Film Review: Rise of Skywalker Gives the Star Wars Saga a Satisfying Send-off


Between the grand opening of Galaxys Edge at the Disney theme parks and the debut of The Mandalorian on Disney+, 2019 was already the most momentous year in the history of George Lucas’ sci-fi franchise. But the release of Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker in cinemas this week tops them all, bringing the saga that defined a generation to a satisfying, if somewhat safe, conclusion.

Star Wars Rise of Skywalker poster
The saga comes to a safe but satisfying close in our spoiler-free review of
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.

For those of you who have been living under a Bantha-sized boulder since 1977, The Rise of Skywalker concludes the trilogy of trilogies tracing the battles between heroic Rey (Daisy Ridley) and her rebellious Resistance fighters, against the fascist First Order, led by the conflicted Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). It’s impossible to describe much of the MacGuffin-heavy story without delving into forbidden spoilers territory, so suffice it to say that a familiar foe from the previous films has been resurrected, promising an ultimate solution to the galaxy’s strife. With her buddies Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) plus a gaggle of droids in tow, Rey planet-hops across star systems in pursuit of her dark counterpart, attempting to lure him back to the light while simultaneously seeking to uncover her own shrouded origins.

While the plots of the original and prequel trilogies were largely the product of one man’s imagination, the sequels were essentially a relay race between J.J. Abrams, the director/co-writer of this film and 2015’s The Force Awakens, and Rian Johnson, who helmed 2017’s The Last Jedi. While the former was cinematic comfort-food that focused on reviving the tone and spirit of Lucas’ original movies, its follow-up dared to take the series’ established tropes in bold new directions—and frustrated some fans by dismissing cherished conventions. Although the most visually striking and thematically challenging in the series, Episode VIII failed to feel like what the Star Wars faithful expected.

With Episode IX, Abrams attempts to retcon the more controversial elements of the prior movie and weave together a narrative that reaches back to the very first episode in an attempt to reconcile the contradictions into dramatic plot twists. Certain moments feel like shockingly direct repudiations of (or at least half-jovial jabs at) what Rian wrought, and the result is certain to rile up hardcore partisans on both sides of online arguments without vindicating either. But for the majority of us viewers in the middle who just want to experience an appropriately epic ending to the tale that defined our childhoods, there really isn’t any other logical way for the Skywalker saga to conclude.

The film’s iconic opening crawl begins with the words The dead speak, and that’s certainly true of the script Abrams co-wrote with Chris Terrio, which brings back a parade of long-lost characters from the previous eight installments to have their final say. Most crucially (and slightly creepily), unused outtakes of the late Carrie Fisher have been digitally recycled to finish the story of Leia, the last of the original leading characters still alive after the earlier deaths of Han (Harrison Ford) and Luke (Mark Hamill). Despite the beloved actress’s passing, Leia still plays a key supporting role, and it’s gratifying to see the princess-turned-general finally get her full due. However, while her inclusion isn’t anywhere near as disturbing as Nancy Marchand’s posthumous appearance on The Sopranos, Fisher’s dialogue feels only vaguely connected to the scenes she’s in, somewhat dulling her final on-screen appearance’s potential emotional impact.

Unlike A New Hope, whose pacing is leisurely by modern standards, Rise of Skywalker kicks off with a viscerally stunning sequence that seems straight out of a PG-13 horror movie, and rarely drops out of hyperspace long enough to explain the next step in its somewhat convoluted plot. The action sequences are basically a best-of mashup of the series’ greatest hits, from blasting TIE Fighters in the Millennium Falcon and fleeing from Stormtroopers aboard a desert skiff, to the finale’s jaw-dropping spaceship showdown, which makes Return of the Jedi’s climactic battle look like a couple kids bashing Kenner toys together in the backyard. None of these set pieces are entirely novel, but Lucas always intended the Star Wars films to “rhyme and echo each other; the important thing is that they all look and sound bigger and better than they ever have before.

Beyond all the blaster-fire, what really makes Rise of Skywalker so satisfying is the moments of human interaction among the explosions. Rey, Finn, and Poe finally get the opportunity to band together on an adventure, and they banter with each other like the heroes of the original film. Rey and Ren’s struggles for redemption also prove dramatically compelling; while I’m not necessarily on-board for every turn their relationship takes, Ridley and Driver’s passionate performances make their mythic characters recognizable as relatably flawed people.

Ironically, it’s the non-human characters who ultimately grabbed my heart the most. As the only character to appear in every episode, C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) gets his long-deserved moment in the spotlight, both as comic relief and as something nobler. And Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) deserves a Best Supporting Wookie award for bringing me to tears of both sorrow and joy on more than one occasion.

In the end, the Star Wars saga ends exactly the way we always knew it would: right back where it all began, with a sense of hope and wonder for what adventures might lie ahead. The story of Skywalker is over, and while no ending could possibly make every fan happy, at least they can’t complain that this one lacks catharsis or closure. And just remember, as long as Disney owns the brand, the Force will be with us…always.

Rise of Skywalker References in Disney Parks

Once you’ve seen the final Star Wars film, what are you going to do next? Go to a Disney park, of course! With Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge set shortly before the events of Episode IX, you’d be wise to expect some tie-ins between the two. Nobody mentions Batuu or Black Spire Outpost in the new movie, but you will want to keep your eye out for some nods to Rise of Skywalker while visiting Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios:

  • Starting on December 20th, the planet Kef Bir featured in Episode IX will be added as a destination on the Star Tours ride.
  • The Sith wayfinder used in the film is extremely similar to the holocrons sold at Dok Ondar’s store in Galaxy’s Edge.
  • The extra seats that Hondo installs in the Millennium Falcon for passengers on the Smugglers Run ride may be briefly spotted outside the ship after it returns to the rebel base.
  • The interior of the Star Destroyer seen in the film resembles scenes in the Rise of the Resistance ride, and Nien Nunb (your pilot in the ride) makes a cameo in the movie.

To learn more about Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, check out our post called A Guide to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. For all there is to see and do at Walt Disney World, check out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.

And in a galaxy not so far away, the ride will launch on January 17, 2020, at Disneyland. If you are visiting Batuu’s sister planet, you might want to get The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland.

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