Review: The Rise of Skywalker plays it safe and sticks to fan service


J.J. Abrams guides the final installment of The Skywalker Saga to a safe and fan-oriented ending with The Rise of Skywalker.

More than 40 years after Star Wars changed the landscape of cinema forever, the final chapter of The Skywalker Saga has finally been delivered with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Though the new trilogy features many of the well-loved characters from the original films, it has still had its share of troubles, including the hotly debated fan reception of Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII, The Last Jedi. However, The Rise of Skywalker sees Episode VII director J.J. Abrams back in control of the franchise, and what he delivers is a conclusion chock full of callbacks, references, and meticulously engineered “wow” moments that culminate in a final product that sadly feels just too safe.

Picking up after the events of the ever-so-controversial The Last JediThe Rise of Skywalker sees our heroes Rey, Finn, and Poe reunited at last as they race against time (and the looming threat of Kylo Ren) to stop the First Order and bring peace to the galaxy. Although that premise sounds about par for the course when it comes to Star Wars films, The Rise of Skywalker’s plot is anything but.

Though it’s difficult to describe the certain kind of contravity that plagues The Rise of Skywalker without giving away major (and we mean major) spoilers, The Rise of Skywalker is at once over-written and frustratingly lacking in tension. Although the film’s opening crawl immediately presents audiences with a villain of monumental consequence, the film never pauses to let the implications of such a character truly sink in.

Instead, The Rise of Skywalker is more interested in jamming in as much action as possible (a problem that also plagued another franchise finale, Avengers: Endgame). However, where Endgame took the time to step back from its complicated plot mechanics to check in on its characters and develop an emotional core, The Rise of Skywalker feels completely devoid of any true emotional consequence.

Sure, the pathos is there on paper, but much of it is told instead of shown. The audience is told exactly how to feel about each predicament, instead of being able to come to the conclusion for themselves. This dilemma is also a result of the aforementioned convolution of the plot. Instead of taking the time to give the heroes (and the audience) a chance ot catch their breath, the film merely leaps from once action set piece to the next, sprinkling in callbacks and cameos where the emotional substance should be.

Even further hurting the film is its frusturatingly stiff dialogue. Although the humor is surprisingly on point (one of the film’s highlights), the scenes with the biggest revelations and character moments (i.e. where dialogue matters the most) feel rigid and devoid of any natural flow. As a result, the cast has very little to fall back on, leading to a grab bag in terms of the quality of each actor’s performance.

Daisy Ridley is adequate as Rey, a character who is so tangled up in the logistics of her own identity that we never learn who she truly is as a person. Had Rey been given more substantial development over the course of the trilogy, Ridley’s performance may have had some weight here, but instead, the shallowness of the character is reflected in her onscreen appearances.

Thankfully, however, Adam Driver is stellar as ever in the role of Kylo Ren/Ben Solo. His commitment to the script and willingness to push himself is very apparent — he steals the spotlight in virtually every scene he’s in. At times, one wonders if Kylo Ren was supposed to be the protagonist of the trilogy. It certainly feels like it, given how he is the only character introduced in this trilogy to be fully developed.

One character who did not receive such development, sadly, is John Boyega’s Finn. Although he seemed primed to be the face of the trilogy, the second that he popped into frame in the opening shots of The Force Awakens‘s trailer, Finn is undoubtedly the biggest missed opportunity of the franchise. Like the films that came before it, The Rise of Skywalker elects not to truly delve into the ramifications of being an ex-Stromtrooper — although his past is touched on briefly in a small scene with a new character, teasing a plot that could have given the film a much more genuine emotional core should it have been expanded.

Rounding out the cast is Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), whose character seems to have gotten lost in translation between The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker. Bizarrely, Dameron is relegated to comedic relief for the majority of The Rise of Skywalker, before being suddenly thrust into a position of power when he’s needed in the film’s climax. Although Oscar Isaac sells his lines with gusto and provides many of the film’s funniest moments, the character can’t help but feel like a half-baked Han Solo.

Just as Abrams asked major questions in The Force Awakens, he answers them in The Rise of Skywalker. However, the resolution of such burning questions tends to feel like the filmmaker’s idea of what the fans would most want to see, as opposed to what would best serve the narrative and emotional arcs the film is trying to tell.

The ending is satisfactory in that it provides closure, but as previously mentioned, nothing truly feels earned. The same goes for the film’s cameos; although Billy Dee Williams is delightful as Lando Calrissian, his presence in the film is utterly pointless and exists only for applause from moviegoers when he first appears onscreen.

Sadly, The Rise of Skywalker‘s ending consists entirely of such substance (or lack thereof). It’s the kind of perfect, glossy Star Wars finale engineered to be enjoyed, but there is so little emotional value or purpose to the story as a whole that the conclusion just feels like a shallow imitation of the groundbreaking franchise so many hold dear.

dark. Next. Why are fans still hating on The Last Jedi?

Have you seen The Rise of Skywalker? What did you think of the ending? Sound off in the comments below.