“A thousand generations live in you now”. Luke’s utterance must have also been what J. J. Abrams heard when he was asked to direct the final episode in the Skywalker Saga. Every generation of child, young or old, was waiting to see what he was going to do with the final chapter. The answer? He would make a film that, while rocky, is an entertaining and nostalgia-filled send off.
It seems harsh to immediately drop the name of another franchise into this review, but I think the key issues with The Rise of Skywalker were ones that were dealt with well by Avengers: Endgame. Endgame saw the wrapping up of a story 10 years in the making, but a story that crucially had been roughly plotted out from day one. Rise of Skywalker has to attempt to wrap up a story started 40 years ago that was never really fully set up or planned, and therefore has to jump a lot of loopholes to do it.
At 2hrs 20mins, the pace of the film definitely feels rushed while wrapping up the story of not only the current trilogy, but of the nine films it is bringing to a close. Notably, several mysterious plot points from The Last Jedi (2017) are either hastily explained or ignored, which felt disrespectful of the brave choices Rian Johnson made when directing it. In some cases, character motivations are totally changed at the drop of a hat just to ensure the story maintains momentum. While these hasty explanations worked for this film, in the terms of the overarching narrative of the saga, it felt disappointing.
HOWEVER, with those negatives being said, what a joyous thrill ride this film is! A throwback to the blockbuster romps of the original films, Rise of Skywalker is funny, exciting, explosive and tremendously good fun. Though the narrative doesn’t quite work, the emotions of it certainly do, and the time flies by as we are whisked away on a final space-mission to save the galaxy.
The cast are inevitably great, with Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver doing most of the heavy lifting. Their emotional performances fully ground the film, and they weld themselves deep into the hearts of the audience for the entirety of the film. Returning players Oscar Isaac and John Boyega are also great fun, as are the performances from original cast members Anthony Daniels as C-3P0, Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian, and Ian McDiarmid as Emperor Palpatine. One new cast member is Richard E. Grant as Allegiant General Pryde, a baddie member of the First Order, and it’s so clear from his performance (and his Twitter feed) that he’s having the time of his life in the role.
A key actor in the film is the late Carrie Fisher, who appears in the film via the use of unused footage from The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. Clearly the script for her scenes was written around what dialogue they had her saying, but the result is incredibly effective. Some serious compositing must’ve gone on to get the effect working, but what remains is highly emotional and fitting that she’d be able to appear in the saga.
The use of practical filmmaking is still very much at the forefront of the franchise, and this is always heartwarming to see. Aside from a few shots that would have been impossible to create without CGI, the film could still have been made in 1977. Beautiful cinematography, alien puppets, practical action, real world locations, John Williams still on composing duty (at 87!) and trademark wipe edits all contribute to the timeless appeal.
Despite some very questionable narrative choices, Rise of Skywalker remains a fantastically thrilling romp. A fun-filled galaxy quest, it boasts a terrific cast, stunning visuals and exciting action that ultimately pays an emotional tribute to a hugely adored franchise.