Cast: Daisy Ridley (Rey), Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), John Boyega (Finn), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), Carrie Fisher (General Leia Organa), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Naomi Ackie (Jannah), Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux), Richard E. Grant (Allegiant General Pryde), Lupita Nyong’o (Maz Kanata), Keri Russell (Zorii Bliss), Joonas Suotamo (Chewbacca), Kelly Marie Tran (Rose Tico), Ian McDiarmid (Darth Sidious / Palpatine), Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian)
Director: J.J. Abrams
Writer (based on characters created by): George Lucas
Writer (story by): Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow, Chris Terrio, J.J. Abrams
Cinematographer: Dan Mindel
Editor: Maryann Brandon, Stefan Grube
Composer: John Williams
Genre: Action, Adventure, Science Fiction, Fantasy
Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action.
Run Time: 141 minutes
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker ends the most recent trilogy in the franchise with a bang, but little else. Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmind) is alive and has been plotting his return to power all along from the Sith planet, Exogul. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) uses a Sith Wayfinder to find Palpatine, who promises Kylo galactic dominance if he finds Rey (Daisy Ridley), but Kylo has his own motivations. Rey and her fellow resistance fighters, including General Leia (Carrie Fisher), Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), are fighting a losing battle against the dictatorial First Order. When the Resistance learns that Palpatine’s fleet of planet-killing star destroyers poses an even larger threat, they know they must act fast or risk immediate defeat. Rey and her companions set off to locate and confront Palpatine once and for all.
Rise of Skywalker is a great-looking and -sounding movie. Director J.J. Abrams knows how to show off eye-popping, aesthetically interesting scenes. Red and green lasers zip across the screen, lightsabers glow, hum, and crash, lightning flashes across the sky as massive space ships get ripped in half. There are some dazzling set-pieces, like a lightsaber duel on the water-soaked wreckage of a death star or a vibrant alien festival that leads into a speeder chase across the desert.
While Rise of Skywalker is unmistakably true to the Star Wars brand of spectacle, it suffers from a convoluted narrative and clunky editing. The first act of the film rushes along at a breakneck pace. Exposition becomes action becomes a new character’s introduction, over and over with no time to breathe. The film wants to distract its audience from thinking too long — How is Palpatine alive? How did he assemble his fleet? Palpatine cloned Snoke? Star Destroyers can blow up planets? There are McGuffins and plot conveniences galore: a dagger that serves as a map, a coin that grants access to enemy ships, a bait and switch involving a main character’s supposed death. Fans versed in Star Wars lore will be able to follow along better than others, but it seems that even the first three words of the film — “The dead speak!” — is a reference to an event that only Fortnite players will understand.
The narrative problems in Rise of Skywalker stem from its need to satisfy a fanbase divided over Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, while tying up the Skywalker trilogy with the previous two trilogies. The task was arguably too tall. As a result, Rose Tico, played by Kelly Marie Tran, who stepped away from social media after receiving a barrage of racist and sexist threats for portraying her character in The Last Jedi, is pushed far into the background of Rise of Skywalker. Finn and Poe’s bromance is contained, as Poe gets a love interest in Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell) and Finn never gets to tell Rey what he tries to tell her on two separate occasions (that he loves her? That he is force sensitive? The film tries to have it both ways). Instead, two female resistance fighters share a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kiss that will likely be cut out of some international screenings. Rey and Kylo have a moment that will make many fans cheer (#reylo). Chewbacca has his fan service moment. Leia does as well.
Rise of Skywalker‘s flaws may suggest that the future of Star Wars resides not in blockbuster movies but in television and video games, two mediums that allow for more differently paced Star Wars stories unbound from the narrative foundation of the main film trilogies. The strong writing in television shows like the The Mandalorian and single-player video games like the Knights of the Old Republic series, which are set long before the Skywalker timeline, or Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order hint at what Rise of Skywalker could have been if it had not been held back by everything that came before it. As it stands, Rise of Skywalker is an entertaining popcorn flick that tries to do too many things at once. Viewers who can turn their brain off will have fun, but even those who can’t will enjoy laughing incredulously at or chatting with friends about some of the film’s nonsensical creative decisions.