PO appears entirely in gold - previous films either depicted the character being constructed or having different coloured limbs.
- Commander D'Arcy (played by Amanda Lawrence) is the first openly gay character to appear in any Star Wars picture. While Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) from The Last Jedi was previously mentioned as being gay, it is never referenced in that film.
What's Not to Like?
The downside of all this reverence to the previous films is that it illustrates how little originality there is on display here. Even the Sith world of Exegol and the Emperor's throne / life-support machine are based on proposals made for Return Of The Jedi. In fact, the only really original thing I can think of is the slightly insane sight of alien horses leading a charge on the surface of a Star Destroyer and frankly, that felt too silly even for this series. There are other issues too - characters are featured in a handful of scenes with next to nothing for them to do including Dominic Monaghan's Resistance officer who brings nothing to the table and the criminally underused Tran as Rose Tico - a hangover from The Last Jedi and a character I suspect of being sidelined after the needless backlash she received last time out. Only Grant delivers as a slimy First Order general but even he feels far too similar to Peter Cushing's Grand Moff Tarkin.
My biggest disappointments, besides the story never really getting going (and even asking questions while still attempting to answer previous ones), were the performances of the lead cast. Neither Boyega or Isaac feel as though they have earned their place in this series fully as the film's have become increasingly focused on Rey and Ren. Maybe that's not entirely their fault but this film is the first time that Ridley has felt like a let-down. She plays a Jedi with an annoying habit of stopping mid-scene and wandering off like she's just smelled freshly baked bread. It's also hard to suspend disbelief during the late Carrie Fisher's scenes because you know it's all computer trickery. Using a composite of outtakes from The Force Awakens, it just ends up feeling disingenuous. You may as well have shoved Jar Jar Binks in there instead and watch the fans flock to the exits.
In a way, I kinda feel sorry for Abrams as he was given (or volunteered himself for) the near-impossible task of not just completing this recent trilogy but also the entire franchise as a whole. Even Lucas stayed away from that prospect and Abrams was never likely to succeed at such a gargantuan task. Perhaps realising that his back was against the wall, I don't blame him for producing a populist throwback for fans to enjoy - he did the best he could. But am I alone in believing that this won't be the last Star Wars we'll ever see? Disney have a reputation for wringing every last dollar out of a series and I'd hate to see Star Wars decline any further in pursuit of box office receipts. Frankly, I haven't seen anything in the last three episodes that convinced me that the series was worth continuing. Even ardent fans will admit that the lightning escaped the bottle a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away.
Should I Watch It?
If you are a fan of anything Star Wars then this will be exactly the tonic you're looking for after the let-down of The Last Jedi. Full of Force-tastic action and cameos for days (it'll take a few viewings to get them all, I expect), The Rise Of Skywalker reminds you of why you love the series in the first place. But the film's ultimate reverence for the earlier films only makes you appreciate them all the more instead of wanting to watch this again. This is a fan film made by fans for fans whereas Lucas was able to create an entire galaxy of planets, aliens and backstory with a combination of film-making talent, magical casting and visual imagination. If the original trilogy is a shot of vodka then this film is that same shot with a pint of orange juice.
Great For: Star Wars fans, cosplayers looking for new ideas, making millions in merchandise sales
Not So Great For: anyone hoping that The Last Jedi wouldn't be swept under the rug, screenwriting tutors, convincing me that there should be more films
What Else Should I Watch?
You are intelligent people - you've done well to find my blog and you clearly have great taste. You already know that the first three films - A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi - are leagues ahead of the rest of the franchise. Vader is one of cinema's greatest ever characters and the chemistry between Fisher, Ford and Hamill make their roles effortlessly likeable. There is a genuine magic on screen - free from smothering CG and the rabid expectations of the Internet - that filters through and makes them so much fun to watch. Regarding the prequel trilogy, the only one that comes close is Revenge Of The Sith which depicts Anakin's descent into darkness and the ultimate battle between the Jedi and the Sith for the fate of the galaxy. If you can forgive Hayden Christensen's awful performance, it's worth a watch.
If this is truly the end of the saga then it would seem that spin-offs are the way to go - indeed, Disney have already experimented with this. After the excellent but somewhat downbeat Rogue One, they sadly dropped the ball with Solo - an attempt to depict Han's origins but sadly became the first Star Wars film to bomb at the box office. Annoyingly, this caused Disney to cancel production on a spin-off featuring Boba Fett and begin production on a TV series for their own streaming service - The Mandalorian. Personally, I hope Disney decide to share a bit more Star Wars with us instead of keeping it to themselves on their streaming service - it feels a sad way for such a beloved and iconic series to go forward.
© 2020 Benjamin Cox