October 30th, 2012 is a date that will forever be engraved in my mind. Not just because it's the day that Disney acquired Lucasfilm (and by proxy Star Wars), sending shockwaves throughout the industry and the fandom, but I also track it as the genesis of where my life would go over the coming decade.
I've gone into this in a Meet The Reporter article and a recent Twitter thread among other places, but my love of Star Wars has lasted since I was a kid, and this announcement was the catalyst for me discovering my love of film, turning to writing to express that love, and eventually choosing ASU's Walter Cronkite School to continue my passions for writing and storytelling. It still amazes me that I am where I am because a 10-year-old me saw the 'Revenge of the Sith' trailer with no context and thought "this...this will be my life from now on."
Now, we're seven years in the future, and at a time that seems disturbingly removed from that epicenter, Star Wars hasn't gone anywhere. The new regime under producer Kathleen Kennedy has seen a plethora of new content, including critically acclaimed television shows, books and comics offering a fresh start to stories canon within the overarching story (and angering sections of the fan base in the process), and, most importantly, a slew of new feature-length films.
Through all of it, I seem to be one of the more overly-optimistic fans still standing. I've had my issues with how the behind-the-scenes processes at Lucasfilm have been run over the years, but I'm also one of the rare people you'll find who holds 2015's 'The Force Awakens,' 2016's 'Rogue One,' and 2017's 'The Last Jedi' up as terrific films that told compelling and, if you can believe it, entertaining stories furthering the world and mythology that I've loved since childhood (heck, I don't mind 'Solo: A Star Wars Story' despite not leaning towards any passionate opinion one way or another).
*I would, however, argue that, whatever you think of the new films, calling them a failure predicates a re-examination of that word's definition, as well as the dozen Academy Award nominations between them, billions in profits, and swarms of new fans finding their own love of the series through these new stories. That's about as salty as I'll get, let's move on before I actually get angry."
Even with 'The Mandalorian' currently captivating audiences on Disney+ and more content on the horizon, 'The Rise of Skywalker' was set to be the culmination of this era of Star Wars, wrapping up not just the sequel trilogy, but the nine films of the so-called "Skywalker" saga, including the original and prequel trilogies. Ambitious to be sure, but slightly more confusing to bring back J.J. Abrams into the director's chair, who mainly received criticism on TFA for being too safe (although I would argue that "safe" is the wrong word, and Abrams' choices were necessary for the type of story that would bring Star Wars back).
I'm just now realizing that I'm nearing 600 words, and I still have not actually talked about 'The Rise of Skywalker' yet.
Alright, no more beating around the bush; is 'The Rise of Skywalker' the strong finish fans we were hoping for or not? Well, as I'm writing this, it's only been a few hours since I saw the film and, I have to be honest, I'm still processing what I saw, mostly because there is A LOT in this movie.
The two hours and twenty minutes comprising 'The Rise of Skywalker' offer what might be some of the densest, most convoluted storytelling in any Star Wars movie, and those elements are pervasive enough to where a lot of people will easily be unimpressed. Yet, I can't lie to you guys: I walked out entertained. It's exciting, riveting adventure that Star Wars has come to know as its bread and butter, but with a whole lot of great character interactions and new twists and turns that, and least for me, made it all worth it.
How am I going to write a plot synopsis for this one? Well, I'll do my best (and will inevitably leave out ALL THE CONTEXT) based on what we've gotten so far in the marketing.
One year after the events of 'The Last Jedi,' we find our heroes of the Resistance slowly regaining their stability under the leadership of General Leia (played by Carrie Fisher). Poe Dameron (played by Oscar Isaac) and Finn (played by John Boyega) obtain information from spies that seems to confirm that The First Order has been setting up something big that could threaten every system in the Galaxy. Rey (played by Daisy Ridley) is continuing her Jedi training under Leia, but seems conflicted with her new role as the last of the Jedi.
Meanwhile, Kylo Ren (played by Adam Driver), with the aid of his Knights of Ren, has replaced the now-dead Snoke as Supreme Leader of the First Order and, as the Resistance fears, aims to use ancient relics to drive the galaxy under the control of his new empire. All of this coincides with a seemingly impossible evil coming to aid The First Order, with our heroes trying to inspire the galaxy to fight alongside them, and the fates of Rey and Kylo caught in the balance.
I don't think I spoiled anything, and I don't think I held too much back. This is going to be more difficult than I'd thought, isn't it?
To reiterate, I actually think there's a lot to like from this. For one thing, I would argue the potentially infuriating comparison that this is the biggest stakes of any film in the series. No really, between the lack of resources of The Resistance, the growing power of The First Order, the spreading thin of our characters, the lack of hope and allies and, yes, the "other" parties involved that I will not spoil, I had a handful of times sitting in the theater where I was fearing for everyone. Who was going win, and how?
J.J. Abrams does a masterful job at driving home those classic senses of emotion Star Wars can bring: hope in the midst of overwhelming odds. But he also knows what's at stake in this story, and that our main characters will have to fight with everything they have to win the day. In that sense, I could even make a slight comparison to 'The Last Jedi,' but instead of a slow and steady Star Destroyer chase, we get things like The First Order's power dynamics across the galaxy and Kylo Ren hauntingly tracking down our heroes wherever they are, almost as a Michael Meyers pastiche.
It only took four years, but we finally get a movie with a trinity of heroes at the focus, that being Rey, Finn, and Poe. I've heard some discourse about what kind of relationship they have in the film, and I would argue that it's done pretty effectively. I love how they work off of each other, they offer different things to the mission, and, in the end, there is a genuine friendship between them. I can't say it works perfectly (Finn's journey seems to be kind of ebbing and flowing out of focus), but it felt like Star Wars in that sense, and all three of these actors feel the most comfortable with these roles yet.
As far as some of the other characters, Joonas Suotamo's Chewbacca also plays a pretty pivotal role on the trio's mission (and giving us a firm character link to the original trilogy) and Anthony Daniels is, to no one's shock, consistently delightful as C-3PO, and surprisingly might be the funniest he's ever been in this role. For the screen time we get with them, I also really appreciated Naomi Ackie's Jannah, a Resistance ally and a pretty fun inclusion later on in the story, and Richard E. Grant's Allegiant General Pride, a First Order officer who seems to be more delightfully sinister as the film goes on.
I also want to address the use of General Leia in this film. After Carrie Fisher's passing, many of us were unsure of how Leia's seemingly pivotal role in Episode IX would pan out, and I have to admit I was in awe. From only a few piecemeal scenes, Abrams constructs Leia as a guiding force for Rey's journey in the Force, Poe's growing sense of leadership, and The Resistance's morale at large, and Carrie Fisher's warmth and poise feels as if she never left (not ashamed to admit I shed a tear when she popped up on screen).
Let's get into the heart of the story (and where I have to be the most careful about spoilers): the relationship and eventual confrontation between Rey and Kylo Ren. The nobody scavenger and the wannabe successor of Darth Vader have come a long way since their introductions in 'The Force Awakens,' and while some might rage against the results, I would argue that Rey and Kylo's arcs by the end of 'The Rise of Skywalker' feels earned and, in some cases, powerfully emotional. Without going too into detail, Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver pull out so much in their performances to get these characters to where they need to go, and the environment around them feels enough to make their own senses of conflicts feel distinct and earning of their status in the trilogy (also the fight scenes are really creative and so much fun to watch, I wish I could tell you about them).
But...this film is not perfect, nor is it the best in the sequel trilogy by a mile. In fact, my conundrum is that I think it's the weakest of the sequel trilogy, yet still a fitting end for the nine films of the Skywalker saga (I know, that sounds weird, I'll try and elaborate). If you couldn't gather from my stressful writing, this film is PACKED, and it feels like it. Sometimes too much content can be unaffected by good pacing; 'The Rise of Skywalker' is, unfortunately, the opposite.
The pacing just doesn't flow well enough for the amount of content to resonate enough. Whether you argue that "that content" is world-building or fan service or a little of both, the reality is the film is just brimming with excuses to bring up names and ideas from past films, new planets, and even new characters. Some of them are done in a way that I thought was incredibly cool, but others feel just kind of dropped in just to say "hey fans, don't worry, they're still here!" If J.J. Abrams really wanted to go all-out insane with this one as a grand finale, it works enough, but it does feel like the story is sometimes more concerned with shock value than actual shifts in our vision of the story.
Then there's the issue of adhering to those past tones and ideas. The split in fans from 'The Last Jedi' is more than likely going to continue from here, thought frankly I don't think it's warranted. The meta ideas and different storytelling Rian Johnson incorporated into that film are only kind of present here, with Abrams approaching the mythology much more like his work with 'The Force Awakens.' If you liked one or the other, you may not be impeccably invested here, and even as someone who loved both of those, the mixing and conclusion of those stories works well, but not well enough to where I can wholeheartedly defend it.
There's so much more I want to delve into; John William's always magical music, the politics of the war, and yes, ALL the spoilers. For now, I'll leave it at this: 'The Rise of Skywalker' is a good movie. It's not a great movie, it's not the best Star Wars movie, and sadly will not make my best of the year list. But what it does do, at least for whatever my canon junkie opinion is worth, is give us a story that feels remarkably 'Star Wars;' poignant, hopefully, funny, adventurous, and with characters and world-building that feel something out of our storytelling dreams.
I don't know if the fandom will unite around/against this, and I don't know what the franchise going forward will come up with next, whether the Disney+ series starts to take precedence or new stories grace the big screens in a few years' time. But at this moment, I found this to work on the levels I was hoping it would, and Star Wars will continue to fascinate my imagination no matter how imperfect its finale might be.
Overall, I give 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker' a score of 8/10.