Review by Tim Robins
The surviving Resistance faces the First Order once more as Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron’s journey continues. With the power and knowledge of generations behind them, the final battle commences…
WARNING: DO NOT READ ON IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE FILM IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO READ SPOILERS
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a Schrödinger’s Cat of a movie – at once a highly entertaining and moving wave goodbye to the Star Wars universe and, at the very same moment, a Death Star striking at the core of a beloved trilogy that began with Star Wars, ended with The Return of the Jedi and now lies deader than Alderan. So, what you watch after the box office is open, will depend on your perspective.
I really enjoyed Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, but I do hope it really is the last Star Wars movie because, as fun as the film is, it isn’t a great piece of movie making. Instead, the film is a cinematic palimpsest whose script has been written over so many times that there is at least three different films going on simultaneously all made from traces of earlier drafts and even ideas from earlier movies, some taken from as far back as The Empire Strikes Back. Even the characters are palimpsests, Rey herself being an amalgam of previous characters that never made it to the screen.
I felt sorry for the actors, particularly those that can act. If the script doesn’t know who its characters are and what they are doing in the film, how can the performers? Harrison Ford, for example, might have had a hard time working out that Han Solo is not a force ghost but merely a memory, albeit one that mysteriously gets buffeted by the prevailing elements.
I am also not spoiling the film by informing you that Naomi Ackie is Lando’s daughter, because without that information, the film as screened suggests that she is rather fickle and, worse, that Lando is an aged Lothario. I am honestly shocked that scenes explaining her character’s identity were left on the cutting room floor, which by now must have become an Einstein-Rosen bridge to a multi-verse of possible alternate versions of The Rise of Skywalker, the twist being that all the different versions are made out of material shot for our one but all are equally confusing in different ways. But sarcasm aside, how did that character information get left out? How? Were all the production team confused about their own plot?
Actually, I am sure that’s a rhetorical question.
Adam Driver reprises the role of Kylo Ren, the angst-ridden son of Han Solo and Leia Organa. John Boyega looks comfortable as Finn, but is side-lined by events and given lines that lead absolutely nowhere. Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron remains a goofy fly-boy with nothing of interest going on with his face. Richard E. Grant pops up as a wonderful scenery chewing baddy, General Pryde (perhaps Pryde was a former baker driven to the dark side by gluten intolerance?).
The far too many guest appearances give The Rise of Skywalker the feel of that Doctor Who celebratory story The Five Doctors; characters past and present, alive or dead or dead again, continually pop-up regardless of the credibility stretching reasons for their guest appearance.
My feeling is that Harrison Ford really should have sat this film out, but you will shed a tear for Carrie Fisher. I know some of the scenes were filmed before the actresses’ death, but CGI has also really progressed even since Rogue One. I wasn’t motivated to try and spot the CGI ‘join’. On the other hand, Mark Hamill, who now resembles Anthony Hopkins, looked as if his big old head had been stuck on a slightly younger body – although I don’t think that was the case.
Daisy Ridley gives her all to the role of Protagonist Rey although, as the film progressed, I began hearing Dark Side fan ghosts bleating in my mind about Mary Sues, toxic femininity (don’t go there) and the evils of Kathleen Kennedy – or maybe that was just the row of fans sitting in front of me.
Response to the film has, as is the way of modern fandom been swift. But some Star Wars fans really need to get over their own fanship, because it is getting in the way of enjoying the films., particularly YouTube influencers with names like ‘Neurotic. And Midnight Madness’. Let’s hear the thoughts of one ‘Shadversity’ (sic) who begins by saying “if you have watching much of my Star Wars content, you may have heard me say that I had no intention of watching this movie and I wasn’t going to… Here are my thoughts having gone into it with an open mind.” No, no you didn’t.
Face it, even the best, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, had flaws – such as the way the narrative ground to a halt while a genetic splice between a gooseberry and Fozzie Bear trained Luke by offering platitudes about the power of the force while hitting repeatedly with a stick. The opening scroll to The Rise of Skywalker is a “Janet and John” description of the current state of play which helpfully reminded me that the Star Wars films are for kids; and at least we were spared an opening scroll along the lines of “The Rebel Alliance’s tax returns have been queried by the IRS, now a sinister Last Order is readying itself for a new audit of their books.”
JJ Abrams does his best to capture the quirky charms of the Star Wars series, including George Lucas’ dodgy appropriation of negative racial stereotypes for alien races. In Rise of Skywalker, Abrams dodges a bullet by a relatively benign steal from the Hindu festival of Hoi, during which participants celebrate the arrival of spring by throwing around coloured powder. I say benign, but I’m not sure if I were a Hindu that I’d be that keen on Disney turning Vishnu’s victory over the evil Holika into something approaching the ending of The Life of Brian.
(This being the Star Wars universe, the participants get to line-dance to a disco backing track).
When it comes to Star Wars technology, the design team seem to have lost sight of the way it used to be designed as a mix of animal forms and metal. The highlight in terms of spectacle is a duel among gigantic waves that are battering the submerged Death Star is genuinely terrifying, so kudos to the CGI team for that.
Similarly, a vast army of Dark Side Imperial cruisers is impressively menacing. But there are some cinematic fails. The arrival of the resistance fleet doesn’t deliver the spectacular shots its arrival promises, although I did enjoy the spectacle of a horse cavalry charge across the decks of a cruiser.
The plot of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is best hurtled past, before you notice any of its many holes. And that’s exactly what the film does. The first act does a good job re-contextualising clips seen in the trailer and sweeping away a lot of the fan speculation that has been built on them. The second act comprises a handful of confrontations between Kylo Ren and Ray around a ridiculously contrived quest to find the home world of the Sith. It seems Ray has been having nightmares of her sharing the Sith throne with Ren, but for reasons best known to the Director this frightful vision of the future has been, you guessed it, left on the cutting room floor.
Now a quick test for Space Opera fans: when looking for the secret, evil home world of the Sith would you: 1) look among the myriad of planets in the known galaxy or 2) start looking in an area marked ‘Unknown’? I trust that you passed the test with flying colours and don’t need glowing green pyramid things to provide the answer as the heroes in this film do.
The final act tries to glue together the films fragmented plot pieces much a Kylo Ren has to piece together fragments of his helmet (he goes to a forge run by Dark Side chimps – the worst kind of chimp). There is expositional dialogue that is so poorly scripted that it rather makes you wonder if the director and writers had totally forgotten the film’s plot even before they began making it. So, during a confrontation between Ray and the Emperor Palpatine, the plot moves from “Strike me down in anger and I’ll become supreme ruler of the galaxy”, to “Strike me down and I will become you”, to “Oh just get on with it and everyone will become me”, to “Actually, why don’t I kill you and become myself?” (Note: not actual dialogue).
As the credits rolled, the audience clapped and then turned on a row of children who had made some people’s cinema experience a living hell. I am sure there are alternative multi-verse cuts to my friends’ Star Wars experience in which the parents took control of their children, and another in which the ushers rushed in and removed the kids with Chitty Chity Bang Bang child catcher nets. and another where the children were thrown in potatoes sacks and yet another where they were actual potatoes and eaten as chips before everyone got to the cinema.
As for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, I am in Infinity Earths’ minds about it. It’s not that there’s nothing fun to see here, it’s that what there is, isn’t worth the emotional drama that some fans bring to it. Still, it was good to see a series that has thrived of fears of miscegenation and anxieties around bloodlines finally became an advocate for adoption. Seriously.
Or maybe the title The Rise of Skywalker was chosen before anyone involved in writing and directing this movie had any idea what it would be about, or what the preceding two movies would be about.
• Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is in cinemas now | Official Film Page on StarWars.com
A freelance journalist and Doctor Who fanzine editor since 1978, Tim Robins has written on comics, films, books and TV programmes for a wide range of publications including Starburst, Interzone, Primetime and TV Guide.
His brief flirtation with comics includes ghost inking a 2000AD strip and co-writing a Doctor Who strip. He reviewed comics and films in posts and podcasts for The Mindless Ones until he became a net diva and forgot to name check the rest of the team at a San Diego Comic Con panel. The Mindless Ones gave him the nickname ‘Tymbus’
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