Showing before this screening of the final Star Wars film is a `prologue` from the forthcoming Christopher Nolan movie Tenet. At nearly 10 minutes it certainly had some of the audience I was with confused the cinema might be showing the wrong film and despite such a lengthy look the content left us only vague clues as to what it might be about. Yet it was challenging and intriguing, qualities we look for in vain when it comes to the Star Wars universe which prefers to deal in certainties. Expectations around The Rise of Skywalker are far too heavy for it to possibly support. Can it wrap up a sprawling forty plus year saga that has spun many stories across different media? Can it satisfy Star Wars aficionados whose reaction to some actual character development (gasp!) in The Last Jedi suggested resistance to any change? Well, considering the 1977 original was never intended to be more than a one off space adventure you could say they’ve been winging it for decades. This latest instalment is certainly more traditional than the last one which for me makes it not quite as satisfying but which I suspect fans will prefer. It is definitely worth seeing on the largest screen possible – there are moments when it feels it won’t even all fit on a massive IMAX screen- and as a thrilling cinema experience is hard to beat. Anyone looking for something deeper or more meaningful however may feel short changed.
Mega spoilers past this point!
As you’d expect the story remains set at galloping speed throughout whisking us through multiple action sequences in varied locations. At one point we jump quickly from one place to another just so the filmmakers can show us how many different planets they can do. There’s definitely thrills and spills to be had in these engagements even if many of them seem familiar. It doesn’t take long for spaceships to be zooming through narrow spaces spinning and twisting to avoid each other’s fire. You don’t have to wait very long either for the lightsabres to come out with that familiar sound as they are powered up. There are fleets of spaceships and threats that grow with size and menace at every turn. The Force is as strong or weak as the plot demands it to be with little consistency. It’s a shame that one of the best bits in which Rey somersaults backwards over an approaching craft was in the trailer but it highlights how this film lacks a real signature moment. Sometimes it feels like they can pile on as many bells and whistles as they want but the more they do the less impact it has.
There are multiple layers to the antagonists so you have General Hux and a hitherto unseen character played by Richard E Grant cluttering up the chain of command while it turns out that even Kylo Ren is working for someone else! This trend is evident amongst the rebels as well- having established Kelly Marie Tan’s Rose in the story she is forced to share screen time with another new character played by Dominic Monaghan. The stories of Po and Finn are thus reduced in value and become more comedic with dashes of heroism. Despite some reveals about Po’s past I don’t feel we know them any more than we did before this film and they never even bother to resolve the fact that both of them clearly fancy Rey and she seems unaware of it.
It’s all too full but there are two characters who do have room to breathe. There are more long range chats between the seemingly tethered Ray and Ren who partake in two of the film’s best action moments. In one they battle in their separate locations the background swapping back and forth with each shot, in another they slice away at each other atop the remains of the Death Star (yes it’s back too!) surrounded by a dramatically stormy, swelling ocean. These scenes work so well because alongside the visual impact there is something invested in the duo around whom the film is centred. Thanks to the work done in the previous films and committed performances from both Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver you feel like something personal- even real- is at stake. They treat all this like it’s the most significant work of art ever and its all the better for it. The attempt by Ren to force Rey to turn to the Dark Side – along with both of their parental baggage- is a story that would be fascinating enough to hold the movie on its own.
It’s a shame that the return of Palpatine was given away beforehand as it would be a real surprise albeit an unlikely development. That he has been hiding away somehow building a gigantic fleet of ships (didn’t anyone notice enormous orders for metal from this planet?) all this time yet relying on two emotionally unstable people to fulfil his ultimate plan has to be one of the franchise’s dafter stories. Not to mention the fact that when this armada is launched it just sits there and does nothing. What it does gift us though is a sterling, villainous performance from Ian McDiarmid which is to be enjoyed for all its cod Shakespearian melodrama.
There are plenty of return appearances to gladden the hearts of fans – even the Ewoks put in a cameo – but sadly the one that doesn’t quite fit is that of Carrie Fisher. Obviously Leia was still an active character in the story when the actor passed away but the decision to incorporate unused footage from scenes that were clearly not previously deemed worthy of inclusion means she is pitching at a different level to everyone else. It draws attention to the trick more than it should.
The film is a bit too long, repetitive and reliant on McGuffins yet rallies to produce a triumphant final confrontation that works on both dramatic and action levels and is certainly an epic finale. Just don’t try and reconcile all the revelations with established Star Wars history as there is some retconning going on here. I do think these sequels are far superior to the prequels and certainly worth seeing but I can’t help thinking that the original film and its simple pleasures have never been bettered.