Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
This week brings the Skywalker Saga to a close with Episode XI: The Rise of Skywalker. While it features some incredible sequences and character moments, a handful of issues hold it back from greatness. Come inside for my full review!
I will keeping this review spoiler-free. There may be a couple (extremely) minor things I'll mention just to highlight certain points, but I'll be sure to let you know ahead of time. At most, I will be talking about things revealed in official marketing, so if you've been avoiding those as well, you may want to wait. By and large, however, you can read my review without fear of having the film spoiled for you.
Story Basics and Characters
Unlike The Last Jedi, which picked up immediately following the events of the previous film, The Rise of Skywalker gets some more breathing room. It picks up a year (or so) after the Battle of Crait, so what we get to see here are our heroes having worked together longer and more in the wing of their Resistance. Conversely, this also means the First Order has had more time to build up their forces and take over more of the galaxy.
The film starts off as Finn and Poe are looking to contact a First Order spy to obtain vital information that could change the scope of the war. The Emperor has somehow returned and brought with him a massive hidden fleet. Supreme Leader Kylo Ren obviously wants to take advantage of this for the First Order, and Rey (who's been training with General Leia) sets out on a mission to find a way to stop him.
In some ways, it's a fairly straightforward story. Our heroes set out in search of a device that will help them locate the Emperor and having to evade the First Order. Along the way, new details arise which throw our heroes into chaos. After all, we're dealing with Palpatine, a villain notorious for having plans within plans and his own agenda.
To be honest, I'm not sure what else I can go into in terms of story beats without giving too much away, so let's dive into some of the other elements!
Old allies help guide the way, along with some newcomers lending a hand as well, leading up to a stunning third act battle that feels as epic as you would hope in a 'finale.' For the most part, the character interactions were my favorite part of the film. Because of the time jump, we get a sense of familiarity and comradery between everyone that we honestly haven't gotten in this trilogy before. It made for some fun banter and humorous moments that felt completely natural.
This works great for the previously introduced characters, but some of the newcomers don't fare as well. Jannah (Naomi Ackie) and Zorii (Keri Russell) feel criminally underused. They have some really cool characters, with interesting backstory hints teased, but they don't seem to do a whole lot in the film.
Generally speaking, I really enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker, but there's no denying there are a handful of issues. I like to talk about the positives first, however, so let's talk about how absolutely GORGEOUS this film is. I think it's probably the best looking film JJ Abrams has done. The film takes us to a few different locations, all of them offering their own unique visual style, while incorporating elements that feel very much in tune with the galaxy far, far away.
One of my favorite moments is celebration we get to see on Pasaana, where there are hundreds (if not thousands) of aliens dancing and celebrating. The color palette on display is vibrant, immediately drawing us (the audience) into the festivities even as the story takes us elsewhere. Even as they struggle and feel the pressure to find what they need quickly, the festival offers our heroes the chance to see exactly what it is they're fighting for.
Even though it's relatively brief before we're thrust back into the action, it feels like an important moment; for Rey especially. Truly, I think this is one of the things The Rise of Skywalker does best. It uses the visuals of these various locales to help tell the story beyond the script. From the warm, comforting tones of the Resistance base, to the harsh and lifeless landscape of the Sith hideout, so much information is conveyed purely through the visuals.
That's not even to mention the action sequences, of which there are quite a few! There's a lot of great action throughout the film and it all looks some impressive. The Lightsaber fights are great, incorporating some cool new visual flairs (how they did the battle between Rey and Kylo on the new ice planet is just awesome), and the space battle teased in the trailers are indeed epic. There are a number of "holy shit" moments throughout the film. Literally, there were scenes that had my theater hollering and cheering.
Visually, the film is packed and it feels like there's so much going on in every scene. I can tell you now, there are already tons of scenes I can't wait to revisit on the 4K home entertainment release, just so I can pause and take in all of the details. I love this type of aspect as it gives me something more to look forward to on future viewings.
Not all of the visuals land, however, and there are a couple notable moments where the VFX just felt...off. I was really impressed with how they incorporated Carrie Fisher's performance from The Force Awakens into this new film, but there are a couple uncanny valley moments that through me off. Minor quibbles aside, the visual details and work on TROS was pretty great.
Questions and Answers and Questions
So much of this Sequel Trilogy can be summed up as a big question mark. Considering this trilogy takes place 30-ish years after the end of the Return of the Jedi, it's understandable that many of us have questions. Like, what happened to Luke? What happened to the Empire? Who had babies? And a myriad of other things.
In some ways it feels like the bulk of this trilogy has been more dedicated to answering those questions rather than telling it's own story. Don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed the adventure, but there's no denying that answers have seemed more important than other elements at times. The Rise of Skywalker seems to take this aspect to another level.
It seems almost TOO concerned with answering the questions posed throughout the previous films. Which is amazing considering it still manages to leave all new questions unanswered (those would be spoilers so I'll have to get into those in a later article). Even so, there are plenty of moments in the film where it seems to specifically pause the flow of the story to provide answers to something from before.
Not all of these are necessarily bad, however. In fact, there's one specific flashback that, while probably not necessary, may be one of my favorite moments of the film. Still, I can't help but wonder what shape the story of The Rise of Skywalker (and trilogy in general) could take if it weren't so concerned with answering questions.
So if you're going into the film looking for some answers, you'll get plenty of them. Yes, we do get THE big answer fans have been speculating on since The Force Awakens. If anything, though, I think this film has helped me realize that sometimes the answer doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things.
Who Rey is connected to isn't as important to how things shake out as you'd think. It's an interesting connection, and offer some character moments for her to deal with, but it also doesn't feel necessary. If you took that reveal away, you could still end up with the same film, same events, and same ending. Again, it's not BAD, per se, and there are a bunch of cool story potential based off that reveal, but it doesn't feel entirely necessary to the story being told.
Faster, More Intense
JJ Abrams said during his time on The Force Awakens, one of his driving factors with crafting Star Wars, was George Lucas' iconic direction of "Faster. More intense." Abrams has certainly taken that to heart when it comes to The Rise of Skywalker, though it forms one of the biggest issues I have with the film.
To be honest, my issue with The Force Awakens is much the same: Pacing. The Rise of Skywalker sets a blistering pace and rarely relents. The problem, is that it's so concerned with being faster and more intense it skips right over some necessary exposition. While this manages to keep the tension high, the downside is it almost completely kills some of the emotional payoffs.
There are a handful of moments in the film that felt like they should have been emotional peaks, but fell entirely flat. The best example comes from pretty much every death on screen. Yes, people die in this film (I don't think that's really a spoiler and I'm NOT about to tell you who dies), but the movie is so concerned with moving things along, I felt almost nothing when those moments happen.
They're skipped over as quickly as they happen, and because the film was moving so quickly before, there wasn't any emotional build-up to it. We don't even get a moment to pause and grieve. The one sequence that did get me emotional was when they finally slowed things down. It took place during a moment of calm and wasn't rushing in the least.
Much like I felt with The Force Awakens, The Rise of Skywalker needed to change the pace. Slowing things down here and there, offering up some exposition--other than going back and answering questions--would have greatly improved the overall story. As it stands, the script feels like it jumps around too much, almost listlessly, but the STORY is interesting and engaging. If the pacing had been tweaked a bit to allow that story to breathe, I think many of those elements would have landed with greater impact.
The Trilogy Factor
Generally speaking, I don't care to judge a film in the lens of its predecessors. Being this is the end of a trilogy, however, it's hard not to do it to some degree. For the most part, The Rise of Skywalker really feels like an ending. Even as it poses a couple new questions, there is a general sense of closure.
It incorporates elements from the previous films, whether it's Force-powers, locations, or revelations, TROS manages to tie together a bunch of threads from the Star Wars Saga. While it doesn't always tie them together nicely, it's neat to see how it all comes together and to see the obvious influences.
Some minor thoughts that I want to expound on down the road, but think I need another viewing to fully solidify my thoughts on:
* I really loved how General Leia was used in the film, but it was painfully obvious they didn't have the footage necessary to close out her arc. Sacrilege as it may be, I almost wish they had gone the CGI route to give her arc a bit more emphasis.
* As a Star Wars fan who has based his collection on villains, I LOVED all the Sith elements.
* There are some really interesting story seeds posited throughout the film. Despite this being "the end" there are clear paths for these new heroes to follow in future films or shows.
* There's a BUNCH of toys I need ASAP now that I've seen the film.
* There are some COOL cameos in this film. You'll want to watch, and listen, closely.
* I finally got to see my favorite thing in this film (regarding Lightsabers) and I sincerely hope I get a toy version of it sooner rather than later.