There’s an old saying that art is never finished, only abandoned. This quote has even been linked to George Lucas himself. Whether art should be conclusive or ongoing remains up for debate. If the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy has taught me anything, though, it’s that you’re never finished reviewing some movies. When I saw The Force Awakens, I deemed it a worthy successor and a promising new beginning, an opinion I’ve stood by after multiple viewings. With The Last Jedi, I’ve come to see more chinks in the amour over the past two years, although I still admire Rian Johnson’s film for its craft, ambition, and several character moments. Where Force Awakens and Last Jedi more or less stood on their own, however, it’s hard to judge The Rise of Skywalker as a stand-alone movie.
Rise of Skywalker not only serves as an ending to the Sequel Trilogy, but to the entire Skywalker Saga. Granted, we’re bound to get more Star Wars content going forward, but Episode X doesn’t seem to be on Disney’s bucket list. As a final chapter, the film hits almost all the notes one would want and virtually everyone is given a fitting exit. It’s how we get to the final destination that arouses complex feelings. There are a lot of scenes in Rise of Skywalker where you’ll find yourself saying, “Yeah, this feels right.” When you consider how the past two movies worked up to this final curtain, however, certain moments can come off as forced (forgive the pun).
What can be said about the movie’s plot without delving into spoiler territory? All the usual suspects are back in action as Rey (Daisy Ridley), Poe (Oscar Isaac), and Finn (John Boyega) set out on a daring mission with BB-8, Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) coming along for the ride. General Leia also plays a role and although we’re constantly reminded that Carrie Fisher passed away before shooting started, she is tastefully injected into the story. Once again, the most absorbing relationship is between Rey and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who’ve become equally strong with the Force. But will something or someone else tip the scales in the Dark Side’s favor?
So, let’s address the bantha in the room. If you’ve seen any of the advertisements, you know that a particular villain has been hinted at. Without giving away anything, this tease epitomizes everything fantastic and everything frustrating about Rise of Skywalker. On one hand, it amounts to a lot of epic, touching, and crowd-pleasing moments that’ll have one half of the theater cheering, “yes!” At the same time, it leads to a lot of rushed, convoluted, and overly familiar moments that’ll have the other half of the theater asking, “seriously?” Of course, this has less to do with the film at hand and more to do with how this trilogy was mapped out.
When J. J. Abrams directed Force Awakens, he appeared to have a good idea of where the story should go. When Johnson took over in Last Jedi, a new course was set that split many down the middle. Abrams resumes directorial duties in Rise of Skywalker, which feels more like a sequel to Force Awakens than Last Jedi. While it doesn’t completely ignore Last Jedi, there is a lot of retconning to service the story that Abrams wanted to tell. Given the challenges he was presented with going in, Abrams tells his story as well as possible, but some of his ideas would’ve packed a more powerful punch had they been foreshadowed earlier. Neither Abrams nor Johnson are really to blame for this, as both had their own visions, but only one could have the last word.
As polarizing as Last Jedi was, there are a few things Rise of Skywalker could’ve learned from it. Where Johnson’s film was willing to rock the boat, for better or worse, Rise of Skywalker plays it fairly safe. There are a couple instances where it looks like the film might roll the dice, but then reneges. We do get one major bombshell that the film doesn’t back away from and it’ll likely be a make or break point for the viewer. Personally, the twist worked for me, but it needed a little more buildup to feel truly earned.
As you’ve probably pieced together by this point, Rise of Skywalker is a mixed bag. Much like Revenge of the Sith, however, it’s my kind of mixed bag with the good outweighing the bad. The action is classic Star Wars with several visuals that’ll remain burned in my memory for some time. While certain characters like Rey and Poe haven’t had much interaction up until this point, the chemistry between the cast is universally solid. Composer John Williams never fails to get the audience pumped and he unsurprisingly hits a pitch perfect note here. It’s a Star Wars movie and an entertaining one at that.
With 42 years of history under its belt, there’s no way that a film like this can satisfy everyone. Nevertheless, as someone who’s seen Star Wars from the highs of Empire to the lows of Jar Jar, this finale ultimately rises to the occasion. Does it take as many risks as it could’ve? No. Will balance be brought to the fan base? Only time will tell. Will my thoughts on the film continue to evolve over the years? Absolutely. As Rise of Skywalker closed out on its bittersweet final image, though, the nostalgic, hopeful smirk on my face seemed to say it all.