Review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Directed by J.J. Abrams. Walt Disney Pictures, 2019.

Special Note

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably seen the film already and are likely coming in with your own impressions, which means I’m going to go all-in spoilers-wise here. If you are actively avoiding spoilers, please avoid this review for now. But, do come back after you’ve seen it. And then come back again for funsies.

Premiere Impressions

             I should start off by saying that I cheated a bit for this review. I have actually seen the film twice at the time of this writing, so these premiere impressions are more like second-screening impressions. That being said, I am quite glad I have seen the film more than once because, for me, it really took two screenings to nail down my feelings about J.J. Abrams’s newest entry in the Star Wars series. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is an exciting spectacle that, even if weighed down by narrative blunders, captures the essence of the series.

            The Rise of Skywalker is the “final” chapter in the Skywalker Saga (we’ve had two final chapters before, so I’m doubtful). From an aesthetic standpoint, Episode IX might exhibit some of the most visually arresting sequences from the entire series. The bright colors of the Pasaana festival on the desert canvas are joyful. The battle between Rey and Kylo Ren surrounded by crashing waves is stunning. The ominous, gloom-ridden Emperor’s lair is haunting. The cinematography allows the audience to both awe at the scope of the various worlds we visit and engage with the action. The production design really shines throughout the film and, alongside the score, really communicates the emotions of each scene.

            It should be no surprise, after two incredible performances, that Adam Driver again excels as Kylo Ren. Whether he is hunting Rey or battling his call to the light, Driver conveys Kylo’s tortured soul perfectly. Daisy Ridley also does her best work yet in this film, convincingly oscillating between joy, terror, anguish, and rage throughout the movie. Supporting characters do fine in their respective roles, though no one else really has the chance to show off their range. This doesn’t pose too much of a problem since the primary storyline here requires Rey and Kylo to be the most involved. They are the two characters who have experienced the most change over the past three films and should be the characters with whom we spend the most time.

            What we should not do, though, is barely spend any time at all with specific characters. The sidelining of Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) demonstrates an extremely frustrating step back for both Star Wars and big-budget filmmaking in general. Though Abrams and co. will likely say otherwise, Rose was demoted from a principle to a minor character because she caused controversy. Don’t remember the controversy around her casting? Well, misogynistic racists were absolutely outraged that an Asian-American woman could take such a large part in Star Wars. Tran was even bullied off social media by the excessive trolling. Should we ever let the trolls alter the creative process? No. Did The Rise of Skywalker? Yes. What an unfortunate setback for inclusivity on the screen.

The Rose issue brings us to the biggest narrative problem with The Rise of Skywalker: countering the intentions of the previous film, The Last Jedi (2017). One of the many elements of The Last Jedi that made it such a bold and invigorating entry in the saga is that it took risks and subverted expectations. Abrams’s vision is far more interested in reinstating tradition and nostalgia. I do not feel the need to list every counter Abrams makes to Johnson’s vision, there are plenty of lists online that already cover them. The biggest blunder, in my book, is the thematic change that occurs due to Abrams’s response to Johnson. The Last Jedi explored the possibility of a world full of potential, where anyone might have the power to wield the force. The Rise of Skywalker is interested in reinstating that power only into chosen hands and reiterating the same message: your lineage does not define you. Instead of moving toward Star Wars’ future, Episode IX is preoccupied with the past.

Post-Screening Snippets

  • Oscar Isaac is still the most charismatic man in the galaxy
  • Not one bit of the Zombie Palpatine stuff makes any sense to me, but I do like when he makes evil speeches and Pikachu-zaps people
  • Why does Keri Russell remind me so much of a Power Rangers villain in this outfit?
  • I know everyone is gaga over Babu Frik, but that thing is heinous
  • Pew-pew-pew!

The Final Tea

            From the moment the title card blasts onto screen, John Williams’s iconic score blaring, Star Wars captures its audience. You are instantly transported to a galaxy far, far away, where nostalgia and memory reign. It is hard to watch a Star Wars film and not bring with you the previous experiences of watching the movies you love—or hate—throughout the saga, as well as any of the other ancillary material with which you might engage. For that reason, watching Star Wars feels personal. Due to early reviews, I went in with relatively low expectations and I left with a giddy smile. Though there were a series of troubling decisions for The Last Jedi lovers (like myself), this movie delivers on my personal wishes for a Star Wars movie: cool characters in cool costumes with cool weapons fight stuff cool.

GRADE: B

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