Director: J.J. Abrams
Cast: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega
Duration: 2 hours, 22 minutes
I’ve said this before but it’s worth repeating – Star Wars has a special place in my heart. The opening scroll is one of my earliest and most distinctive movie memories. I remember watching it as a kid for the first time in a movie theatre and thinking that the world would never be the same again. I wasn’t wrong. Over 42 years and eight films, the saga has become an outsized cultural entity with a key place in movie history and a vice-like grip on our collective imagination. With The Rise of Skywalker, the story that George Lucas started on May 25th, 1977 finally comes to an end. It is, as director J.J. Abrams, said the ‘trilogy of trilogies.’ The Rise of Skywalker had to be the ultimate grand finale. Sadly, the film is much less.
In The Force Awakens, Abrams created a seamless blend of nostalgia and newness. He was able to inventively remind us of everything we loved in these stories and yet take them into a new direction. But in The Rise of Skywalker, Abrams and Oscar-winning co-writer Chris Terrio are unable to find this sweet spot. Instead, the film feels like a fatigued rehash, designed to cater to everyone. Once again, the brave Resistance Warriors go up against seemingly insurmountable odds embodied by the gargantuan fleet of the evil Final Order. Characters we have both loved and been terrified by make a comeback. There are cameos and journeys to exotic planets to find a Sith artefact. Of course, the future of the galaxy is at stake. We are repeatedly told – if this mission fails, it was all for nothing. The plot is frantically busy and yet little feels urgent. Several plot twists are convenient rather than organic. Don’t ask questions about how or why something happens because the logic is decidedly lax. And this is a small detail but I’ve never understood why villains laugh while unfolding their nefarious plans – surely in other galaxies this cliché doesn’t exist?
What holds up are the characters of Rey and Kylo Ren – fierce, fabulous warriors who are fighting forces external and internal. The struggle between good and evil plays out both in the sprawling galaxy and in their hearts. Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver are terrific. They give the film its emotional core. Building on what director Rian Johnson started in The Last Jedi, Abrams creates a deep, sexually provocative bond between them. In one scene, they are fighting each other on top of the wreck of a space ship, while giant waves swirl around them. It’s beautiful. It’s also sexy almost as though the lightsaber duel was some sort of foreplay.
Visually The Rise of Skywalker is a marvel. The cinematography is by Dan Mindel and the production design by Rick Carter and Kevin Jenkins. The colours, planets and showdowns between tiny, insect-like space ships and massive, hulking ones are all wondrous. The unforgettable soundtrack by John Williams also lifts the material – in places, it’s the only thing infusing energy into the convoluted narrative. But ultimately, the demanding length of 142-minutes exposes the storytelling, which remains serviceable but hardly inventive or singular. There isn’t enough voice or heart.
The Star Wars universe guarantees a minimum satisfaction – there’s always some joy in watching the cuddly creatures, the cute robots and characters like the dashing pilot Poe, the charming ex-Stormtrooper Finn and of course the majestic Princess Leia, who returns thanks to the discovery of unused footage that fit the narrative. But The Rise of Skywalker never rises to its destiny. It’s uninspiring and what could be more heart-breaking than that?