Review: Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

No one’s ever really gone in J. J. Abrams’ divisive and epic conclusion to the Skywalker saga

The Skywalker saga was thought done back in 2005 with one of the franchise’s best (and most under-appreciated) offerings Revenge of the Sith, and yet here we are with The Rise Of Skywalker. Though times have unmistakably changed, in many ways they have stayed exactly the same. Revenge of the Sith finalised a divisive prequel trilogy, and now nearly 15 years on The Rise of Skywalker concludes a controversial sequel trilogy, as well as being tasked with giving the final word on the entire story itself.

It has been a few weeks since my first of two viewings (so far) and I can certainly recommend a rewatch with this one because The Rise of Skywalker needs some serious digesting. This is a big, wild, breakneck movie, which culminates one of the greatest sagas in cinema and one of the greatest stories ever told on the big screen.

The film picks up as a frightened galaxy shudders at a transmission from a threatening menace long thought dead (you likely know who by now but I’ll hold back, though the performer is on electrifying form in their return to the role)! The rebellious resistance led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) must investigate but so too must The First Order, now led by the obsessive Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Ren aspires to even greater power, while Rey (Daisy Ridley) is still coming to terms with hers, as she is about to face her biggest challenge yet.

The pace is not just fast it is lightspeed, in fact for the first 40 minutes it makes Mad Max: Fury Road look lethargic. One set piece follows another, one plot point with it and writer/director J. J. Abrams and fellow screenwriter Chris Terrio cram just about as much as you can into a film of this length! It could have been The Irishman long and still felt rather full. It is all a little overwhelming on first viewing but that is all part of the experience. This conclusion has certainly been given a finale that is adventurous, nostalgic, funny, emotionally-charged and filled with lore-adoring plotting run at a hell of a crazy momentum.

Despite trying to please everyone, considering the fandom being as cracked as Kylo Ren’s new mask, this film has proved unsurprisingly polarising for a fanbase that has been fractured and furious ever since 1983. As it attempts to marry old and new, in a way far more jacked up than The Force Awakens did, this is in many senses the Godzilla: King of the Monsters of Star Wars films. In that it seeks to alleviate problems people had previously, wrapping its story up in both massively massive scale with an utter admiration to franchise lore, while planting some fresher seeds within too. This does feel old school but – much like Solo did – feels like the Star Wars promised by the Expanded Universe stories of old, or more recently by small screen Star Wars, like the The Clone Wars or Star Wars Rebels. One that expands the original world and develops the notions and held beliefs of these characters and the force.

Numerous characters fill the screen, including new scene stealers like Shirley Henderson’s Babu Frik, Keri Russell’s Zorii Bliss and Naomi Ackie’s Jannah. While veterans who have paid their dues receive well deserved moments of their own, like Anthony Daniels’s hilarious and heartfelt return as C-3PO, Billy Dee Williams’ smoother than silk comeback as Lando and Joonas Suotamo’s Chewbacca especially (who pays tribute to the late Peter Mayhew by giving the beloved Wookie his most important and heart-wrenching role to date). While Ridley and Driver deliver rousing final turns, alongside the charismatic Boyega and Isaac, with some impressive returns from franchise legends and more cameos than you can swing a lightsaber at! And the late Carrie Fisher’s presence is remarkably and respectfully achieved to moving effect.

From Exegol to Kijimi, this film is visually thrilling and alive, filled with exceptional special effects, as well as breathtaking practical sets and creations and some thoroughly engaging set pieces (including a very original lightsaber duel). While living legend John Williams, in what will be his last ever Star Wars score, remixes his classic motifs with some new edges, whilst enlarging everything musically to match the onscreen but with a real warm sense of heart throughout. We may bid him a fond farewell from the series but in many ways he’ll never really leave it.

Drawing from influences as far spread as Indiana Jones, The Battle of Dunkirk and Toy Story, Rise of Skywalker is both what you expect and not. Some elements are decidedly rushed and some players get sadly less to do, like Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose and The Knights of Ren (maybe the rumoured longer cut may expand such areas) but the Skywalker story is given an ending. One on the biggest possible scale physically, emotionally and spiritually, with the most content a single film can carry.

Abrams was faced with an impossible task, and what he’s delivered is something you have to see on the big screen and more importantly than that…something to feel.

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