A clean end to a messy ennealogy.
This review is contains no spoilers for The Rise Of Skywalker, but does include spoilers for the Star Wars films preceding it.
Sitting down to watch The Rise of Skywalker is like ordering tomato soup at a restaurant and, in response, the waiter lifts up your chair and dumps you into an Olympic sized swimming pool filled to the brim with gazpacho. J.J. Abrams succeeds in making a memorable and lasting end to an iconic series by intensifying everything you know and love about it, which is not necessarily for the best. The cast returns one last time to stun viewers into jaw-dropping silence at every twist and turn, reminding us exactly why we fell in love with the series in the first place. While visually it can’t compare to the cinematography of its predecessor, it is still able to craft a somewhat satisfying story that ties up most loose ends, making it feel like Abrams failed by playing it safe where The Last Jedi succeeded through pushing every boundary.
We last saw our heroes at the end of The Last Jedi; a small group of freedom fighters remains of what was once the resistance after being thoroughly decimated leading up to and during the battle of Crait (that red, dusty salt planet). Rey has started to learn the ways of the force and will continue her training using the books she stole from Luke. Kylo Ren has taken over for Snoke as Supreme Leader of the First Order, much to General Hux’s dismay. This leaves us with two stories to follow as we go into The Rise of Skywalker: Rey must find a way to complete her Jedi training while Kylo and Hux will not give up power to the other without a fight.
Daisy Ridley truly deserves the most praise for her performance as Rey in this movie. Most scenes featuring Rey have a tendency to zoom in on her face, especially in the more intense moments, and it is here that Ridley’s skills truly shine. The slightest twitch of an eye portrays everything Rey is feeling, allowing the audience to join in her happiness or rage, joy or anger. Without saying a word, we are able to understand what she is going through, how she is making decisions and what emotions they are based on. Like an overfilled pot of boiling water, Ridley’s performance cascades off the screen and deluges the audience in an aura of intensity. Possibly her best performance in the series, and by far the best in this movie, Ridley carries the audience through every twist and turn thrown at her (and us).
That’s not to say that she stands alone in this cast. Adam Driver returns as Kylo Ren brings with him a sense of urgency and intensity not seen in his character before now. Ren has reached a point in his journey where he needs to truly understand who he is to be able to lead the First Order with complete control. With a clear purpose ahead, Driver portrays a seriousness and maturity that Ren has yet to show in this trilogy. John Boyega and Oscar Isaac return as well, playing Finn and Poe, both now generals in the resistance. Like episodes VII and VIII, they have an incredible on-screen chemistry that leaves you wanting every interaction between them to never end.
Where The Last Jedi excelled at cinematography and story, The Rise of Skywalker shines through its music and sound. There is nothing, in my humble opinion, that any Star War could ever do to rival the visual masterpiece that was Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) smashing through Snoke’s ship at lightspeed using a resistance cruiser in The Last Jedi. Between that, the battle of Crait, and the final fight in Snoke’s throne room, there is a lot for The Rise of Skywalker to live up to visually speaking. Although it does an excellent job of building new planets, this movie uses sound to drive home its message. There are times where the music’s swell will make you catch your breath, where the sound of a blaster will startle you more than the laser itself. There is much to see in this movie, but there is even more to hear.
What Rise of Skywalker lacks that The Last Jedi unquestionably delivered is a story that doesn’t rely on a nonstop salvo of nostalgia. Fans of The Last Jedi (Dir, Rian Johnson) will be disappointed to see Abrams spend much of this movie apologizing for its predecessor through a story that could have easily been crowdsourced from the Star Wars Reddit page. It is also disheartening to see the near erasure of Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Train), the standout resistance fighter who delighted audiences in The Last Jedi. While delivering a Star Wars movie that was almost bred in a test tube to entertain audiences, Abrams turns a blind eye to what Johnson did to make these movies interesting again.
J.J Abrams concluded the Skywalker Saga in the same way that Aaron Copland concludes Symphony #3; a non stop barrage of sound and feeling. By taking every element that worked for the Star Wars franchise and multiplying that by fifty, Abrams brought to an end a generation of cinema. He sticks to the old ideas of the series, relying on nostalgia to lay the foundation of the film and a story that feels exhausted. Where the movie excels is in its character development and the outstanding ensemble who portray them. While I may not agree with every choice made, I believe most of them will work well with audiences. The acting was phenomenal and the music and sound breathtaking. As the credits began to roll and everyone in the theater stood up to clap, it was clear that this is how the Skywalker Saga ends; with thunderous applause.