Star Wars Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) Retrospective Review

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Time: 141 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa
Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker
Adam Driver as Ben Solo/Kylo Ren
Daisy Ridley as Rey
John Boyega as Finn
Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron
Anthony Daniels as C-3PO
Naomi Ackie as Jannah
Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux
Richard E. Grant as Allegiant General Pryde
Lupita Nyong’o as Maz Kanata
Keri Russell as Zorii Bliss
Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca
Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico
Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine/Darth Sidious
Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian
Director: J.J. Abrams

When it’s discovered that the evil Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) did not die at the hands of Darth Vader, the rebels must race against the clock to find out his whereabouts. Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) lead the Resistance to put a stop to the First Order’s plans to form a new Empire, while Rey (Daisy Ridley) anticipates her inevitable confrontation with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

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Star Wars Episode 9 The Rise of Skywalker had quite the mixed reaction upon its release. I watched the movie twice in the cinemas and still loved it despite all its faults. However as time passed I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and so the worse it really gets. Whereas The Last Jedi had a range of reactions from people who love it and people who hate it, The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t seem to have many fans, most of the reactions are middling to negative. Even now as one of the people who liked it, I think saying that this movie is a bit of a mess is an understatement.

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There’s a lot that has been said about what could’ve been and what has been changed in this movie. Here’s what we know: Colin Trevorrow was hired to write and direct the movie but after a while on the project, he left following creative differences. So, JJ Abrams was brought in to direct as well as co-write along with Chris Terrio, which included a lot of rewriting and reshaping of the story and direction. Whether or not Trevorrow’s version would’ve been better or worse, it’s pretty clear that Abrams and Terrio were brought in and rushed into making a movie replacing someone else, and this movie certainly feels very rushed. This movie goes by so fast, on one hand it’s got quite a speedy pace that doesn’t allow for you to get bored at all. On the other hand, the story feels rushed, like it wants to sweep things aside to get to the meaty parts. It goes from one plot point to another too fast, and never allows itself to settle. There’s rarely a moment for the story or characters to breathe or develop. A lot of things happen, and the emotional moments are rushed. As a result, the emotional weight is not there for even the major moments of the film. The only scene that really worked like this was when Ben Solo imagines seeing Han, probably the best scene in the movie. The movie is 2 hours and 20 minutes long, and you’d think that with this wrapping up a decades long running saga that Disney would in fact encourage a much longer runtime, given that they were willing for Avengers: Endgame to be 3 hours long. Even pacing aside, the story itself plays everything way too safe, and that’s what hinders it. The plot feels so by the numbers that I never really felt any real stakes, and it was so predictable beat for beat. The film feels kind of dull too, especially when compared to the previous two movies. There’s a lot of things happening but you aren’t actually interested in the story. The film is essentially a fetch quest with multiple locations, characters and cutscenes to highlight the main story arc. It felt rather lazy and generic. There was no sense of threat despite this film claiming that this is the ultimate battle, probably because it never slows down enough to allow the level of threat to set in. The Rise of Skywalker really does try to lean into nostalgia, and indeed there is so much fanservice. It wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t so reliant on it, and also didn’t feel so meaningless and tacky. One of those that is more than a mere cameo is Palpatine being brought up as the main villain. Him being alive and pulling the strings all this time was never interesting to me, but worst of all his usage was rather boring. There’s also plenty of other wasted potential, from some of the newer characters, to the Knights of Ren who are basically just there to stand around and look cool, to Finn’s force sensitive abilities which aren’t explored enough. Storywise, much of the movie does feel like it was trying to appease those who disliked The Last Jedi, retconning a lot of decisions made in that film and reducing the character of Rose Tico to nothing more than a background character.

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This movie does give some reveals to some mysteries that have been floating around since The Force Awakens, they either ranged to being okay, to reveals I wasn’t on board with. One of the main things to talk about is the reveal that Rey is a Palpatine, which you learn about in the halfway point of the movie. Ever since The Force Awakens, there had been a mystery as to who Rey’s parents are. In The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren said that Rey’s parents were nobodies, and while not everyone liked that idea, I thought that was a much better concept. This time they decided to go with this, and I have mixed feelings. I will say that it’s at least better than her being a Skywalker or even a Kenobi, a little more interesting perhaps. However it’s a little disappointing to see this retcon. The worst part of that reveal however was the actual reveal in the movie. Kylo Ren just says “You’re his granddaughter, you’re a Palpatine” and that’s it. Like it was pretty obvious at that point that she was a Palpatine given the scene of Rey and the force lightning when Chewbacca is taken, but I would’ve thought that they would’ve at least tried to treat that scene with some weight. Rey didn’t even have much of a reaction to this really, pretty mild considering that she just found out that she’s the descendant of The Emperor. It was just lazily handled. There are some bits of information that aren’t given to us in the plot. One of the most prominent was an explanation on how Palpatine even survived. The novel apparently states that at the end of Return of the Jedi, he cloned himself somewhere else, which doesn’t even make sense. I was expecting even a throwaway piece of dialogue at least but that didn’t even happen. Even the reveal that new character Jannah is the daughter of Lando wasn’t explicitly made clear in the movie. The ending is rather exciting with the big battles but when it comes to an end, it really does feel like something is missing. The battle finishes, the main trio reunite, Rey goes to Tatooine and it just ends there. I did like Rey adopting the name Skywalker at the end, but it just didn’t feel conclusive or satisfying like the end of the previous two trilogies.

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Although some of the work on the characters is a bit mixed, the cast generally do well in their roles. It’s great we finally see Rey, Finn and Poe (played by Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac) working as a trio together. Adam Driver still puts a lot into Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, though something about him in this movie felt off, probably the writing. As many know, Carrie Fisher died after the filming of The Last Jedi, and so for episode 9 they had to use unused footage from The Force Awakens in this movie for Leia. They did well finding a way to use that footage to give her something to do and for all my complaints with what they do with Leia, I’m not as harsh given the circumstances. A surprise standout was Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, who actually got to do some stuff in his storyline with the main trio. It was also great to see Billy Dee Williams return as Lando Calrissian. The lack of Kelly Marie Tran’s character of Rose was noticed amongst many people. In The Last Jedi she was one of the main characters, but here she’s relegated to a background character. I’m not asking for her to be a primary focus, but it would’ve been so easy to place her among the rebels going on the mission. As said previously, it’s possible that her change in roles was because some people didn’t like her in the last movie. There were also a few additions to the cast in this movie. Naomi Ackie plays Jannah, who is a rebel who used to be a stormtrooper. Unfortunately that potential with this aspect is not expanded on beyond one scene with Finn. With Richard E. Grant, there’s not really much to his character as a First Order general, but he was effective in this kind of role. As said previously, Ian McDiarmid returns as Palpatine, and the use of the character was a mixed bag. There’s so much problems with the character, he plays like a greatest hits of Palpatine from Revenge of the Sith and Return of the Jedi and feels forced into the movie. McDiarmid however at least looks like he’s committing to the part and he’s fun.

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JJ Abrams returns to direct after The Force Awakens, and I generally liked the direction. The visuals were great, I loved the blending of practical effects with CGI, and I liked the designs of the new planets, with each of them having a distinct atmosphere and feel. I also liked a lot of the creature designs. The action is quite good too, the lightsaber fight between Rey and Kylo Ren with the water was a standout. The score from John Williams is much like the previous Star Wars movies, had some great and memorable themes for Rey and Kylo Ren, but on the whole is rather familiar.

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Star Wars Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker is a very mixed bag. Generally, it’s entertaining to watch but it gets worse the more you think about the plot. As a conclusion it’s sort of how I feel about the Game of Thrones finale, there are parts of it I’m fine with, parts of it I’m against, but ultimately I feel nothing about it, just a resounding “well I guess that’s it”. I ultimately just accepted how they choose to end it, but I don’t really feel satisfied with it. The worst thing I can say is that it is “just another Star Wars movie”, not exactly the feeling you want for the end of your trilogy. It’s not my least favourite Star Wars movie, I at least like it more than The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, but I think just about every other movie in the series is better. No doubt in another decade or so there will be another Star Wars trilogy to continue the story, but as for now, as the latest movie and the current conclusion of the saga, it is rather disappointing.

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