REVIEW: STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER plays to the fan-service choir in delivering a complacent finale to the Skywalker Saga.


While J.J. Abrams’ film largely answers the questions set up in THE FORCE AWAKENS, he does so in a largely uneven film that seems largely designed to checkmark fan expectations while going out of its way not to rock the boat of fandom.

For the better part of the last forty years, science fiction and genre fandom’s measuring stick in the mainstream has been the Star Wars saga. It’s undeniable that Star Wars is the most popular and influential film of the latter twentieth century in terms of creating fans for the myriad of science fiction/comic book/fantasy films that dominate the entertainment landscape today. So much so that the lackluster prequel trilogy of the late ’90s and early ’00s broke records despite largely being a costume drama about trade embargoes and political intrigues behind troop build-ups. Once Disney took over the Star Wars saga from George Lucas, fan expectations were high for a return to form with a newly announced sequel trilogy. J.J. Abrams delivered what some considered a fairly safe but popular film to launch this series with The Force Awakens which broke records and launched a new protagonist in the personage of Daisy Ridley’s Rey to battle against the evil Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the scion of trilogy heroes Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) who fell to the influence of the dark side due to the failings of his master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). That being said, the second film in the new trilogy, The Last Jedi, became a divisive film among fandom. Helmed by writer/director Rian Johnson, The Last Jedi, shook fan expectations by delivering a movie that challenged fan preconceptions of these characters. Luke became a fallible and failed mentor whose failings led him to a self-imposed exile away from the world while delivering the news that Rey might not be some prophesized hero along the lines of the series’ past protagonists, but just some girl who happened to have Force sensitivity. Johnson’s thinking in these decisions was to democratize the franchise a bit; that it wasn’t just a story about bloodlines, but about a hero’s call to action – who could’ve been anyone, not just one of a few descendants of specific bloodlines. Shaking what a Star Wars fan expected didn’t play well to many fans. Given the shaky performance of Jedi and of some of the other Star Wars spinoffs, Disney’s thinking seemed to be a course correction was in order and so, J.J. Abrams returned to helm this final installment of the trilogy. The question then becomes, how does Rise of Skywalker fare, given the expectations placed upon it and the fact that one of the film’s major players in Leia was no longer available due to the untimely death of Carrie Fisher. The answer is, Rise of Skywalker is a largely mixed bag; there are some great action sequences here, but they serve an extremely thin plot largely centered on finding MacGuffins to slow the course to a largely perfunctory ending that doesn’t really satisfy.

From the opening crawl, we know that Rise of Skywalker is set sometime after The Last Jedi, but it doesn’t really follow any threads from that film. The crawl tells us that somehow, Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) has returned and made his presence known to the galaxy. Supreme Leader Kylo Ren becomes obsessed with hunting down Palpatine, whom he sees as a threat to his leadership of the First Order, so he finds a Sith Wayfinder to take him to a planet called Execle. Here, Palpatine shows him he has built his own Final Order and offers Ren a role as his apprentice; all Ren has to do is destroy Rey. Rey, meanwhile, is continuing her training as a Jedi under hew new master Leia, when she feels a call to find Ren. Thus, Rey, Poe, Chewbacca, C-3PO, and Finn head off with Rey to track down Ren with the help of an unnamed First Order mole and the adventure is afoot.

Part of the issue with the film is that it doesn’t feel like it really has a lot of forward momentum. Leia’s scenes are all repurposed scenes from the Force Awakens so the dialogue has been written to accommodate what she’s already spoken. It doesn’t give the film the strong narrative thrust it really needs in the beginning, so it feels like a low-stakes MacGuffin quest from the start. It doesn’t help that some of the film’s opening setpieces seem to borrow liberally from films like The Goonies and Raiders of the Lost Ark. This movie is all about using nostalgia to buff out plot issues and it becomes fairly glaring by the midpoint. The bigger issue the film has is it’s clear-cut desire to not rock the boat of fandom. There’s an action sequence in the film’s first half that seemingly ends with the death of a beloved character. The characters all react to this character’s death as one would; only to find the character didn’t die at all later in the film with a handwave comment given to explain. It completely feels as if this character was intended to die and was saved by a studio note or test screening reaction. Regardless if that’s the case or not, it’s indicative of the film’s slavish devotion to fan service. While The Last Jedi steered away from this, ROS plows right into this to an annoying degree even when it doesn’t make sense and serves to takes away from the plot at many points. It’s somewhat akin to the scene in Indiana Jones and The Crystal Skull where the film goes out of its way to show you a broken warehouse box has the Ark of the Covenant in it. It’s there to remind you that you liked that movie, so because this film reminded you of that one, you’ll associate the two. Sometimes that works, here it’s so prevalent that it negates the effect.

That being said, the film is largely meant to assuage the vocal crowd that had issues with The Last Jedi and liked The Force Awakens and leaves those elements in a decent place for the next person to play with in a future film. As a fan and a critic, I have issues with the fact that film sets up beats that it doesn’t deliver on and that it seems to go out of its way to downplay character arcs and relationships from The Last Jedi. There are ways to address issues from a past film without simply ignoring them, as it feels like this film does. However, one can’t deny that Abrams knows how to stage action sequences and the film’s climax, as well as a series of early adventures on a desert world, are among the series’ best. The fight sequences here are also very creative and well-edited. John Boyega and Oscar Isaacs are once again unsung heroes of this franchise as their charisma makes scenes work that otherwise shouldn’t. Driver does a lot with Ren in the spaces he can avail himself to do so. Daisy Ridley’s Rey does what she can with what she is given; I think if there’s any performer who is hamstrung by their character’s writing throughout these films, it’s hers and this film doesn’t give her many opportunities to add depth to her characterization of Rey.

Overall, I feel if you liked The Force Awakens and hated The Last Jedi, this film will largely please you. If you like films that have well-written protagonists dealing with their failings and learning from their mistakes or well-done redemption arcs, your mileage will vary. I don’t think this is a well-executed finale to the saga of the Skywalker family; I think in comparison, the Prequel Trilogy is a better trilogy of films with an overarching connective arc than this one. This is likely the problem with this trilogy not having an architect and the two directors involved having clashing visions, coupled with the death of a key principal actor in production. That’s not to say it deserves a pass, or that big-budget trilogies can’t elicit genuine emotion or be quality films. Avengers Endgame is an excellent standalone film that juggles a much larger and diverse cast of characters and still delivers emotional moments. I don’t feel this film does that at all to the level Endgame did.

There are other issues that I have with the film that I can’t touch on without going into spoilers, but also positives in that regard, so look for a second review soon. In the meantime, while I don’t think ROS is a great film, it does serve up some great action sequences and fun character moments. The Rise of Skywalker is made for Star Wars die-hards primarily, check your expectations at the door and come in with a low bar.