Review: STAR WARS THE RISE OF SKYWALKER – Spoiler Free ‘A Fitting End?’

U.S. Contributing Editor Dan Berry casts his eye over the final chapter in a saga that has enthralled millions and defined a genre - can THE RISE OF SKYWALKER possibly achieve everything that is required of it at the close?

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Title:  STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director:   J. J. Abrams
Starring: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid, and Billy Dee Williams
Movie length: 2 hours 22 minutes

What it is:  The final movie of the epic Skywalker saga, this chapter takes place a year after the events that took place in 2017’s THE LAST JEDI – what’s left of the Resistance faces off once again with the First Order for the fate of the galaxy. 


SPOILER-FREE REVIEW


What I thought: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER is a fitting culmination to a story over forty years in the making, from that iconic opening scroll and the classic camera pan, down to the very blast of John Williams score over the final credits. There are certain scenes that gave me chills – and you’ll know when you see them – and, as to be expected, there a few sad scenes as well. You may need Kleenex for this highly emotionally charged climax. So to speak!

Photo by Lucasfilm/Lucasfilm Ltd. – © 2019 and TM Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Over the course of this incredibly divisive new trilogy of films (starting with J.J. Abrams THE FORCE AWAKENS and continuing with Rian Johnson’s THE LAST JEDI), audiences have seen both Daisy Ridley’s young heroine Rey and Adam Driver’s conflicted warrior Kylo Ren warp and weave from film to film – fans may be split on whether those characters have done so in an organic manner but it can’t be denied that it’s also been exciting to watch these two exciting and compelling actors grow and develop as the story has progressed, also.

That goes to the new supporting cast as well, led once again by the brotherhood of John Boyega (Finn) and Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), still keeping that sexually-charged fan-fiction alight in this final film with their strong on-screen chemistry. The boys are joined by legendary Original Trilogy actor Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian, a joyous performance which lights up the screen with that classic effortless charisma.

As for the new additions to the film, Richard E. Grant was terrific as the win-at-all-costs Allegiant General Pryde of the First Order, and Keri Russell’s Zorri Bliss also has a small role in the film, but one that stays noteworthy in its own right – they may be joining an already packed character roster but they’re not insignificant roles and both characters will no doubt get their backstories fleshed out with the inevitable novelizations, comics and Wikipedia pages.

And, of course, it goes without saying that seeing the late Carrie Fisher on screen as General Leia one last time was something that is pleasing and at the same time very sad, and I’m glad that J.J. and the filmmakers have found a way to use previously shot footage in the film for her role, without resorting to a CGI gimmick as seen in STAR WARS story, ROGUE ONE.

Photo by Lucasfilm/Lucasfilm Ltd. – © 2019 and TM Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Speaking of the return of original ingredients, composer John Williams closes out an illustrious career, supplying a score which is simply terrific but c’mon, let’s be fair, you knew it would be – this is the legendary John Williams we’re talking about here and the maestro wasn’t going to sail off into retirement on a damp squib. THE RISE OF SKYWALKER features some of the classic cues from the original saga, as well as new melodies which come together to form something which will be confidently eyeing Academy silverware next year. Yes, you may find yourself sitting through all of the end credits just to hear Williams’ score play out. You won’t get this chance again.

The action scenes were terrific, the stuntwork is dynamic and the effects epic in scale – it’s a film built to thrill and all of this is supported by top-notch cinematography from Dan Mindel, a man responsible for a lot of action movies in his resume so he kind knows what he’s doing. Indeed, from script to production to final release (albeit minus a few promotional missteps and press tour faux pas), this film feels like the result of a well-oiled machine from start to finish, determined to win back the hearts and minds of a disillusioned fraction of the hardcore.

But let’s get to the heart of the matter and that is to whether Abrams has managed to stick the landing of successfully completing the Herculean task of making a film worthy of such high fan expectations while creating something new, compelling and enjoyable. It’s no small feat and something that you could say simply couldn’t be achieved – the need for long-time fans for this film to deliver hasn’t been this high since the release of George Lucas’ return to the saga in 1999 with THE PHANTOM MENACE.

What I can say is, I feel that Abrams almost tries to sidestep all of that weight of expectation by simply getting on with making its own mark with THE RISE OF SKYWALKER. Unlike THE LAST JEDI, it doesn’t try to fulfil any multiple layers of textual reading, avoiding bold meta-analysis of its own existence that Johnson bravely attempted. This movie bowls along from exciting set-piece to exciting set-piece with so many epic and bombastic moments to keep the screen crackling – and hey, a few laughs, spills and chills along the way – and I don’t want to get into spoilers so I’ll leave it at that. However, I will say though that this is a whip back to the previous film, with fan service honoured here: a few callbacks to the original trilogy, are scattered throughout, from specific scene settings to classic references (yes, “I have a bad feeling about this” is said in the movie), something which a certain hardcore section of the fanbase will love.

Photo by Lucasfilm/Lucasfilm Ltd. – © 2019 and TM Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

This may be seen in the cold light of day as something that gives THE RISE OF SKYWALKER a production quality sheen but, to be fair, this is a film coming from Spielberg-acolyte J.J. Abrams, a filmmaker who has never really been one to adhere to the classic film school mantra of ‘giving the audience not what they want but ultimately what they need’. He’s a crowd-pleaser, he is driven by the need to put what will get the most amount of whoops and hollers out of his multiplex audience and if that means ditching the introspection, so be it.

Look, end of the day, I thoroughly enjoyed all 142 minutes of this final chapter of a genre-defining saga, THE RISE OF SKYWALKER. It is a film that exists to complete the floorshow: the overall performance has razzled and dazzled, thrilled and enthralled – and yes, it may have stumbled and stalled in places along the way as to be expected over forty years – but here at the end, the routine comes to a close and STAR WARS stands confident and solid, if a little hot and sweaty around the edges. And that’s as stretched as a gymnastics analogy can ever get, even when applying it to a series of films about space wizards!

Final Thoughts: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER is a thrilling conclusion to an epic journey – J.J. has done what was required and, against all the odds, stuck the landing.

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