Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker sees J.J. Abrams returning to the director’s chair after original director Colin Trevorrow left following ‘creative differences’. With Rian Johnson’s divisive The Last Jedi splitting an increasingly toxic ‘fanbase’ into two camps – the outraged and the overcompensating – the reactions were extreme to a movie that was neither the franchise killer, nor the masterpiece, that each side claimed. So Abrams finds himself with a tricky job ahead of him, returning to a trilogy that started out brightly but has gotten a bit lost along the way.
While staying as far away from spoilers as possible, The Rise of Skywalker sees our trio of heroes back together. Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) find themselves tearing around the galaxy once more, with a familiar team that also comprises Chewbacca and an assortment of droids. Their mission is to locate the mythical home planet of the Sith before an infamous nemesis of old can raise an army with which to subjugate the galaxy. With this basic-but-traditional Star Wars plotline, Abrams concludes the trilogy he started in 2015 with The Force Awakens.
The main issue The Rise of Skywalker faces is that Johnson’s Last Jedi treated the story arc like it was the final film in the series. Much of what Abrams set up in The Force Awakens was pitched out the window in the second movie, leaving the actual trilogy concluder with very little (on the face of it) that needed resolving. And so Abrams has to spend much of Rise of Skywalker retrofitting his own story and bringing it back in line with Force Awakens.
Still, there’s enough here to warrant your attention and bring the proceedings to a satisfactory, if unspectacular, ending. Despite a feeling of having seen it all before, there’s a fair bit of intergalactic capering and MacGuffin (random story-quest object) chasing going on with a lot of varied interplanetary landscapes, from the desert to the snow, and enough goodwill toward these characters to forgive some weaker moments.
The return of Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian is a definite highlight and a couple of other original trilogy characters return in brief appearances. The late Carrie Fisher poignantly says farewell to the iconic Princess Leia with her final performance, and although the scenes feel a little cobbled together, it’s nice that there was enough footage to include her in a significant way. Elsewhere Ridley, Boyega and Isaac acquit themselves with the confidence and likeability that made these characters instantly memorable.
On the flipside, it is a bit of a head scratcher as to why a number of new characters are introduced so late in the game. New droid D-O feels a bit unnecessary since we already have C3PO, R2D2 and BB-8 rolling around, and while Naomi Ackie is very good as rebel leader Jannah, the character is essentially filling the role Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) held in The Last Jedi, bonding and fighting alongside Finn. This is made all the more strange since Rose is relegated to little more than the background here. Likewise, Richard E. Grant’s General Pryde, who is, for all intents and purposes, General Hux 2.0.
The mysterious Knights Of Ren finally make their appearance, but it would be nice to have given them more screen time or explain their background. The movie is pretty much summed up in these small details, quite often offering something interesting, but without enough explanation or importance to make it resonate.
To its credit, the strength of this new trilogy was always in the new characters, posing the question of why an epilogue to the original trilogy was considered necessary in the first place. All the talk of The Last Jedi paving the way for Star Wars to go off in any direction it likes, neglects to mention that this was always an option. There was never any requirement to drag the original trilogy heroes back on screen because their story was already told, with a satisfying end in Return of the Jedi.
No single film in the new series has been as consistently great, start-to-finish, as anything in the original trilogy, but all have their moments. Whether people will be talking about these films in forty years time with the same reverence as the originals is debatable. For what it’s worth, this third Star Wars trilogy closes with a movie that is solidly decent, if a little too low stakes to really hit home, leaving The Rise of Skywalker ahead of The Last Jedi but behind The Force Awakens in this reviewer’s ranking.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★☆☆
‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ is in cinemas around Australia from December 19 and the USA from December 20.