This review is spoiler-free.
Director JJ Abrams has the undeniably difficult task of wrapping up the Star Wars saga – not just the new saga he started, otherwise known as the Sequel Trilogy which he unfolded with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but with the entire Star Wars saga that George Lucas created, way back in 1977.
That’s 42 years of storytelling across eight movies so far, with a massive library of characters, including new ones showcased in the last two movies. He also has a difficult task of redefining some of the elements in The Last Jedi, recognised by a majority of fans to be the most controversial of Star Wars movies – even more so than the prequel trilogy that came out 20 years ago, when The Phantom Menace opened in 1999.
Which is why when the movie starts out. It is filled with exposition. J.J. takes very few minutes to explain many new elements, many of which are introduced because they have a pay-off later, and it’s what he needs to give the saga a proper conclusion.
And we start out with the biggest reveal that fans have already known and seen in the recent trailers, that Emperor Palpatine aka Darth Sidious is back. How is he back is another story for another day but he’s back. And he’s now working with Kylo Ren, to take down the rebellion, or the resistance, or whatever you want to call it, now helmed by General Leia Organa Skywalker Solo.
The movie also promises, or has to in a way, to wrap up many of the loose threads that J.J. himself started, such as, who is Rey, and who are her parents. What will happen to Kylo, and can he be redeemed. And the biggest question of all, how has the production treated the character of the beloved Princess Leia, now that the actress, Carrie Fisher has passed on.
Abrams and team have previously stated that they will not be using any stand-in actress, or digital effects to bring back the character. Instead, they revisited shot but unused footage in The Force Awakens and repurposed it for The Rise of Skywalker.
Does it work? In some parts, yes. The inclusion of Leia in the few parts of the film feels natural. Like in The Last Jedi, and perhaps, in The Force Awakens, her presence is kept to a minimum because she, like the rest of the Original Trilogy cast are now secondary characters.
But because we know that the actress is no longer around, some of the lines that she delivers are simple one-liners, reaction shots and key moments that she has with Rey, and some of the other minor characters from the new saga.
It’s a nice tribute for Fisher, but if you know that she’s gone, then you will know that they’re making the best that they can, with whatever that they have. Now, did they use some digitization for her character in this movie? There is one part where it is obvious that they did, but that’s fine – it’s a nice little tribute in the spirit of Star Wars, and it’s great to see Princess Leia back again.
But because of all these elements that JJ has to bring together, along with character stories that he has to tell, some of the other characters fall by the wayside. Rose Tico, for example, is nothing more than a secondary character who barely registers as a presence in this movie, Poe and Finn continue the evolution of being Star Wars characters, but unfortunately, their involvement here as not as well fleshed out. There is a little sequence where some of Poe’s backstory is revealed and it’s interesting enough that could have actually been developed even more.
The new characters J.J. has introduced here also come at a time where you have to be aware of who some of these new people are, and wonder why they are given additional screen time, and not existing ones.
But once you’re done with the first 30 minutes of the movie, that’s where the action starts. Oh, and it’s no surprise as J.J. pays homage to A New Hope by using the same story beats to The Force Awakens, the start of The Rise of Skywalker is about a character that everyone is looking for, and this character is located on a planet where no one knows.
And the location is found in a physical item that has to be discovered, or uncovered. Sound familiar?
Can we fault JJ for actually rehashing some of the elements from his own movie. It doesn’t matter because once the first half-hour is over. Everything starts to coalesce together,
The action happens at a very frenetic pace and we get a lot of space battles and lightsaber duels. Yes, some elements of Star Wars lore has been adapted and altered, most noticeably with the Force communication between Rey and Kylo Ren. J.J. continues with it and also adds a little bit more to it. And it’s a nice touch because it’s hard for both these characters to be in the same room, because once they are, their presence will be unstoppable.
And because JJ is a huge fan of the original trilogy, he also makes use of some characters a lot more, and it is nice to see Anthony Daniels have a larger role to play in The Rise of Skywalker, perhaps to make up for some of the losses that the saga has met with, including the departure of Carrie Fisher, as well as the death of Han Solo
As the final movie, the production also decided to bring in cameos. Some of them are barely noticeable or heard, but you would recognise that a member of the Star Wars saga has returned. Others, like the return of Billy Dee Williams, as Lando Calrissian, is nothing more than a little cameo that is a nice nod to the original trilogy especially Return of the Jedi.
Another cameo is the return of the Death Star. Again. Or rather, the second Death Star from Return of the Jedi. In this final wrap up of the saga. It’s a little bit convenient, but again, this movie is not only the ending of a saga, it’s a nice tribute to what has happened before.
So the cameos that do appear, some are expected. Some are a bit surprising, but it adds a nice tone to some of these characters, including what finally happens to Rey, Kylo Ren, Luke Skywalker, General Leia, as well as Chewbacca.
There is no doubt that a lot of the movie also plays on fanservice, not just with the sequel trilogy, but the original and prequel trilogy. You will see some bits where JJ tries to give things a proper send-off, including a bit for our favourite furry hero. Towards the end, there is a nice nod to Han Solo as well.
But this playful appearance of elements and characters that we know and love do not subtract from the fact that JJ Abrams has managed to take not just a loose threads that have appeared in this sequel trilogy, but also some of the loose elements that have appeared before, most noticeably with Palpatine.
His resurrection, his continued rise to power, and how he intends to rule the galaxy once more return in a big way – here’s a big hint think the Death Star and perhaps we cannot fault J.J. from returning to the same element now because the Death Star’s significance in the third chapter of every trilogy has always been there.
After the movie wraps, one thing is for sure – we wish that the story of the Skywalker family continues. Yes, JJ has not only wrapped it up, but he has also given new meaning to the name. And now that the Skywalker saga is over, perhaps we can have more on Rey, Poe and Finn, independent of what has happened before.
There are so much more that can be done, now that 42 years of storytelling has come to an end. Not only has JJ managed to tie things up neatly in a bow, he has also managed to open a new chapter in storytelling and that’s what the Star Wars saga is about.
The only slight misfire here is where elements here serve as a course correction of The Last Jedi. Remember the part where Rian denounces some of J.J.’s elements from The Force Awakens, such as Luke Skywalker throwing away his lightsaber, or revealing that Rey’s parents are nobodies? In a way, J.J. has gotten around to pulling the same stunt on Ryan.
The throwing away of the lightsaber? It happens again but not in the way you think. The legacy of Skywalker comes back, but also not in the way you think.
What happens to Kylo Ren/Ben Solo? That’s expected. The relationship between Ben and Rey is further explored in some expected ways, and we’ll have to leave it at that.
Perhaps some fans will be disappointed in the way that the Saga is moving towards, in that perhaps they wanted to see more from The Last Jedi. Could more have been explored, with the new Force-sensitive characters that were introduced in The Last Jedi? J.J. does hint at some of these things, but it is not further referenced.
But a long time ago, the story started with a young boy on a sandy planet, and now, it ends with a young person on a sandy planet, bringing the entire saga full circle in a galaxy far, far away.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
The Rise of Skywalker is a fitting conclusion to 42 years of storytelling, and the best Star Wars movie in the last 20 years.
Story - 8/10
Direction - 8/10
Characterisation - 8/10
Geek Satisfaction - 9.5/10