Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, 2019
Directed by 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, Dominic Monaghan, Greg Grunberg, Jimmy Vee, and Billy Dee Williams.
The surviving Resistance faces the First Order once more in the final chapter of the Skywalker Saga.
The final chapter of the Star Wars Skywalker Saga has hit blu-ray shelves for fans to own and complete their collection. Returning director J.J. Abrams delivers a satisfying enough conclusion to the Sequel Trilogy, though it is not without some glaring flaws in its narrative structure that really rushes through the story. The strength of the cast as well as a few exciting action sequences help save Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, but you can’t help feeling there could have been more. The bonus features on the blu-ray give intriguing insights into the film’s production and all the work Abrams and his crew put into it, though it may not be enough to sway some opinions.
In Rise of Skywalker, Rey, Finn and Poe lead the Resistance as the thought-to-be-deceased Emperor Palpatine somehow returns from the grave and works with Kylo Ren on destroying the Resistance and Jedi in order to control the galaxy. The trio have to find and stop Palpatine before the galaxy succumbs to his rule while Rey and Kylo’s rivalry deepens amid long-kept secrets.
The thing that makes Rise of Skywalker succeed the most is the strength of the cast. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac shine together as the franchise’s new trio and provide some of their best work in the Sequel Trilogy together. Their chemistry makes the character’s relationships with each other feel like there is an earned trust between them. The banter they have is nicely acted out, particularly scenes where Ridley and Isaac argue over what to do next. Adam Driver continues to be a scene stealer as Kylo Ren and proves once again he is among the best cast in the new trilogy. Though his performance may not be as nuanced and complex as The Last Jedi, Driver still makes you question where Kylo’s journey is headed and explores some of the complicated feelings he has about himself, Rey and his family.
It would be difficult not to mention the late and great Carrie Fisher, whose absence necessitated the use of previous unused footage from Abrams’ The Force Awakens and other material to allow Princess Leia a proper send-off. Fisher’s appearance is handled pretty well given what they had to work with and done respectfully, giving Leia the proper gravitas her role in the franchise deserves. Billy Dee Williams’ return as Lando is worth celebrating, though his role isn’t quite large and probably could have been utilized a bit more while Mark Hamill gives a nice, if overly brief, performance as Luke that caps off his character’s arc in this trilogy. Anthony Daniels’ C-3P0 provides a couple emotional moments that are unfortunately later undercut, though Joonas Suotamo gives Chewbacca some good moments including a very heartbreaking reaction. And of course Ian McDiarmid slips back into Palpatine’s shoes with ease, oozing that classic villainy so well.
Despite the strength of most of the cast, The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t hold up as well due to its story. The first 45 – 60 minutes are a complete rush as Abrams and screenwriter Chris Terrio quickly move from one scene to the next without giving much breathing room for character moments or plot developments to fully sink in. For instance, rather than building to Palpatine’s return he’s introduced almost right away and reveals some secrets that completely changes the beginning of the Sequel Trilogy, but then it’s pretty much not mentioned afterward for the rest of the film. Abrams’ other retcons, whether its the backstories of Rey, Poe or even Palpatine, feel a bit shoehorned in and don’t quite add up in the larger context of the Saga, leaving it to supplemental material like the novelization or the art book to fill in gaps in the story.
Another aspect that hurts the film is, despite being the concluding chapter to not just this trilogy but the Saga as a whole, Rise of Skywalker introduces a bunch of new characters whose roles feel like they could have been taken by existing characters and not miss a beat. Richard E. Grant’s First Order general or Dominic Monaghan’s Resistance scientist or historian take time away from the roles of Domnhall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong’o, Billie Lourd and especially Kelly Marie Tran. The only two newcomers who add anything to the film are Keri Russell’s bounty hunter Zori Bliss and Naomi Ackie’s Jannah, another Stormtrooper who rebelled. The two of them bring something new to the film and provide Poe and Finn a new perspective. Though Ackie’s role isn’t quite large, she utilizes every scene she’s in quite well to build a nice rapport with Boyega and an empathetic arc for her. It doesn’t stop the story from feeling so bloated with new characters that the existing ones, ones Abrams himself introduced in The Force Awakens, get sidelined pretty badly – including the infamous Knights of Ren who become the new Captain Phasma in how they don’t really do anything in the whole film.
While elements of the story don’t hold up, Rise of Skywalker is at least pretty entertaining with its action sequences. Abrams gets fairly creative with some of the new settings to give fans, both new and longtime ones, something fresh to view. Lightsaber fights are nothing new in Star Wars, but Rey and Kylo’s fight as their minds are bridged with the pair seamlessly changing their locations to the other’s perspective is one of the most visually innovative fights of the Saga, though their fight among the Death Star ruins with gigantic waves crashing down around them is probably the highlight. Other sequences like the desert speeder chase are pretty entertaining as well, though the climax feels a little too similar to Return of the Jedi with the choice Palpatine forces on Rey. Even then though, Abrams delivers something different with a ground invasion on an airborne Star Destroyer – a ground invasion led by a cavalry of space horses no less.
The special features included are:
The Skywalker Legacy – A two-hour documentary on the making of the film. It’s obviously a very lengthy and in-depth documentary that is both intriguing and heartfelt to view. There’s a lot of cool stuff that is examined in the doc, like the choreography of the lightsaber fights, the development of the Resistance bases or Abrams discussing the characters journeys. It’s emotional not just for the look into the ‘final’ Skywalker film, but for points like Billy Dee Williams’ return to the franchise as well as how they utilized Carrie Fisher’s old and unused footage to complete Leia’s story after her untimely passing.
Pasaana Pursuit: Creating The Speeder Chase (14 min) – Looking at how the desert speeder chase was developed, including the construction of Rey, Poe and Finn’s speeders and the First Order’s rocket-boosting speeders. The production crew delve into the technical aspects in some really cool behind the scenes looks of this sequence. An interesting aspect was how they shot on location in the desert of Jordan yet also brought giant green screens to the location so they wouldn’t completely sacrifice the setting and sunny weather that was offered.
Aliens in the Desert (6 min) – A short look at the creation of Pasaana and why Abrams and his team chose to shoot in Jordan. It mostly shows how they built their film base camp and worked with Jordanian services in filming throughout the desert. Unfortunately though, the title is a bit misleading as you don’t really see how they designed the many aliens seen in the Pasaana celebration or its shanty town. It’s still a good feature that highlights the behind the scenes work of the crew, but would have benefitted more by also showcasing the creation of the many aliens.
D-0: Key to the Past (6 min) – A sizeable portion of the film revolves around the discovery of the ship from glimpsed in Rey’s childhood. This feature explores the creation of the latest Star Wars ship and how the team wanted to make it feel unlike any other ship in Star Wars, but more importantly it also looks at the introduction of the franchise’s new droid character D-0. It’s a nice, if brief, look at how they designed D-0 and made his personality a stark contrast to droids like BB-8 or R2-D2.
Warwick & Son (6 min) – Warwick Davis returned to the role of Wicket the Ewok for a brief cameo at the end of the film alongside his real-life son Harrison. It shows the development of the Ewok costumes, which is a pretty neat look, and it’s clear how much it means to Davis to be reprising Wicket even for a quick cameo with his son. It also includes some good behind-the-scenes footage of Warwick as a child on the set of Return of the Jedi as well as his other roles in the franchise, which include appearances in The Phantom Menace, The Last Jedi, Rogue One and Solo. His role in this film may boil down to a nostalgic nod to fans, but the feature is still a nice and heartfelt tribute to Davis’ contributions.
Cast of Creatures (8 min) – This provides a more in-depth look into the many aliens and creatures seen throughout the film and how they were developed. Of particular note is the development of the Orbaks, the aforementioned space horses, as well as the reveal that for this film Lupita Nyong’o’s Maz Kanata wasn’t motion captured as the previous two, but actually an animatronic that was built. With the exception of some close-up shots to express more emotion, Maz was entirely animatronic which was a surprise to learn (and may explain why she is seen so little in the film).
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has a lot of potential that you can feel, but it just doesn’t meet it very well. The core cast all do well together, but the newer characters take too much time away from the already existing ones while the story doesn’t flow nearly as well as it should as Abrams rushes from one scene to the next. The special features are insightful and give a good look at the film’s production, though they probably won’t sway anyone who did or did not enjoy the film from their initial viewings.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★
Ricky Church – Follow me on Twitter for more movie news and nerd talk.