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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker - Review

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

FOR a film franchise that once prided itself on its ability to take risks and confound expectations, it’s somewhat disappointing to find that the final chapter of the Star Wars Skywalker saga lacks courage.

George Lucas’ game-changing original, for instance, defied pre-release predictions that no one would see it by becoming one of the most popular films of all-time, paving the way for the eight films and countless spin-offs that continue to follow.

Its follow-up, The Empire Strikes Back, subverted every expectation by fully embracing its dark side, allowing the good guys to lose, and dropping in a gut punch of a twist.

If it took the franchise another few films to rediscover its edge, then at least Rian Johnson’s divisive (but utterly superb) The Last Jedi appeared to be restoring balance to the force that is Star Wars by continually toying with and subverting expectation, while setting up a myriad of possibilities for future instalments.

Alas, the backlash to that film from certain fans who were put out by being taken out of their comfort zone has caused the creative forces behind the franchise – from head honcho Kathleen Kennedy to returning director J.J. Abrams through to co-writer Chris Terrio – to bottle it.

The Rise of Skywalker is a film designed to play it safe and keep the fans happy. If anything, it’s exactly the kind of theme park ride that Martin Scorsese lambasted Marvel for earlier this year. A carefully constructed product designed with box office in mind, rather than artistic value.

That’s not to say it’s a disaster. It is a fun ride. But the decision to pander to fan preference backfires and prevents the saga achieving the great ending it arguably deserves. The Rise of Skywalker is merely enjoyable.

To go one step further, it’s a film of great moments rather than a coherent whole. And part of the problem lies with its decision to bring back one of the primary characters from its past: The Emperor (played once again by Ian McDiarmid).

Teased in the trailer to admittedly intriguing effect, The Emperor’s return sets in motion this particular story as he calls upon Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) to step up to the mantle long since vacated by his grandfather, Darth Vader. He must start by killing the scavenger, Rey (Daisy Ridley).

But Supreme Leader Ren has his own plans for Rey, who is herself training in the ways of the Jedi in a bid to finally understand her powers and discover who she really is (the ongoing question of her parentage is answered).

The Princess Leia-led resistance, meanwhile, aim to mount one final stand so long as they can rally enough support, and so despatch Rey, Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) on a mission to find a hidden Sith planet.

The ensuing adventure finds Abrams throwing literally everything at the screen, from crowd-pleasing cameos to rip-roaring set pieces, in a bid to give fans the ultimate rush.

And to be fair, there are some great sequences, especially early on, which are backed by eye-popping visuals and some great performances. Ridley and Driver, in particular, are given plenty to do and their respective journeys arguably provide the most entertaining part of the film – and the most uncertainty.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Ridley, for her part, imbues Rey with a steely, kick-ass resolve that’s nicely tempered by her continued fear and uncertainty surrounding her past and her pull towards the dark side. But Driver remains an enigmatic presence, too, wrestling just as convincingly with his inner demons.

The film also serves as something of a love letter to Carrie Fisher, whose presence is keenly felt throughout. Her scenes – shot using outtake footage – carry an air of poignancy.

But – and this is a big but – Abrams’ film just doesn’t gel together as a pleasing whole. If anything, it feels lazy. There is no attempt to explain how the Emperor has been able to return (it just hasn’t been hinted at), while his decision to repeatedly riff on past story strands (a la The Force Awakens) actually cheapens the supposed reveals and leads to a surprising lack of emotional investment.

No matter what you think about The Last Jedi, it did consistently deliver surprises. Abrams return does not, right down to a mid-section of the film that involves the fate of one beloved character.

But then Abrams has always been a better imitator than an innovator, as evidenced by his fan-pleasing Star Trek films and his Spielberg homage Super 8. With The Rise of Skywalker he tries to pay homage to past events and revisit popular characters without necessarily allowing that to make sense.

Hence, the final third of the movie descends into something of a mess, with contrived character resolutions mixing with repetitive set pieces and situations. The self-referencing becomes tiring; the nods to better movies (including Avengers: Endgame) self-defeating.

Rather than delivering a truly exhilarating climax, The Rise of Skywalker merely constructs an OK one. It’s a missed opportunity in a lot of ways.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 2hrs 21mins
UK Release Date: December 19, 2020