The Rise of Skywalker picks up some time after the events of The Last Jedi (the previous and somewhat controversial film directed by Rian Johnson of Knives Out), with both the heroic Resistance and the evil First Order in preparation for the coming final battle to determine the fate of the galaxy. While the film makes an active effort to keep our trio of main characters together and take advantage of their natural chemistry (Rey, Finn, and Poe portrayed respectively by actors Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Issac), the main thrust of the story continues to be the unsettling, yet enthralling, connection between Kylo Ren (the Darth Vader wannabe played by actor Adam Driver) and this trilogy’s Jedi hero with a mysterious background, Rey. As fans will be aware from the trailers for the film, the link between these characters and the road to their final conflict is upended with the reveal that the Emperor (once known as the Naboo Senator Sheev Palpatine and the Sith identity of Darth Sidious) has found a way back from his apparent death at the hands of his apprentice, Vader, in the final moments of 1983’s Return of the Jedi. Determined to regain control of the galaxy that slipped through his fingers, Palpatine will stop at nothing in order to see his “Final Order” reign supreme.
It could be expected that The Rise of Skywalker (much like The Last Jedi before it) will be a controversial and much-debated film going forward. Not only is the idea of ending the Skywalker saga (which is the heart and spine of the entire Star Wars franchise) in a satisfying way for all fans a nearly impossible task, but Abrams assertion that this final chapter would tie all nine episode films together adds even more difficulty to the process, given how often viewers have been torn themselves on the plot points and ultimate reception of previous films (in particular, the prequels, Return of the Jedi, and The Last Jedi). Admitting all that, The Rise of Skywalker does trip here and there in regards to the pace and exposition necessary to set up the final lap our heroes are taking in this galactic war, but it also delivers in amazing, unexpected ways: connecting the three trilogies; examining and speaking to the themes of family and legacy in the previous films, and perhaps even answering the longtime fan question of whose story these nine films specifically represent (Anakin? Palpatine? Babu Frik?). Admittedly, there are some ambiguous elements that some viewers may see as plot holes, where much is left not fully explained and for audience imaginations (or, more likely, expanded universe novels, comics, and more) to fill in. At the same time, the approach is not that different from The Last Jedi's and The Force Awakens’ coy revelations (or non-revelations) regarding the identity of super powerful Supreme Leader Snoke or why exactly Ben Solo became enamored or seduced by the Dark Side.
It’s a fair guess that many critics and viewers who fervently applauded The Last Jedi may feel somewhat let down by this film, feeling that it returns to the supposed “safe” tone of Abrams’ previous entry in the trilogy. While it can be debated how “safe” a film is when it kills off one beloved iconic character and waits to reveal another till the very last scene, it’s quite apparent that The Rise of Skywalker operates much less as a sequel to The Last Jedi and more like a summation, end cap, or "series finale" for all 9 previous films in the franchise. The plot elements and thematic payoffs are most powerful when taken in the context of the entire Skywalker saga and the previous stories of Anakin’s fall, Luke’s journey to redeem his father, and the fallout that led to Leia losing her son Ben to the Dark Side. That said, fans of the expanded Star Wars universe (from The Clone Wars to The Mandalorian) are not forgotten. While the core of The Rise of Skywalker is about the characters and stories told in those nine chapters, Abrams’ film is easily the most inclusive film when it comes to the expanded universe stories and the characters many fans have come to love; there was an obvious attempt (I sense the work of Dave Filoni…) to acknowledge and connect, on screen, the various threads of the Star Wars universe without it feeling forced (Nice pun!) or diverting from the main storyline.
For this reviewer (and longtime Star Wars fan), there was much to love about The Rise of Skywalker, but the ultimate achievement and success of the film resides in its exploration of Rey and Kylo Ren’s journey and the path that leads to each character’s individual conflict with Palpatine, a figure who’s been manipulating the Jedi and the Skywalkers for his own benefit since the beginning of the saga. While some will struggle with the answer, the final word on Rey’s lineage speaks to one of Star Wars’ most enduring themes, as do the final actions performed by Kylo Ren onscreen. After processing this story for a bit, it seems that, while many plot elements or characters could have been shifted or adjusted, the ending of this film is exactly where the Skywalker saga has been heading since the release and revelations of 2005’s Revenge of the Sith.
- We do see the mysterious Knights of Ren in this film, but don’t expect to learn much about them or their origins (including why Kylo seems to have a love/hate relationship with them throughout this film). If you’re looking for answers, may I suggest turning to Marvel Comics’ Star Wars: The Rise of Kylo Ren series, of which the first issue released today.
- A shout-out goes to Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief (and Star Wars fan) Barbra Dillon for her suggestion that Kylo’s line to Vader’s mask in The Force Awakens (“Show me, grandfather, and I will finish what you started.”) would come into play in this final chapter. It definitely does, but, without revealing too much, one must accompany it with one of Luke’s iconic lines from The Last Jedi (“This is not going to go the way you think.”).
Final Verdict: While not a perfect film, The Rise of Skywalker is an appropriate and moving end to a story many of us have been following for most of our lives. I’m confident that Star Wars fans will find much to speculate and analyze over the next few months, especially in the context of the previous films in the saga.
May the Force be with you… always.