Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise Of Skywalker (USA / 12A / 142 mins)
In short: The Force is stronger
Directed by J.J. Abrams. Starring Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid, Billy Dee Williams, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant.
The Plot: With the Resistance now reduced to a ragtag bunch of followers, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is in relentless pursuit of Rey (Daisy Ridley). Their connection is strong, bound by the light side and the dark side of The Force. However, a new threat to both of them has arisen in the malevolent form of the supposedly dead Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). The dark Sith lord has returned to manipulate and control the destiny of the two, with the fate of the galaxy lying in the balance of The Force. Where there is hope, there is a chance though. Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega) and co prepare for one last fight to end it all…
The Verdict: ‘This will be a day long remembered’. Darth Vader was right. This is the day that Star Wars, not necessarily the Jedi, ends. After 42 years, nine films and billions of dollars in box office and merchandise, the era-defining Skywalker saga has come to an end with Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise Of Skywalker. It’s not just an end to this trilogy that started with The Force Awakens in 2015 and continued with the controversial The Last Jedi in 2017. It’s an end to this trilogy of trilogies, tying the legacy of Star Wars together in one neat bow while hinting at what might happen next. It has not been an easy path though. Original director Colin Trevorrow departed after creative differences. The passionate fan contingent reacted strongly to Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, which to this reviewer was a bold, confident and provocative film that didn’t merely pay fan service (something that was a little too apparent in The Force Awakens). It moved the story forward and questioned the motivations of our supposed heroes. After saying that he was done with Star Wars, J.J. Abrams was tempted back to wrap up the saga. How does one end Star Wars though?
The solution that Abrams and co-screenwriter Chris Terrio have found is to weave all the storylines of the previous films together, so that it’s not just one film standing by itself. It’s one film standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the other eight – like Jedi all lined up in a Jedi temple, Force ghosts and all. There’s a respectful and skilful weaving of characters and what has come before to deliver the last word on all things Skywalker. That also includes The Last Jedi, which has undoubtedly earned its place in the saga – whether fans accept it or not. The Rise Of Skywalker isn’t so much a course correction as a course re-alignment. It’s not an apology for The Last Jedi though. Abrams respects the decisions that Johnson made in developing the storyline of the saga, but has hinted that he didn’t agree with all of them – such as the nature of Rey’s parentage. He and Terrio also discard some elements that looked like they were important. The closing shot of The Last Jedi is only paid a brief service here. In one of The Rise Of Skywalker’s very few missteps, it misses the potential to expand on the idea of The Force existing in all its characters and not just those who are particularly strong in The Force like Rey and Kylo. If only…
Speaking of whom, their relationship and internal conflict is further deepened and expanded here. The re-introduction of Emperor Palpatine, revealed to a shocked world at Comic-Con last July, was a mic drop moment that sent the internet into a tizzy. It’s a wise move on Abrams’ part, pushing the film further and deeper into dark conflict and the temptations of The Sith. The Last Jedi used up a lot of plot, leaving mostly breadcrumbs for the next director to work with. However, Palpatine has been the master puppeteer of this saga and his role here is to escalate matters to a final conclusion. And it is a conclusion – but what a conclusion! Trust Abrams to know what to do. To paraphrase Leia, he had everything he needed. He just needed to have confidence in his actors, his characters and how to take the story in the direction that it needed to go in in order to put a capstone on this monument that began in the wild imagination of George Lucas in the 1970s. There’s a lot to process here.
Legacy is something that weighs heavily on this film. The presence of the late Carrie Fisher is testament to that. Using unused footage from the previous two films, Abrams has brought Leia back into the story and found a place for her that feels respectful and absolutely right. To say anymore would enter spoiler territory, which would be as unthinkable as Palpatine changing his mind about being the ultimate Star Wars embodiment of evil (sorry Darth Vader). It’s not just Leia, but also Luke and the Jedi that have come before that are woven into the story. The fate of universe lies in the hands of Rey and Kylo, while the remains of the Resistance band together for one last fight. Abrams has dug deep into the well of Jedi mythology to explain the film’s title – which only becomes apparent at a particular point.
Abrams himself rises to the challenge in his confident direction. While The Force Awakens had some accusations of being a soft remake of A New Hope, The Rise Of Skywalker is its own thing. After the lightness and nostalgia of The Force Awakens, this film goes to dark, violent places to which its characters may not come back from. We genuinely worry for them and what might happen, with the stakes at their highest ever in the saga. The film is essentially structured like a ticking time bomb, with every decision made a crucial one to get closer to stopping it from exploding. The pacing across the entire film is superb, from the thrilling opening shot to the emotionally satisfying closing shot. There’s no fat here in the storyline, it’s just all about delivering one pay-off after another through frenetic chases, explosive space battles and kinetically charged lightsabre fights which draw it all together in one massive send-off for the ages.
Everything that has a beginning has an ending. As an ending, The Rise Of A Skywalker is a magnificent conclusion to this trilogy and those that came before. The Force is not only strong here, it’s stronger than it has ever been before. That’s because the circle is now complete, the original 9-part saga that Lucas envisioned but due to technological constraints only went with the middle trilogy initially. Time has caught up and so has the technology, with the lightsabre being passed on and entrusted to a new generation of filmmakers and characters. Star Wars has concluded and with it Lucas’ Empire Of Dreams, built on the mythology of the hero’s quest and Saturday matinee serials like Flash Gordon. It rests now like Yoda, but it’s never really gone. The Force will be with us… always.