Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) – Film Review
Director: JJ Abrams
Cast: Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega
by Roger Crow / @RogerCrow
Some films are like ships in the night. You cross paths; the movie finishes, you go for a burger then you might catch them on TV one night. Then there are life-long love affairs. The bolt from the blue. Love at first sight, and you’re smitten. For decades.
But you both have your troubled years. In the case of Star Wars, those prequels were awkward, full of fireworks but no soul. In 2015, if you’re a fan, that teenage crush came back into your life, and The Force Awakens resurrected that old flame like a light sabre on dry wood.
Then, in 2017 there was the fall out. The “It’s not you, it’s me”, case of The Last Jedi, when Rian Johnson tried to push the envelope with new characters and force powers, but wound up with a red-hued mess. It was the Catchphrase of the series. Good, but not right.
“So much to unpack”
Now comes the final chapter in a saga which has entertained the masses, off and on, for four decades. And the good news is it’s not only a massive improvement over episode eight, but also one of the best.
Which does beg the question: was TLJ deliberately a bit rubbish so fans would be treated to something special for this closing movie? Well analysts can argue about that until the next film is unveiled in a new run of Star Wars adventures. Yes, while the nine-part series may be over, you don’t let a cash cow like this go without a fight.
There is so much to unpack with this movie that one sitting won’t be enough for hardcore fans, which of course is the point. Star Wars has always been a multiple-viewing experience, and there’s a feast for the eyes and ears here.
Thunderous stereo means those watching it on their phones in a few months will lose most of the impact, not to mention the scale. This is one of those films best seen as big as possible. The effects are also dazzling, and one scene I’ll cryptically call the ‘Dunkirk’ moment will be freeze-framed by fans the world over when those Blu-rays and 4K discs hit the shops.
For the new saga which began a mere four years ago, this is a definite sense of closure, and while most of the cast are terrific, Daisy Ridley steals the show as Rey. She’s less jolly hockey sticks like in Force Awakens and now has a lot more urgency. Adam Driver is excellent as the morally conflicted Ben Solo. Oscar Isaac is as terrific as usual as the alpha rebel, Poe, while John Boyega’s Finn also does a lot of the heavy lifting, co-leading the rebellion at the darkest hour.￼
Yes, for reasons that soon become apparent, the rebels are facing the might of the Empire once more, and it’s a showdown that makes Return of the Jedi look like a mere scuffle by comparison.
Using outtakes from previous movies, and no doubt a lot of clever CGI, the late Carrie Fisher is recreated to fine effect, although obviously your brain will spend a lot of the time figuring out how it was all done instead of just relaxing and enjoying it for what it is.
Admittedly the plot isn’t perfect. There is a McGuffin or two which drives some of the narrative forward, and it’s a shame some of the props look a bit Blue Peter.
There are also moments where you stop and think “Hang on a minute, what just happened?”, and “How come character A is still alive after something that was quite obviously them breathing their final breath?”, in one case decades ago. But as the original Star Wars reminded us, life is based on things “from a certain point of view”. And while director JJ Abrams plays fast and loose with credibility, even for a Star Wars film, you can forgive him pretty much anything because this is easily the most ambitious, satisfying chapter.
The special effects are out of this world; the sets are fabulous, and the editing is so tight and snappy you barely get a chance to catch your breath.
As ever John Williams delivers the goods with a thunderous score which revamps old themes and delicious new ones, all of which make your pulse race faster.
There were several moments when my heart was in my mouth, and it got a little dusty in that cinema. It’s been one of those years which I don’t care to relive any time soon for one reason and another, but this bittersweet chapter is one of those films I’ll quite happily return to time and again, unlike The Last Jedi which I was quite happy to sit through just once on the big screen.
“Comedy and poignancy”
For hardcore fans there are plenty of cameos, including one supporting actor who swore he would never appear in Star Wars again, and I guess bosses at Lucasfilm offered him a large suitcase full of cash for his two or three second appearance.
It’s great to see Billy Dee Williams back as Lando Calrissian for the first time since 1983, and good to see Richard E Grant slot into the saga as the obligatory Imperial bad guy.￼ Naomi Ackie, last seen in terrific comedy drama The End of the F****ng World, is a great addition, slotting in as Finn’s sidekick; Rose (from TLJ) was given a back seat this time.
And as for Anthony Daniels, he continues to be one of the series’ greatest assets, breathing life into C-3PO’s circuits and adding comedy and poignancy in all the right places.
However, the ships are just as important characters, whether the Blockade Runner or array of A and B-Wing fighters, and a rather special X-Wing, whose majestic return will leave fans delighted.
There’s a good chance The Rise of Skywalker will make $1billion in the next few weeks alone, though whether it tops Avengers: Endgame as the most lucrative film ever made remains to be seen.
But one thing is for sure: when Star Wars Episode 10 arrives in a couple of years, the next wave of the saga is in pretty good shape.
I for one cannot wait.