18th Dec2019

‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid, Billy Dee Williams, Richard E. Grant, Joonas Suotamo | Directed by J.J. Abrams

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The Skywalker Saga comes to a close with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the third film in the sequel trilogy and the final chapter in the story that began 42 years ago with George Lucas’ Star Wars: A New Hope. Happily, in the hands of returning director J.J. Abrams (The Force Awakens), Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is an epic, thrilling and powerfully emotional conclusion that feels like the ending the series deserves.

The plot begins not long after the end of The Last Jedi (2017). The voice of Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) has been heard across the galaxy and the First Order have assembled a fleet of Destroyers, intending to lay waste to multiple planets until the Resistance is wiped out. Following Jedi training from General Leia (a flawlessly re-assembled from out-takes Carrie Fisher), Rey (Daisy Ridley) sets out to find a series of clues that will reveal Palpatine’s whereabouts, accompanied by former Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), ace pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and droids C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and BB-8.

Meanwhile, the psychic connection between Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey intensifies, with each one convinced they will be able to turn the other to their side. Will Rey succumb to her dark destiny?

With all the commotion behind the scenes in the making of The Rise of Skywalker (departing directors, hasty rewrites), you could be forgiven for expecting the final product to be an unholy mess. Happily, that’s not the case, though there are certainly consequences, not least in the way that the film more or less ignores many of the complex elements of The Last Jedi that proved so divisive with fans.

To that end,  Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is very much a return to the fan-pleasing template of The Force Awakens, complete with riffs on previous scenes in the series, the return of a few familiar faces (some of which get big cheers), great character moments and as many of the associated pleasures of the Star Wars movies as it’s possible to cram into 142 minutes.

This being the final film in the trilogy (or whatever the word is for a series of nine films), there’s a suitably epic scale to the proceedings, with action taking place amid spectacular landscapes, from the storm-battered remains of the Death Star to the Forbidden Desert of Pasaana. Those stunning visuals come courtesy of cinematographer Dan Mindel, who also shot The Force Awakens.

The fact that it’s the final film of the saga also means that there are questions that have to be answered. The film duly answers those questions, albeit with the same level of entirely in-keeping Star Wars ridiculousness that made Luke, Leia and Vader all related in the first place. Without going into spoiler-filled specifics, those decisions are clearly not going to please everyone (especially those who loved The Last Jedi), but at least they give the film a hefty thematic weight.

Elsewhere, the film is on much safer ground. The action sequences are terrific, ranging from a thrilling speeder chase through desert canyons to a do-or-die spaceship battle to a series of exciting lightsabre battles, thanks to an inspired new wrinkle in the psychic connection between Ren and Rey.

Similarly, the performances are a joy to behold. Ridley and Driver are the joint stand-outs this time round, shouldering the emotional weight of the film and bringing compelling levels of complexity as each one feels the pull between their light and dark sides. On top of that, several beloved characters get wonderfully heroic moments and there are a handful of great new characters, the highlights of which are nervous new droid D-0, Allegiant General Pryde (played by a deliciously stone-faced Richard E. Grant) and tiny, scene-stealing droidsmith Babu Frik (voiced by Shirley Henderson).

In fairness, there are one or two painfully awkward moments in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, not least the pointed side-lining of Kelly Marie Tran’s character Rose Tico, which feels especially cruel in the wake of the treatment the actor has had at the hands of certain sections of the Star Wars fandom. Similarly, a much-touted moment of representation actually turns out to be the tiniest of baby-steps, but at least it’s a start.

Ultimately, The Rise of Skywalker is what it needs to be: a blissfully entertaining Star Wars movie that brings the story to a suitably satisfying conclusion, even if some of the more challenging elements of the previous movie get lost along the way. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll do Chewbacca impressions all the way home.

**** 4/5

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is in cinemas from midnight tonight!

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