This year of endings has just wrapped up in the form of the ninth and final film of the main Star Wars ‘Skywalker Saga’; The Rise of Skywalker. The third in the sequel trilogy and the final film of one of the most famous storied ever told, TROS takes place one year after the infamously polarising Rian Johnson-helmed The Last Jedi. That one year has seen exponential growth in both Rey and Ben Solo’s (that’s how we’ll be referring to him in this review) force powers, as well as a significant swelling in numbers of a Resistance that ended TLJ in a dire state. The film begins with the revelation of Emperor Palpatine’s return to the land of the living (sort of), triggering a chain of events that ends in the closing of the Skywalker story. JJ Abrams returns to finish what he started with the sequel trilogy. The script is co-written between himself and Chris Terrio, Academy-Award winning screenwriter of Argo (and also Batman v Superman, and also Justice League. I guess we’re not talking about that), and stars a complete returning cast of the likes of Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and Adam Driver among others, as well as actors returning to play characters from other generations, namely the irresistibly cool Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian. Needless to say, this review is bound to be spoiler-filled. If you have not yet seen the film, turn back now. I’m making this text bold specifically so you can’t miss it. Any spoiling that is done after this point is entirely on you. Seriously.
By now, I’ve seen the film twice, which is the only reason I feel comfortable writing this review. One thing TROS is, without any shadow of a doubt, is a lot. There’s a lot to grab hold of and a lot to get your head round. As a member of a fandom that’s gained a pretty warranted reputation of being the most toxic, temperamental of its kind, I feel like it’s important for me to point out to any Star Wars fan reading this that they have a responsibility 1) not to irrationally jump to conclusions about a film that is too experientially large to really process in one sitting and 2) to measure the importance of their potential dissatisfaction against the lives of the people who make the films. It’s one thing to dislike a film, it’s another to go after someone’s personal life and Rian Johnson certainly did not deserve any of the very personal attacks he was on the receiving end of. No matter your perspective on how TROS ends, we all need to make sure we don’t perpetuate the stereotype that Star Wars fans aren’t in touch with that’s actually important. Okay, got that off my chest. On to the actual film.
My reaction was generally quite mixed. The over-arching reality of the film is that the broad-strokes, in terms of the actual plot-based occurrences and character arcs, are pretty spot on and made for an excellent end to the saga as a whole. Unfortunately, as a result of a number of a poor decisions in the execution of the specifics of those broad strokes, the film falls short of being the heart-opening conclusion it so obviously wants to be. The film is exciting to say the least; it has that signature Star Wars pace of a slightly convoluted but nonetheless extremely pacy and engaging plotline with a myriad of new planets and species and settings and enough action to fill…I dunno, something big. Could it do with a little more time in between sequences for information digestion? Sure, but as far as the overall effect goes, the interest level never drops and it’s a relatively inconsequential crime. Abrams and Terrio have done an excellent job with the characters; Rey goes through a very legitimate and very compelling internal struggle that really allows for some proper depth in her character, depth that Daisy Ridley’s made the absolute most of. Kylo’s arc finally comes good as well in a way that’s satisfying, and the job of creating that sense of Harry-Ron-Hermione camaraderie among the main trio is done reasonably well all things considered (not the last Harry Potter comparison worth making in the film). I was particularly pleased to see that Finn’s position as a throwaway character in TLJ was brought back to its position of importance in this film, not the last thing TROS retconned from TLJ either. Rose Tico, for example, a completely and utterly unnecessary character who was introduced in TLJ, is swept aside in this film (probably for the best, we really didn’t need another casino sequence).
The biggest problem with the film was the unanswered questions. Aside from some questions from earlier films which have still gone without explanation (how did Maz get the damn lightsaber?), TROS raises its own questions which it promptly chooses not to answer. So Rey’s a Palpatine. Cool, I can roll with that, a dark side lineage is both more interesting and allows for the internal struggle that consumes Rey during the film. I feel like I needed some more information though. Palpatine’s son was obviously estranged, since he’d rather die than give her up to him. But who was his mother? Why are the Skywalkers and the Palpatines a “dyad in the force”? A dyad implies a connection, but unless there’s a common ancestor or some amount of criss-crossing (Palps and Pamdé? He was senator of Naboo with a close personal relationship with her, and there were at least 10v years between Phantom and Attack where an affair could’ve taken place, but it’s a little too far-fetched and a little hard to reconcile to actually go with in the grand scheme of things) I’m not sure how the dyad exactly comes about. The Emperor’s return is only tangentially described with one line, and it would take a knowledge of George Lucas’ original concept for the story past Return which involved Palpatine’s efforts at cloning himself and then stirring up all kind of trouble. A vague mention of Sith cloning tech doesn’t exactly make up for that when it comes to your average movie-goer, so there’s that. Rey’s yellow lightsaber at the end of the film is interesting, and reminiscent of the Jedi sentinels seen in Clone Wars and Rebels, but also generally unexplained. Finn’s thing that he was going to tell Rey has allegedly been confirmed by Abrams to be a reference to his own force sensitivity, which is both cool and makes sense; it’s hinted it quite a bit in the film. There’s also the problem of consistency. This film suggests that Rey was the Chosen One after all, but that’s not possible. There’s a whole 3-4 episode arc on the Clone Wars, including confirmation from the Mortis Gods, that Anakin was in fact the Chosen One. Not sure how they’ve gotten around that. Between that and the concept of this mysterious ‘dyad’ in the force, TROS doesn’t go out of its way to explain its logic, which made for a slightly frustrating experience as opposed to a particularly satisfying one.
The other massive issue I had was with the writing. Like I said, the broad strokes plot-work was pretty great; it did everything it needed to do. From typically Star Wars plot details to character development (if I had the time, I’d get into Rey and Ben’s frickin God level force powers) to newer, interesting characters like Zorri and Babu Frik, they do a fantastic job, but the issues come in the nuances in a script that goes for the blunt force cliché as opposed to any deft dialogue. The script’s syntax is downright poor at times, something that we really oughtn’t be worrying about at this level of filmmaking. Terrio (who, I’ll remind you, also orchestrated much of the DCEU. Just saying.) and Abrams did a great job with the story and with a few very well placed examples of symbolism, but completely pulled their punches on the nuances of the film in a way that took from a lot more than just the artistic experience. It wasn’t just bad writing in terms of dialogue; there was a serious overindulgence of 3PO, by way of more spotlight than he deserved, as well as some seriously out of character sarcasm, and almost nothing from R2. The criticism I’ve been reading over and over again is that it clings to callbacks and nostalgia, which I don’t personally agree with. The nostalgia is almost always in good taste (Luke lifting the X-wing was my personal favourite), the real problem for me was some of the ways on which it was carried out, particularly in the cameo onslaught of the ultimate climax. The voices of Jedi gone past were kind of a lame way to combine the entire history and lineage of Jedi into one massive final move. The way Rey finally beat Palps was very reminiscent of Voldemort’s death-by-Avada-Kedavra-rebound in the Harry Potter films, come to think of it, the voices of the Jedi might’ve been akin to the Resurrection stone scene. Wayfinders were horcruxes? Hey, worse places to steal from I guess. A decision I big time would’ve changed was the lack of scoring during Rey and Ben’s final fight on the remains of the Death Star. Instead of scoring, Abrams left the sound of the waves to score the fight. If ever there was a place to rehash some old music from the franchise, this was the moment to use the Mustafar fight theme. I was just a little let down by the slightly low level of emotion in that fight, in comparison to the Mustafar fight, which has to be my favourite fight sequence in film. The lightsaber fighting in the sequel trilogy was far inferior to the prequels across the board (with the possible exception of digital Luke vs. digital Leia). It was actually nice to see Disney maintain Leia’s Jedi training from Lucas’ original version of the story beyond Return. I feel I have gone on a tangent here.
My point was that the script was a little blunt, a little clunky, and chose to put certain things across in ways that were less subtle than they could’ve been. Between that and the tonnage of lore that was left unexplained, the film lacked much subtlety and clarity for a fan to be getting along with. This in spite of some really excellent conceptual photography, backed by some solid performances. TROS actually does all it needed to do in terms of wrapping up the franchise, but falls short on the details such that it left me not particularly satisfied. I very much appreciate the message, the idea that you can choose your family, choose what you stand for, and that “some things are stronger than blood.” I don’t think the problem was a lack of thought that had been put in my any means. I have unyielding respect for JJ Abrams and the work that he has done in the past and present, I only disagree with the way he did certain things in this film, which I definitely would have done differently. He recently addressed the mixed response to the film, saying that people on both sides of the spectrum were “both right”. If ever there has been an idea I could respect.
So, the Skywalker story is over. I actually wonder if that will be the case. The film ends in a way where we could theoretically get more from that particular part of the galaxy far, far away, so we’ll have to wait and see. As of right this second, however, it would appear we’ve had all we were going to get. A more fitting final image than the two suns we could not have received.
The question, for me at least, becomes ought they have made this trilogy? Did it overcomplicate things? Or was it the addition we all needed? Hard to say. I think I’m just as mixed about this as I am about the film in general; I think they’ve done a hell of a job broadly speaking with this film, but some of the specifics left me wanting for more. Hey, maybe they’ll give it to me, in the form of TV shows and novels, I don’t think we can reasonably suggest that this is the last we’ve seen of these characters. In the meantime, it’s time to get crazy excited for the Clone Wars next season, which comes out in Feb. The damn train just never stops.
– Aman Datta
Aman’s Score – 78/100 Aryamaan’s Score –