Release Date: December 20, 2019
Director: J.J. Abrams
Cast: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver
[The following review is spoiler-free.]
“No one is ever really gone” is truly a phrase that must have been the through line for this latest (and promised final) entry in the aptly titled Skywalker Saga. If you haven’t seen the film already, you’ll have an idea as to why once end credits roll. Despite its lukewarm reception from both critics and audiences alike, the film has gone on to be another billion-dollar hit ensuring more to come in the popular space epic franchise. Since 2017’s critically acclaimed and incredibly divisive The Last Jedi, much remained to be accounted for and resolved in this final film of Disney’s Sequel Trilogy. With Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, it’s best to say there’s much that is had and more to be wanted.
Roughly a year after the events of The Last Jedi, the film starts off with an enraged Kylo Ren seeking to confront a revived (and unexplained) Emperor Palpatine who threatens to once again rule the galaxy with a cruel and unforgiving fist. Meanwhile, Rey continues her Jedi training under the guidance of General Leia Organa, and the rest of the gang (Poe, Finn, and Rose included) work to stay one step ahead of the First Order’s plan to wipe out the Resistance. As Palpatine’s Final Order is unveiled, Rey and the rest of the gang must band together in an effort to thwart utter defeat along an interplanetary quest that challenges everyone involved with revelations brought to life in true Star Wars fashion.
New characters involved are mostly welcome due in part to design and utility: there’s the new and cute droid with a finicky sensibility, a no-nonsense spice runner donning a cool and sleek costume, a defected stormtrooper searching for home and identity, and a witty/entertainingly endearing droidsmith whose height is no more than a foot tall. Regarding characters we know and have followed thus far, it is a nice change in pace to finally see the main crew working together as a cohesive unit with performances from all actors involved balancing both drama and levity well. While the time allotted for key players to punctuate their imprint and impact in the story is satisfying and appropriate for some, it can’t be said for several others that proves to be disappointing if not downright unfortunate.
Everything technical about the film is as superb as you’d expect with familiarity to other Star Wars features from decades past: John Williams’s orchestral score consisting of well-regarded themes remains as thrilling and emotional as ever; production design and camera work succeeds in capturing a fully lived-in universe with sweeping action and grand spectacle sparing little expense; and easter eggs scattered throughout nod and wink in fun and amusing ways to keep both casual and diehard fans alert and engaged in near lengthy runtime. On the downside, pacing between acts can feel disjointed at times, and keeping up with the details in narrative and implications revealed requires some of the more serious suspensions of disbelief and logic in any of the Star Wars film to date.
That being said, while The Rise of Skywalker is nowhere near some of my favorite films in the saga (that group of films primarily belongs to those composing the Original Trilogy), it’s nowhere near my least favorite. As with most things, metaphors and anecdotes may prove better to convey my overall opinion of the film with food to be a prime example. Personally, I like my Star Wars like I like my steak: medium-rare. With a total of 11 live-action feature films (or steaks) in the can already, there are many offerings and flavors to choose and savor from the pack.
Despite having all the ingredients there, The Rise of Skywalker is just a bit overcooked and tepid for my taste. It’s passable and enough to finish without feeling completely dissatisfied, but it just doesn’t compare to the best I’ve had this side of the galaxy. Do I think you have to eat your steak like mine to be fully satisfied? Of course not. For me, and for what it’s worth, I like my Star Wars to satiate a certain a level of satisfaction that can only be enjoyed with meticulous care and attention to form and detail all around. The Rise of Skywalker is enough to get me by until the next course is to come. To the cooks in the kitchen, I say to you: take your time. I’ll be ready—waiting with fork and knife in hand.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action, and is now available on digital and physical platforms.