Movie review – Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker
It was the impossible task.
Writer-director J.J. Abrams returns with a mission to round off and gather in 42 years of intense – and occasionally toxic – fandom for a safe landing where everyone is satisfied.
As he well knows, it’s so much easier to dish out cliffhangers than conclusions, and few would volunteer to bring the curtain down.
Let’s not forget, Abrams had already handed the gig to others before taking on the ninth and final episode.
He also had to answer some of the big questions he set up in 2015’s The Force Awakens, a demanding feat given the amount of manoeuvring needed.
Has he stuck the landing?
Put it this way. If Abrams had kicked off the sequels with this much pace, energy and content, there would be far fewer nerves about this finale.
Fans should like this whether they enjoyed 2017’s The Last Jedi or not.
After all, it does contain one of the best lightsaber duels of the entire series.
They may well come at it from different angles – haters will say it’s correcting mistakes. Other will realise events in The Rise Of Skywalker would have little impact without the previous film.
There is A LOT to pack in and the film can barely wait to get going.
The opening text crawl may as well be accompanied by the revving of a Ferrari.
Once the yellow words are done, we’re off for a breathless two hours of planet-hopping.
Emperor Palpatine appears to be back in some form after involuntarily base jumping down an exhaust shaft 36 years ago. He’s used his time well and poses an arguably greater threat to the galaxy than he did before.
It’s do or die for the ragtag Resistance. Either they stop him now, or all is lost.
Part of The Rise Of Skywalker is similar to The Last Jedi in that there is a quest element and a race against time.
Evil is champing at the bit, so it’s just as well that the main gang of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) are together for much of it – especially thanks to the bristling banter between Isaac and Boyega.
The focus of the film though is centred on Rey, stuggling with the weight of needing to be a Jedi with being needed by the Resistance in the here and now. She’s also still haunted by her connection to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
Kylo is never the most verbose of villains, but Driver shows there’s a lot going on under the surface – bubbling resentment, difficult urges and simmering rage mixed in with occasional vulnerability.
There are thankfully only a few new faces, though Richard E. Grant, as a high-ranking general in the First Order, manages to stand out by relishing his moments of sheer malevolence.
Billy Dee Williams makes a hugely welcome return as Lando Calrissian and makes rebellion look so effortlessly stylish. He's still as smooth as velvet.
And even C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) gets the best outing he’s had, if only to prove how little regard anyone has of him.
Others, including Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) don't get as much to do.
This might also be the best-looking of all the Star Wars films.
Whether it’s arid desert - truly this is the sandiest space opera – raging ocean or vast menacingly lit crypt.
Speaking of the latter, this film may not be suitable for the very young ones.
The Emperor scenes are the closest Star Wars gets to looking like a horror movie. If the kids don’t scream to leave in the cinema, there may well be some nightmares later.
With Star Wars, one of the many arguments has always been about the amount of fan service. Well, of course seeing our heroes run from stormtroopers down a shiny Imperial corridor is going to evoke some memories. That can’t be helped that Star Wars contains elements of Star Wars.
That said, some moments are jarring and pure cheese. There may be some groans but nothing that will kill the joy.
And some moments appear to be Abrams and the makers directly saying to the more whiny and the pedantics, “Happy now?!?”.
What must be applauded is how well the film handles the fact that Carrie Fisher died before production. Her presence as General Leia is seamless and suitably reverential to the role the beloved actress played in Star Wars' continued success.
As someone for whom Star Wars had a direct influence since the age of four, it was daunting that with The Rise Of Skywalker – be it good or bad – this is the end point.
Expect a huge amount of “what if” and “why didn’t they” to land imminently. It won't matter.
This saga has been told and as a long-time fan, I’m very happy with the result.
The circle is now complete.