Friday, December 20

Star Wars: The Rise of the Skywalker Review

Star Wars: The Rise of the Skywalker
Dir: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Kelly Marie Tran, Billy Dee Williams, and Mark Hamill

As that iconic text scrolls down the screen with the piercing musical theme from John Williams playing at high volume, it becomes clear that it’s near impossible to fully grasp the cultural effect “Star Wars” has had on cinema and popular culture. And with the 9th installment, “The Rise of the Skywalker”, positioned as the finale to the saga started in 1977, it’s impossible that a film will be able to live up to the high expectations of so many years of establishing its mythos into the world. 

“The Force Awakens”, released in 2015 and helmed by director J.J. Abrams (“Super 8” and 2009’s “Star Trek), utilized a near-perfect blending of nostalgia in the development of a new story focused on a young girl named Rey (Daisy Ridley) who, in the process of searching for answers to her unknown past, becomes connected to the Skywalker lore. Bringing in familiar faces from the past and mixing new characters into a story that had strong ties and themes to “A New Hope”, “The Force Awakens” was a fitting reintroduction to all the feelings that made fans love “Star Wars” in the first place. 

“The Last Jedi”, released in 2017 and written/directed Rian Johnson (“Looper” and “Knives Out”), made bold and inspiring steps in separating the new story from the past and setting up a version of “Star Wars” for a new generation to claim as their own. In the process of taking the film in fresh, unexpected directions that refused to follow expectations and unnecessary fan service, “The Last Jedi” was met with divisive results amidst its noble attempts to take the myth of the Jedi in different directions. 

“The Rise of the Skywalker”, directed again by J.J. Abrams, has the unenviable task of wrapping up the “Star Wars” saga. But Abrams has a keen understanding of the love fans have for these films, and while the fascinating potential established by Rian Johnson’s “The Last Jedi” is somewhat suppressed for a return to more familiar movements and easy answers to lingering questions, “The Rise of the Skywalker” has some exceptional “Star Wars” moments amidst a struggling narrative that is hampered by unnecessary fan service. 

The story continues following Rey on her quest to find answers about her past but also leading the Resistance in the battle against a dominating First Order lead by a new supreme leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Echoes from the past begin to haunt both Rey and Kylo Ren, pushing them towards an ultimate confrontation between good and evil, the past and the future. 

Abrams does a great job of keeping the focus on the characters established in the “The Force Awakens”; Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe (Oscar Isaac) rejoin to pursue one final journey in defense from the First Order, who are on the verge of striking one final blow to end the Resistance. These characters, played with such conviction and determination from the talented actors, encompass the emotional core of the film. Their strong friendship and undaunted comradery keep hope alive even as Kylo Ren continues to find the upper hand in battle and with his new ‘Force’ connection/bond to Rey. 

Kylo and Rey are provided with some odd, a few times interesting, story setups this time around. Unfortunately, their newfound connection doesn’t make full use of the opportunity to portray the complex relationship between the power of the Force and the Darkside, the proverbial ‘good versus evil’ that gives every single “Star Wars” film its conflict. Abrams instead uses these characters to compose fight scenes, one of which is a highlight of the entire film, and story bridges attempting to connect the messy plot in a cohesive way. 

The composition of the film, with its jumps from space to different planets, from land to water to air, is strikingly rendered. One scene involving glowing lightsabers and crashing waves is completely stunning. Abrams excels in finding ways to blend the past with the present, introducing new characters that have traits of old familiar characters and sometimes allowing the old characters, like Carrie Fisher’s Leia, moments to lovingly shine bright. 

J.J. Abrams understands what fans want and tries his best to accommodate expectations with a new exploration of familiar “Star Wars” themes. While there are moments when this doesn’t always work nicely, creating conflicting emotional tones, unnecessary and unearned callbacks, and story imbalances that make the 2 hour and 20-minute run time feel every bit as long, “The Rise of the Skywalker” will still render smiles from those who love the franchise. While it may not be the most fitting finale for this beloved space odyssey, it doesn’t feel like “Star Wars” is ending either. As the title suggests, “Star Wars” will continue to rise.

Monte’s Rating
3.25 out of 5.00

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