Director: JJ Abrams
141 Minutes | 12A
Starring: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domnhall Gleason, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid, Billy Dee Williams
The Resistance continues to build after the events of The Last Jedi. General Leia Organa rallies the troops when an evil force from the past re-emerges and a quest begins that takes our heroes from one side of the galaxy to another. Can Rey and the Resistance beat Kylo Ren and The First Order, as well as contending with Emperor Palpatine?
Star Wars Episode IX had a huge mountain to climb after The Last Jedi was released in 2017. Rian Johnson’s entry in the Skywalker Saga has proven to be controversial, both in terms of some of the story choices and the reaction it provoked amongst Star Wars fans. Plus, there was the tragic death of Carrie Fisher in 2016. The fallout from Episode VIII still continues to rumble on social media, even today. Can this last instalment in the saga continue the story successfully, bring the sequel trilogy to a close and tie up the 9-film story arc of the Skywalker family?
The answer is, ‘sort of’. The movie starts at a frenetic pace and pretty much does not pause for many breaths in its 2 hour 21 minute running time, packing in plenty of action, humour, revelations, emotional beats and more than enough nods to the previous eight episodes to keep fans of the saga happy picking out those Easter eggs on future rewatches.
After an opening scene which puts the viewer on edge and brings up more questions, Rey (Daisy Ridley), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) are sent on an adventure that takes them across multiple planets and locations on an Indiana Jones type quest, basically a hunt for a McGuffin, all the while having to deal with the ever present threat of Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the Empire wannabes, The First Order.
Despite the first third of the movie being a rather large exposition dump with characters being told to ‘go here, to get that thing, then you need to go there to get this thing’ the movie does zip along at great pace with some fabulous action set pieces, which are packed with flair, humour and suspense. Once the dense plot has been established, things slow down slightly which allows room for our characters to breathe, though the film is trying to fit in so much it isn’t always entirely successful in giving everyone enough screen time.
Some would argue that that isn’t entirely necessary, as the beating heart at the centre of the film is Rey, Poe and Finn, who have superb support from character favourites Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels). This episode could well be Threepio’s best. Goldenrod gets a lot to do here and he has a great share of funny dialogue and really contributes to the story, which makes a great change.
The film really comes to life whenever Rey and Kylo Ren are brought together, either in reality or through their Force bond. The relationship that took on such new dimension in The Last Jedi continues to great effect here. Rey is continuing with her Jedi training, while still figuring out who she really is, while Kylo Ren is also dealing with his own problems, including ruling the First Order and dealing with the sneering General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson) and Richard E. Grants newcomer, General Pryde (who is excellent and clearly having the time of his life being in Star Wars).
Unfortunately, other new characters such as Zorrii Bliss (Keri Russell) and Jannah (Naomi Ackie) don’t get a lot to do and barely fit into the overpacked plot. Seeing the return of Lando Calrissian was always going to be fabulous, but the old smoothy’s lack of screen time is a real shame, and speaking of old characters returning…
It’s no secret that Ian McDiarmid would be returning as Emperor Palpatine, but this review will not divulge how and why he’s back. In fact, this part of the plot is one that doesn’t quite hit the mark and at times feels simply weird. Using unused footage shot for The Force Awakens, Carrie Fisher’s General Leia has a presence in the story and the footage is woven into episode IX very effectively for the most part.
Although the film is densely packed, (sometimes to its detriment) it is still fantastic fun to hang out with these characters. The performances are brilliant, especially from Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver. The film may not tie up all the loose story threads and there are moments that are meant to be crowd pleasing that do fall flat. Also, some of the story beats from The Last Jedi are simply ignored, but it does pack some fantastic emotional punches along the way. The ending simply filled me with a real sense of joy. My eyes did sweat a few times.
The Rise of Skywalker is not a complete success but considering the task it had and the film it had to follow, it really is a worthy ending to the sequel trilogy and the Skywalker Saga.