Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Rise of Skywalker posterEvery film branded with the Star Wars name brings with it anticipation, yet weirdly, the latest instalment also carries a sense of unease. The venerable franchise has found itself caught between a desire for nostalgia and an imperative to be innovative, a conflict this blockbuster hopes to address, and mostly succeeds in doing so.

The Resistance fleet of General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) has suffered catastrophic loses and is on the verge of falling to the First Order, now under the command of Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Their fate seems sealed after receiving news that Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) – the galaxy’s one-time authoritarian ruler – is not only alive, but preparing to reclaim his position of power.

One advantage Leia’s forces possess over the First Order is sympathisers to their cause, including one situated on a distant desert planet – from here, intelligence is received regarding the possible location of Palpatine’s hidden base. Buoyed by this newfound information, a reconnaissance team consisting of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) fly to the source in hope of learning more.

The path to Episode IX of the Star Wars saga has been a troubled one. Initially announced with Colin Trevorrow as director, The Rise of Skywalker was slated for release in May of this year until production difficulties saw J.J. Abrams take helm of the project, resulting in a five-month delay. Not helping matters was the toxic response to The Last Jedi – perpetuated by a minority of very vocal trolls – and a lack of interest in the Solo spin-off, the only Star Wars film to make a loss at the box-office.

As a result of these disturbances, The Rise of Skywalker appears to be an unsteady affair, uncertain of what kind of film it wants to be. This is especially the case in the first act, with rushed pacing and awkward editing setting a tone that is most unlike the other instalments in the franchise. Fortunately, these problems eradicate themselves as the story continues, with the movie eventually settling and finding its rhythm to fit within the lore of Star Wars. And that brings with it another problem.

One of the greatest strengths of the saga’s previous chapter, The Last Jedi was its individuality – its bold direction, its distinctive visuals, its willingness to take risks, all while retaining a style that is distinctly and unmistakably Star Wars. That audacity is barely present in The Rise of Skywalker, with Abrams and the production team opting for a safer picture, one that acknowledges yet never fully embraces the courageous choices of its predecessor – a capitulation, it seems, to the franchise’s toxic “fans”.

Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) makes a long-awaited return in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

It would be dishonest though, to suggest that Episode IX has been made solely to appease critics of the previous entry, because there are moments of boldness to be found. Every so often, a revelation is offered that leaves the viewer genuinely astonished, engrossing them even further as each one is made. Equally surprising is how the film continues to expand the Star Wars universe and innovate the franchise, despite this being promoted as finite conclusion to the saga.

Since this will be the final Episode in the series, Rise of Skywalker doubles as a celebration of the films which came before it. Composer John Williams has provided a rousing score that works together his most famous motifs from the past forty years, and even gets to make a rare on-camera cameo; other actors from instalments past also have fleeting appearances, all of which are respectful and welcome. Many of these scenes are heart-wrenching, and certain to induce a tear or two from the series’ true devotees.

The presence that will likely generate the most emotion is that of Carrie Fisher, who passed away soon after production of Episode VIII had been completed. Most of her scenes in Rise of Skywalker consist of unused footage from the last Star Wars film to be directed by Abrams, The Force Awakens, which have been selected and edited to help guide the narrative of this movie. It’s a smart move, and one which is respectful to Carrie, her family and her legacy.

What pleases even more is the renowned elements of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi that have been retained by this picture. Although the movie could look more striking, the visuals are quite stylish and do provide a sense of artistry; action sequences are impressive, providing the thrills expected from a modern blockbuster; the comedy generates more laughter than most other films in the franchise; and the central cast give it their all with impressive performances.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is not a perfect conclusion to the world’s most-celebrated science-fiction series, but it remains a thoroughly satisfying experience. After an uneven start, viewers are treated to a film brimmed with delights and surprises that is worthy of its place in the long-running saga.

4 stars


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