Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Spoiler-Free Review: This Movie Is Everything You Want It To Be (For Better or Worse)
There is no kind of cultural anticipation like that for a new Star Wars film. This is true for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. However, as it is both the conclusion of the modern trilogy and the conclusion of the newly-named “Skywalker saga,” it’s even more so. Thus, like The Phantom Menace before it, there is no possible way this film could live up to the hype surrounding it.
It would be hard enough on J.J. Abrams and company to land this massive Star Destroyer but, considering The Last Jedi backlash, it’s near impossible. This movie is also viewed through a strange lens where it’s supposed to answer for that movie. So many critics are talking about the lack of “story” in the film, while at the same time saying that too much happens. They are also looking at the decisions made, from the addition of Richard E. Grant’s General Pryde to the conclusion of Rey’s story as some sort of response to the previous film. It’s damned if it does touch on things that happened in that film, and it’s damned if it doesn’t.
What makes the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker divisive are two things: certain story choices and just how much plot is in the film. This film tries to do a lot in terms of moving the narrative forward and driving towards a specific, predictable in all the right ways, ending. How they get there, however, might be tough to follow, especially from a casual fan’s perspective. If you like anything about Star Wars there is something in this film for you. Yet, most people don’t like everything about Star Wars. And that’s where this movie struggles.
There Is Plenty That is Great About Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Image via Lucasfilm
My first thought when the credits rolled was that I didn’t know how I felt. Not long after, I realized that wasn’t accurate. I knew how I felt, I just felt myriad conflicting emotions throughout the film. There are joyous moments, heartbreaking ones, and things that felt so final. There are moments that are over-explained, such as how the heroes can find what they are looking for leading into the third act. And there are others that aren’t explained at all, things you just have to take on faith.
There are plenty of callbacks to settings, moments, and characters throughout the entire saga. Yet these moments feel about equal in number (and maybe even fewer) than appeared in The Force Awakens. Yet, in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker all of these moments are integral to the plot. Not just the story this movie wants to tell but also in connecting this chapter to all of the chapters preceding it. Whether or not the film earns these moments is up to you to decide. Because in a movie that is very much about the choices we make, the audience also has to choose if they are willing to accept what the film offers.
This film is difficult to discuss without spoilers. That’s why reviews are so vague. But that they are so emphatic is a selling point for this film. For good or ill, this film makes you feel things and leaves no question that this is the end. I admit I am hopelessly biased when it comes to Star Wars, I love it. But the massively negative reviews seem to regard this film in the most uncharitable light possible. My suggestion? See it for yourself.
How This Film Deals With Found Family and Bloodlines
Image via Lucasfilm
Many of the harshest critics of the new trilogy complain about the main character, Rey. There is clearly and undoubtedly some sexism involved here, especially when it comes to claims that she’s a “Mary Sue.” However, the central theme of her journey is exactly the same as Anakin and Luke Skywalker’s. She is looking for a place where she feels like she belongs. She can just feel she’s meant to do more than be a filthy scavenger on a dustball planet. When Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker reaches its conclusion, she’s figured out what that is. Whether or not the answer satisfies you as a viewer depends entirely on what you are willing to accept.
Family has always been a crucial theme in the Star Wars films, even in Rogue One and Solo. This trilogy departed from that in a way, at least when it comes to the idea of bloodlines. Luke and Leia are destined for big things because their father, Anakin, was a literal miracle child. Thus what makes Rey unique is that her destiny doesn’t seem to come from her last name. (We don’t even know it going into the film.) Ultimately, her part of the saga finalizes the statement this trilogy is trying to make about that. Yet, the way it goes about it may bother fans, much in the way The Last Jedi did. Still, it’s an inspired take on the idea and, no matter what you may see on social media, the triumphs in this film are pure and honor everything that came before.
Does Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Play It Safe (and Is That a Bad Thing?)
Image via screengrab
Because Star Wars follows a tradition of stories that fit into the Hero’s Journey template, it has to check certain boxes. The more stories you take in that follow this template, the easier it is to “figure” out where they are headed. In this respect, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker does play it safe. They want to honor what came before to end the saga, and they have to get their hero to where she needs to be. Some critics and fans feel that in order to truly be a success, it has to do all of this while still taking huge risks and subverting expectations. Sometimes that is possible, but it’s even harder in the final chapter of an ennealogy.
The goal of this film is to wrap up nine separate stories, in three “acts,” and it does that. It may not be the most surprising and mind-blowing way they could have done it, but one has to accept movies for what they are rather than what they aren’t.
However, this film is not unimaginative nor is it some kind of paint-by-numbers story. After you leave your first viewing, you will likely not entirely know how you feel. You will have been thrilled, saddened, touched, and (possibly) angered. They introduce a lot of new concepts and take some pretty big risks in how they get the characters to where they are supposed to be.
What Makes Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Struggle Is the Trilogy Framework
Image via Lucasfilm
There is one part of the argument about this film and The Last Jedi that is valid. While Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t “apologize” for its predecessor, it does suffer a bit for it. Rian Johnson’s film started mere hours or days after the last one. While it told a great story, it left a lot of work for this final film to do in order to advance the story. Essentially, we’re seeing the beginning of a war and its end. This film feels like it’s trying to do the work of at least two movies, if not a whole trilogy on its own. The trilogy structure worked for the previous two parts of the saga. However, this version could have been more than that. (Plus ending on Episode 10 would make it a nice round number!)
One story is a group caper, where they have to discover some information in order to know what to do next. There is the story about the final battle of a war for the fate of the entire galaxy. There are also quiet character stories, and something we honestly don’t get quite enough of. Sure, the Expanded Universe exists mostly for that. A series about these characters similar to The Clone Wars would be valuable indeed. Still, these characters are compelling and loveable and its natural to want spend more quiet time with them. Still, the breakneck pacing of the film also works in its favor. It definitely felt far shorter than its runtime. Conversely, it also feels like three movies in one. Epic is a fair descriptor.
The Entitlement of Star Wars Fans Makes It Impossible to Satisfy Them
Image via Lucasfilm
When I began this spoiler-free review of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, I said this film was doomed from the onset. What I meant by that has nothing to do with the content of the story, but rather the fans clamoring for it. Much of the main points of the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker movie leaks turned out to be true. On the subreddit dedicated those leaks, the majority of users began to immediately trash the film once this was confirmed. They supposedly hated everything about it. Yet, they still obsessively discussed the movie and ate up every surreptitiously phone-recorded clip they could post before Disney took them down. This sums up the fanbase perfectly. No one hates Star Wars more than Star Wars “fans.”
Still, even the casual fan feels a sense of entitlement when it comes to these films. If they keep it tonally familiar, then it’s just a tired rehash of better movies for cheap nostalgia purposes. If they veer too far in the other direction, it’s not “really” Star Wars. It makes a kind of twisted sense that in trying to please all sides of the fanbase, they ended up making what will be the most divisive film in the saga. A well-told story is going to end up in a place that anyone who paid attention to it will expect. The “twist ending” works as a gimmick, like in The Sixth Sense or Fight Club. Yet, a mythic, structured tale like Star Wars needs to end in a certain way. Ironically, if you can see the shape of the ending coming, then the storytellers did their job (and you did yours).
Grade: Go See a Star War
As said above, there is plenty to love about this movie. It’s a thrilling experience that is gorgeous to look at in every moment. The score from John Williams is another masterpiece, and the last time we get to hear his genius in a Star Wars movie, perhaps any movie. (The only other score he’s done in the past four years is Spielberg’s The Post.) The cast, particularly Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver, deliver stellar performances. Also this is C3PO’s (and Anthony Daniels’) best adventure since the Battle of Endor. Can it deliver everything you want? No, of course not. Does it bring this epic tale to a fitting and sensible close? Yes, it does.
But enough from me. What do you think of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker? Let us know your reactions, what you enjoyed, and even what bothered you. (Though, do be kind to the human beings involved when you do.)
Featured image via Lucasfilm, Disney, and Marvel
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.