Star Wars has built an entire legacy around action and adventure, hope and unity, and the underdog overcoming great odds. For over 40 years, fans have emotionally invested themselves in seeing the outcome of the nine-film arc of The Skywalker Saga, which some consider being one of the greatest cinematic stories to ever be told. And now, J.J. Abrams brings the iconic film franchise to an epic conclusion with Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, which isn’t a perfect finale but one whose massive size and scope match the emotion and excitement.
While The Rise Of Skywalker is meant to be the final chapter of a 40-plus year story, it can be both satisfying and disappointing, oftentimes teetering on a knife’s edge. There are times where it can feel conflicted at times as it wants to be something that can live up to the high expectations of being the final chapter of a trilogy and something that completes the larger 40-year-old nine-film arc. Though is no shortage of excitement and joy along with action and adventure that is expressed through a lot of the action sequences whether that’s in the dog fights between the Resistance and First Order or the lightsaber duels between Rey and Kylo Ren, the film can feel hollow, at times, because of the convoluted storytelling and the fan service that does a lot more to hinder the completion of this trilogy and the nine-film arc than it does to elevate it. And none of it truly feels earned.
A mysterious broadcast from Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who many thought to be dead since the end of Return of the Jedi, is heard throughout the galaxy. Because Palpatine represents a threat to his power, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) to fly through celestial phenomenons, like gravity wells and solar storms, to kill him. However, before Kylo Ren can strike, Palpatine promises that he would strengthen the First Order’s military might, with a giant fleet of Star Destroyers, on the condition that he kills Rey (Daisy Ridley). Meanwhile, Rey, who is on the verge of finishing her Jedi training, goes on a mission with Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), to retrieve a Sith effigy that would reveal where Palpatine is hiding and stop him.
The Rise Of Skywalker spends the bulk of its first act on plotting and providing exposition to something that should be fairly simple and straightforward. All of this does nothing to give any of our characters any development or closure. As a result, it takes away from the excitement of the adventure that they go on and makes everything that they do look like they are just haphardzaly skipping from one planet to the next. And the shoehorned fan service doesn’t help as it only sidelines new characters, like Zorri Bliss (Keri Russell) and Jannah (Naomi Ackie), or reduces others like Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran).
In a way, the fan service is a lot like a double-edged sword, as cameos and story bits are meant to make fans who have been through this happy, but it can also take away from some of the moments that are meant to act as a surprise or twist. I can’t go into detail about these moments without spoiling them, but there will be some fans who are going to be frustrated by some of the narrative choices that are made by Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio. This is especially true when the film goes about retroactively rewriting some of what Rian Johnson has established in the highly controversial The Last Jedi.
Though some of the fan-service in The Rise Of Skywalker can be of benefit to the larger Star Wars lore. Key characters from the previous films return to provide some exposition for our characters, help finally tie up loose ends, and answer some of those questions that have gone unanswered for too long. But it doesn’t do anything to challenge our characters in a way that they have been challenged in films like The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi.
While it may lack the same exciting energy in the narrative that The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi had, The Rise Of Skywalker stays committed to telling stories that contain themes seen in every Star Wars film. The themes of hope still being alive even when all hope is lost, how the underdog should never be underestimated, redemption for lost characters, and how we are all stronger when we are united. These are all things that have constantly resonated within the nine films, and even the two spinoffs.
It is especially meaningful to see those themes flow through the characters of this final trilogy during a time where female empowerment and inclusivity is at its highest. Once again, the film has a very diverse cast which is reflective of the times that we live in today. Each of these characters of different genders, ethnicities, and sexual identification all have a large role to play and goes to show that war affects everyone, not just certain people.
Rey, Poe, and Finn continue to be a fascinating trio that took too long to get together. Rey has a warmth, quiet strength, and vulnerability that allows the audience to connect with her, while Poe and Finn continue to be the hilarious buddying duo who deserve just as much space adventures and hijinks as Han and Chewie. Meanwhile, Kylo Ren is a living representation of an internal struggle as he tries to be the Supreme Leader of the evil First Order but also be someone who carries the namesake of the enemy.
And the action is as impressive, if not more, as any of the other Star Wars films. Of course, since this is the final one, it has to be bigger and better. That shows in the lightsaber duels between Rey and Kylo Ren. Watching the two cross lightsabers on the wreckage of a fallen Death Star as waves are crashing against it is a thrill. The same can be said for the climactic dog fight between the Resistance’s small fighters and the First Order’s superpowered Star Destroyer fleet.
Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker may have all the action sequences and surprising fan service that would excite any Star Wars fan, but its convoluted story and need to cram nods and references is a great hindrance to what is supposed to be an epic conclusion to 40-plus years worth of storytelling. Still, there are parts of the film that are a thrill to watch from the conclusion to Rey’s story and some of the bigger action sequences. And it is enjoyable as a whole if you are willing to endure some of the messy script work. Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself conflicted about how you feel about it by the end of it all.