‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ // Spoiler-Free Film Review: The Satisfying Conclusion to the Skywalker Saga?

Being a fan of Star Wars and experience of seeing a trilogy in theaters just feels like a blessing when you think about it. Because I was still a kid when Revenge of the Sith came out, and everyone thought that was the official end of the saga. Now we’ve come down to another end of the saga with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the ninth chapter in the long-running sci-fi franchise. There was a part of me wondering if this would have the same fate when Game of Thrones ended with divisive results. But was J.J. Abrams able to bring back all fans alike in one of the biggest anticipated movies of the year?

What’s the Story: Taking place one year after the Battle of Crait, Rey (Daisy Ridley) is still continuing her training to become a Jedi despite Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) not being around anymore, and the First Order’s Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) discovers that the Sith Lord Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is alive. When the resistance discovers this shocking news, Rey, along with Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and BB-8, to go on an adventure across the galaxy to search for the Sith world of Exegol.

Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Joonas Suotamo in Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Going into this, I had no idea what to expect after hearing mixed responses. Sure, I love Star Wars like everybody else in the world. We all thought getting a new movie once a year would be special. Yet, when Rian Johnson was up to direct 2017’s The Last Jedi, it got positive reviews and killed it at the box office but gotten a ton of backlash after its release, making the fan community a major annoyance. That was probably the most controversial blockbuster since Man of Steel. But they’ll still pay to see whatever comes from this franchise, regardless. There was hope with the news that Abrams was coming back after Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow left because of creative differences. When is it ever not that reason?

As someone who appreciated what Johnson did with The Last Jedi, even fans of the previous installment didn’t have a clue if Abrams was going to recon the few problems fans had before. Knowing this was going to be the last big blockbuster of the decade, and being the one that would answer the questions we wanted to get and how everything will wrap up, I walked into The Rise of Skywalker nervous yet excited, and I walked out having so many conflicting feelings, and I’m sure everybody else thought the same thing.

Let’s first talk about the positive things that I found while sitting through this. For starters, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to know that Abrams can direct a beautiful-looking film, and he has done it again when working with his preferred cinematographer Dan Mindel.

Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

If we are diving into the performances, Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver as Rey and Kylo Ren continue to give emotional and strong efforts into their respective roles. Any scene with the two of them that are carried forward from before and exploring the relationship between them are some of the best moments in the entire film. But I need to say Kylo Ren might be my favorite antagonist of the decade where he ranks on the same pedestal as Darth Vader as a character that doesn’t know what he’s becoming on the inside. Everybody else from Boyega and Issac still works well together even though there seems to be more bickering this time around.

All the action sequences are well-crafted and exciting when the film needed that boost of energy. There are your lightsaber battles, space battles, and even one where our heroes are trying to escape stormtroopers. What I can say is that my favorite has to do with Rey and Kylo Ren dueling on the remains of the second Death Star with this raving ocean that makes for a great setting. Great choreography in making that scene worth it. Felt like the opposite of when Anakin and Obi-Wan were dueling on Mustafar.

But the visual effects work is astounding nearly from every scene, especially when it’s combined with practical work. Never took me out of the film when the action is taking place. John Williams comes back for another great score to provide the film and this is another time where some of his pieces harken back to certain character themes from before. And finally, the production design that gives new life to these different worlds was spectacular.

But what’s possibly the biggest negative why The Rise of Skywalker wasn’t great was its story that Abrams co-wrote with Oscar-winning screenwriter Chris Terrio (Argo). There was this sense of complexity and unfocused showing throughout that made it sort of messy following from before that wasn’t able to be that much fun from the previous installments. I feel like the Oscar curse is real for Terrio since the other movies he penned the script was Batman v Superman and Justice League, which were… poorly written.

More exposition, the less of understanding when we travel planet to planet without getting a moment to breathe. Besides the action scenes, I can’t recount a moment where I wasn’t engaged fully like I was from before. Whether it is a decision that was made that made little sense or just appeared something I couldn’t buy, or nothing that was emotionally carried through, that was a big letdown. Some stuff felt almost glossed over from The Last Jedi and doesn’t feel that inclusive to the other two. Though I don’t know if Trevorrow had anything that’s different.

The pacing made it an issue too when the first act started out a bit rushed in getting to catch up the characters from before, and then it was a bit all over the place.

It was great to see the legend Billy Dee Williams reprise his iconic role as Lando Calrissian. He doesn’t have a lot of scenes, but he was enjoyable. Seeing the late Carrie Fisher one last time as General Leia was an interesting approach since they had unused footage from The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi to make her scenes more sense. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it wasn’t. The newer characters that got introduced in here like Jannah (Naomi Ackie),  Zorri Bliss (Keri Russell), and Allegiant General Pryde (Richard E. Grant) felt a bit wasted and needed more screen time since there was little development about them when the team first meets them, except Poe knows Zorri from his past.

When it comes down to the humor, this is by far the one time that I thought nearly all the funny moments didn’t work. Some complained about The Last Jedi having that unnecessary humor, but I thought it was humorous. Aside from probably three chuckles, I found a large majority of the jokes thrown in here underwhelming.

We all know that Emperor Palpatine was coming back as if it wasn’t evidence by his sinister laugh from the first trailer and his appearance on one of the posters wasn’t obvious. A great character he is, was there really a reason for him to return to this sequel? I didn’t think so since it became pointless. There’s a purpose, of course, but not everybody will like it.

Anthony Daniels, Keri Russell, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, and Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Going into the Oscar discussion, we will see this get nominated for Best Visual Effects, Sound Mixing and Editing, and also Williams’ score since the last two he provided before earned a nomination. Is it winning anything? Probably not.

With this, I honestly can’t blame Abrams because maybe he had too much on his mind to give us a good story at hand. I still consider him one of my favorite directors, and he’s the one that was able to get this saga back on track four years ago. Too much so on making this a combination of how Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith concluded. Should this even be considered the worst? Absolutely not, since there’s a great movie hidden somewhere. It just a pain to know that it’s going be another tiresome year with those complaining about everything wrong these movies when there are better things to do. Just like how those who harass on Johnson on social media now. Even I didn’t love this movie, I will still love the other movies associated with the franchise and have fun with them. At this rate, we should be respectful to those who enjoyed all the Star Wars movie, that also means the prequels and even Solo.  

As it stands with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, this is the kind of blockbuster that should have been an outstanding and definite end. There’s no point in saying that this is the best or weakest in this trilogy, but this, unfortunately, falls under being the weakest in the sequel trilogy. There are so many problems that kept me from really loving it. This will be another one that will be very divisive since there’s a believability that fans will enjoy this and will be pleased, which is excellent for them. I didn’t leave the theater hating it, but I also didn’t love it either. Positive aspects like the visuals and the performances are excellent in their own right, but it falls weak in terms of story that doesn’t work in parts. Still, possibly re-watching this later on in the future could change my mind.

That being said, this still worth seeing in theaters if you’re a huge Star Wars fan and want to witness a good conclusion from your perspective. If you love the first two movies, then you’ll have no problem with how this turns out from a galaxy far, far away. Grade: C+

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