Review by James McCleary
To call Disney’s Star Wars revival a mixed bag would be an understatement. Their big debut, The Force Awakens, was a safe and secure soft reboot which was generally liked but not loved by audiences, while The Last Jedi was either the first worthy sequel to the original trilogy or an insult to their legacy depending on who you asked and what sort of a mood they were in. The Rise of Skywalker does nothing to alleviate this messy track record, rather it does just the opposite. Of the film’s many terrible twists and turns, the most shocking is that this final instalment in the ‘Skywalker saga’ might also be its worst.
The plot, and I use that word loosely, sees Resistance heroes Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac), along with franchise icons Chewbacca (Joonas Suatomo), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and BB-8, travel across the galaxy in search of a number of ill-defined artefacts with seemingly interchangeable functions, which they must use to locate the lair of Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) and prevent him from rising to power once again, all while being chased by the newly crowned Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who is still wrestling with doubts about his rightful place in the universe.
Beyond this basic premise, The Rise of Skywalker is fuelled entirely by illogical twists that are relentless in cheapening and contradicting the preceding films for the sake of immediate, flavourless shock value. These surprises do not raise the stakes nor do they progress the story, existing only to prolong the search for the various forgettable McGuffins and encourage the characters to repeat the same few beats of inner turmoil on a cyclical basis for the vast majority of the runtime. When the film finally reaches its alleged climax, it does so with minimal emotional weight, resulting in an incoherent, unsatisfying space battle and a superficial Hollywood ending.
The film might have been salvageable despite these severe narrative shortcomings if it had at least been an entertaining mess, as had been the case with several of the previous entries which were bolstered by their impressive production values. However, one of the most pressing issues with The Rise of Skywalker is just how underdeveloped it feels conceptually. The new alien and droid designs are all forgettable retreads of older creations, the special effects are sloppy and uninspired, and the score is a conveyor belt of exhausted greatest hits which lack so much as the slightest hint of originality. Even the one-liners feel like stock jokes from an early draft of the script which writer Chris Terrio had planned and then forgotten to replace. This is Star Wars at its most formulaic and directionless. At least when George Lucas was at the helm, there was ambition before the fall. The Rise of Skywalker makes no effort to try anything new, which makes even the once reliable spectacles a dull affair.
…. The Rise of Skywalker is fuelled entirely by illogical twists that are relentless in cheapening and contradicting the preceding films for the sake of immediate, flavourless shock value.
This is all the more frustrating when paired with the strong performances from the film’s lead actors, with particular credit being owed to Ridley and Driver for elevating their rudimentary dialogue into something close to poignant, while Boyega and Isaac remain a winning double act who are never given the opportunity to sink their teeth into anything more substantial than exasperation. Carrie Fisher, unfortunately, fares even worse in her final on-screen performance. Her presence consists entirely of unused footage from previous films digitally inserted into new scenes which are awkwardly written around her limited number of lines. These moments are distracting at best and uncomfortable at worst, a far cry from the touching tribute the filmmakers presumably had in mind.
The damning truth about The Rise of Skywalker is that it is not a memorable film. It has been advertised as a grand finale to the entire Star Wars franchise, yet it is arguably the most mediocre instalment of them all. The film aims only to be as inoffensive as possible and it largely succeeds, wasting an immense budget and a magnificent cast in the process and begging the question of what it might have looked like in the hands of a bolder filmmaker.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opens to screens everywhere on December 19th.