A superfan pens down his thoughts on the much-awaited final installment
Disclaimer: spoilers ahead
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the ninth and final installment of the Skywalker Saga, was saddled with such a difficult task.
Not only did it have to be an interesting standalone movie, as well as neatly wrap things up as the third act of its own Disney-helmed trilogy, it also needed to provide a satisfying end to the 42-year-old generational space-opera that has meant so much to so many people. It wasn’t equally successful at navigating all three, but it may have done just enough to be considered, well, just fine.
Let’s get the easy part out of the way: As a movie by itself, Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker is a fun, action-filled, two-hour and 28-minute romp around a universe that is well-loved and lived-in.
The lead character of Rey (Daisy Ridley) is a worthy addition to the ranks of Jedi canon and her emotional Force tug-of-war with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) remains interesting and compelling to the very end, give or take a few odd choices. Her co-leads, Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), are played with more fun, humor and charisma than past outings. The droids, the old ones and the new, are always great.
The action remains top-notch. The outer-space dogfights and lightsaber battles are exciting. Everything that makes a Star Wars movie fun from a visual perspective, like new systems and planets—or even old familiar ones —are there.
From a plot perspective, it’s far from perfect. Some story beats feel like retreads. Some developments don’t quite make sense. Some moments aren’t quite earned. Overall, though, it advanced to reasonably get us from Point A to Point B.
And considering what they had to do to get there after the passing of original trilogy star Carrie Fisher, whose character of Princess/General Leia was likely poised to take a spotlight role in the third movie—just as Harrison Ford’s Han Solo and Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker did in Episode VII and Episode VIII—it’s hard to be too harsh on the script. It’s not easy to cobble together a story arc out of repurposed footage from a previous movie.
But while it’s certainly enjoyable as a film in itself, Skywalker doesn’t make much sense in the picture of the new trilogy. Director JJ Abrams started the Disney era with The Force Awakens but handed the reins off to Rian Johnson for Episode VIII, the divisive and contentious The Last Jedi. Those two were vastly different in how they tackled the legacy of the franchise.
Abrams’ Force was a nostalgic piece that harkened to the legends of old. While it introduced the new core of heroes, it echoed a lot of old events and honored the ideas of the past. It had a wink-wink nature to it, pandering to fans who knew their history while also offering a fun tale.
Johnson’s Jedi went a different route, challenging long-held ideals and pushing the story into more unexpected territory for fans. Suffice it to say, some fans loved it while others didn’t so much. And really, Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker’s mileage may depend on just where you fall on that divide. Because IX basically ignored a lot of what VIII tried to do with its story, landing it reasonably around where you would expect VII to be headed.
Whether or not that’s a good thing depends on what you like out of being a Star Wars fan. But what’s made clear here is that there wasn’t really a cohesive story that this trilogy set out to tell and this weird back-and-forth between directors (a third one, Colin Trevorrow, was originally tapped to take the franchise home) didn’t really work the way it was envisioned.
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The Magic of the Franchise
As an ending to the entire nine-film, four-decade saga, though, it fared a little better. Look, I’ll be upfront with this. I saw the original movies as a little kid while play-acting the scenes with my brother and cousins (who would always dress me up in oversized hoodies to look like a Jawa). Later, I watched with wonder when the remastered versions got a theatrical release in the late 90’s, changing the game for me forever.
As I grew older, I discovered the novelizations, the prequels, the video games, the expanded universe, the TV shows. My brother and I would get ready for school while blasting the John Williams score on the CD sets we borrowed from our uncle. When the franchise was set to return years later with The Force Awakens, I gave my extended family opening night tickets as a Christmas gift just so we could recapture the magic of seeing Star Wars together.
I am always down for more Star Wars. And that means I wasn’t the most objective observer. I was rooting for this to succeed. I didn’t need for it to be a perfect movie. For me, it didn’t need to stick the landing. It just needed to not crash-land.
The situation reminded me a lot of Avengers: Endgame. As the culmination of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, it had way more elements to juggle than Rise of Skywalker did. I was willing to overlook plot holes, inconsistent characterizations and weird moments as long as I got a generally coherent story while doing justice to enough of the characters I had grown to love.
Granted, Endgame stuck it with as much ease as Steve Rogers picking up Mjolnir. Skywalker struggled a little more but did enough to send me home happy.
The Universe Lives On
I didn’t love all of the choices. The return of Emperor Palpatine seemed shoehorned. The climax being a bigger (but not better) re-run of Luke’s story from Return of the Jedi was a little on the nose. The Knights of Ren weren’t even explained a little bit.
But Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker gave good enough send-offs for the core characters and some callbacks and some pretty amazing Jedi cameos. And I’m good with that.
It’s not a perfect ending, but it doesn’t have to be. Even if it closes the chapter on the Skywalkers and their friends, it isn’t like Star Wars is going away. The Disney trilogy may have underwhelmed as a whole, but the universe lives on.
The MCU’s Kevin Feige might be making a Star Wars movie and, depending on whether you are a The Last Jedi fan, Johnson might be helming a trilogy as well. The Disney Plus universe is killing it (shout-out to Baby Yoda!) and Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi is coming back as well.
The Skywalker story may be done—but something that might be even more central to Star Wars still remains. There is still hope.
Here’s to more Star Wars.
Words Mikkel Bolante
Art Alexandra Lara