Part of the reason this film is so tough to review or that people will either love it or hate it is the rich legacy attached to the name “Star Wars.”
For those of us in that first half of the millennial wave and older, the words Star Wars will always bring us back to the original trilogy, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. Those films were iconic and nothing can touch that.
Then a new generation came and a whole new wave of Star Wars fans emerged. That’s when the prequels came around and upset most of those original Star Wars lovers. We were introduced to midichlorians, the ancestry of Luke and Leia, and everyone’s favorite Gungan, Jar Jar Binks.
To course correct the fate of the Star Wars legacy, the 2010s introduced us to Rey, Kylo, Finn, and Poe. Better storylines were written, even better acting ensued, and the original heroes we grew up loving became part of a new cast of characters. We have been reinvigorated. The movie going experience that Star Wars has provided has us amped for more.
The finale to this epic series has us all stressed because, well, it’s the end. We want a great one. We have high standards for cinema and we demand nothing less. So when I think about the ending of Star Wars, I am only thinking of the end of this timeline and this story. The story of a girl finding herself. The story of a defecting stormtrooper looking for redemption. The story of a militant authoritarian regime and the resistance that tries to stop it.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker holds true to these storylines with the flare and drama of an epic space opera. Rise of Skywalker is, in essence, about the continuation of Rey, Finn, and Poe’s journey. The little of the Resistance that’s left faces the First Order in one final battle. It’s a good story with just a touch of insecurity. There’s so many people new and old that limit some of the minor storylines from being fully realized. But, through it all, the acting and cinematography is fantastic.
Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver are by far the reason Rise of Skywalker doesn’t crash and burn. The emotion they carry and represent with and without words is why these two are the best people for the job. Ridley was fresh faced and a fun role model for a new generation in The Force Awakens. But, this version of Rey is one that clearly showcases that she’s been through some stuff. Driver is…well he’s Adam freakin’ Driver and his performances are always solid. He really knocked it out of the park with this episode’s version of Kylo Ren.
In their individual scenes, Ridley and Driver give it their all, but in the scenes they have together, their chemistry and their ability to push each other past their normal tipping point is evident. Their characters are faced with challenges that push them both physically and mentally. It’s intense and amazing to watch. The scenes are long — some may argue to the point that the audience becomes as fatigued as the players — but grand in scale and artistry. Whether it’s silent crying with tear-filled eyes or anger-filled screams and grunts, it’s all done so well that nothing from these two feels like it doesn’t belong.
Give me a visually stunning film any time. It’s a movie, so images on the screen should be aesthetically pleasing. There are so many shots in Rise of Skywalker that are literally breathtaking. Some of the images alone strike the tone of the scene, immersing the audience further into the story. My favorite has to be the lightsaber battle surrounded by giant crashing waves and turbulent open ocean. (That’s not a spoiler because it’s in the latest trailer.) The turmoil of the waves is a great comparison to the battle commencing on the wreckage in the middle of the sea. The parallel action is really taken to another level in this film. The editing techniques used for action between Rey and Kylo is impressive to say the least. It really pumps up the idea of the Force, which has been missed. It’s so much fun to watch.
Now that some of the good things are on your mind, let’s talk about some of the things that didn’t work. First and foremost was the use of characters that may have had significant roles in the past but have now been cast aside for God only knows the reason. There’s one character that stands out the most that I fully appreciate people being upset about: Rose Tico. Are we really just going to forget the events that happened in The Last Jedi? It doesn’t seem right that Rose is left on the sidelines when she was clearly a key player at some point in the timeline. When we saw Kelly Marie Tran at the Global Press Conference in LA, the excitement was unreal.
Another thing to note is the unnecessary moments in the film that seem to be there for reasons other than to move the story along. Often I wondered if shots or scenes were put in there solely for spin-off purposes for Disney+ or new scenes to be banked on for Star Tours at Disneyland. There are scenes and characters that need more time. Now, I love Leia. I love Carrie Fisher. But, the use of her in Rise of Skywalker felt forced and didn’t flow as well as it should have. Fans want to remember Leia for the full force of nature that she was. We don’t want bits and pieces of her that don’t really belong. We want her legacy to be one of a kickass Princess turned General whose relationships and words matter to the legacy of the franchise.
Woohoo! No spoilers, right? Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker is an exciting, action-packed film that should be proud of the ending that it is serving up. It is a bit on the heavy side, trying to fit so much nostalgia and fan-love amidst the plot and current storyline. But overall, it’s a good time in the theater and everyone should be proud of what has been accomplished. It’s no Return of the Jedi, but it does have its own charm.
Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker is in theaters December 20.