Star Wars Episode IX – The Rise Of Skywalker (film review).
It truly was a long time ago and a galaxy far, far away when ‘Star Wars’ was seen as not much more than a risky venture doomed to box office failure. But, in 1977, Fox executives thought just that. Director George Lucas, seen as someone who was rebelling against the traditional modes of Hollywood film-making, had made a homage to the cheap and cheerful ‘Flash Gordon’ serials with an overwrought space opera that would surely be laughing.
The only people laughing would be Lucas and his accountants as ‘Star Wars’ caught the public imagination and the films and its two sequels became the biggest hits of the early 80s. By the time of the ‘Prequel Trilogy’ in 1999, Lucas was no longer a Hollywood rebel. He was a member of the establishment, the head of a franchise that had made a huge impact on popular culture and had spawned numerous ancillary products such as cartoon shows, books, video games and much more. The prequel trilogy would often be critically derided but were still huge money-makers and solidified ‘Star Wars’ status as one of the dominant franchises in cinema.
By the time the ‘final’ sequel trilogy rolled around, circumstances had changed again. Lucas was shut out, having sold up to Disney. He often complaining that Disney were no longer taking on board any of his ideas, in the manner a divorced dad frustrated he has no say in how his child does their homework. ‘Star Wars’ was now the property of perhaps the biggest media conglomerate in the world and now, alongside Marvel, the symbol of dominance within not only Hollywood cinema but also within mainstream pop culture.
‘Star Wars Episode IX – The Rise Of Skywalker’ is ostensibly meant to represent an end to the narrative that Lucas began in 1977. Yet, whilst it is undoubtedly a farewell to the plots and characters introduced all those years ago, the film is also a reflection of the modern film industry that it has helped to create with all the excess and disregard for individual artistic expression that one has come to associate with the modern era. The end result is less a film and more a series of moments strung together to please a cabal of corporate overlords.
The warning signs are apparent from the very first few seconds in the film’s opening crawl, the now de rigeur block of text that allows the film to begin ‘in media res’. ‘The Dead Live!!!’ it proclaims with such a disregard for any sort of semblance of credibility that it so resembles a Donald Trump tweet that you half-expect it to finish with an epithet of ‘sad’. Instead it and the following five minute opening of the film are a massive dump of exposition that reveals that Emperor Palpatine is alive and is back to terrorise the galaxy and is now asking Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) to find Rey (Daisy Ridley) and kill her.
There’s been no narrative seeding throughout the previous two films that have prepared for this moment, no hints that his character survived, the fact of which also undermines much of the ending of ‘Return Of The Jedi’. With a hand-waving moment in which various bits about cloning and ‘dark magic’ are uttered, the ultimate reason he’s brought back is, well, ‘because’. It’s not the last time in the film where you can swear you hear the incessant interference of executives humming throughout the background. ‘He’s a recognisable character – let’s bring him back. Doesn’t matter why. Fans know who he is.’
There’s a constant need to satiate an audience with nostalgia, such as the appearance of Billy Dee Williams as original trilogy character Lando Calrissian in another move that seems to amount to a shoulder shrug of ‘why not?’ and flashy visual effects than make any attempt to create something narratively cohesive.
Indeed, much of the movie can be boiled down to a series of tedious exposition moments and then sending the characters to search for a MacGuffin which seems nothing more than a reason to keep the screen time up and give the characters something to do until the inevitable climax. Indeed, one of the major points of the movie is the quest for the ‘Wayfinder’, basically a magic compass that will allow them to find the Emperor. After much flitting around the galaxy and through the ruins of the Death Star, in another moment that screams ‘…look, nostalgic moment! Now stop thinking anything critical…’, it’s destroyed. Luckily, Rey finds another one in about five minutes rendering the previous hour pretty much pointless.
The film’s lazy trading on nostalgia bleeds into the constant threat of killing of some of the known characters. It never does, it would be a much more interesting film if it did, and just gives an air of cheap emotion. Chewbacca is seemingly blown up, and brought back within two minutes. C-3P0 is given a moment of sacrifice which is immediately played for laughs and then reversed a little while later. Princess Leia’s demise is handled as well as it could be considering Carrie Fisher’s sad death in 2016. But even the scenes in which she appears, filmed some years previously, are awkwardly edited and her final moments are more shaped by the tragedy of real life than any attempt to make it work on a narrative level. The film so desperately wants to be a conclusion and to have some sort of closure.
But we know that there’ll be a world of spin-offs and stories to be continued in cinema, on TV and in a litany of other media. So the film ends up in a sort of limbo land where there is no sense of consequence or meaning. Everything has to happen so the rest of the ‘Star Wars’ universe can continue to happen as well. You can bet a moment in which the protagonists meet a group of Stormtrooper deserters, which again is thrown away in a few lines, is being developed as a future film/TV show/video game/comic as we speak. There is no time to explore or reflect. Let’s just move on.
With any form of narrative consequence effectively neutered, the characters are given nowhere to really go. While Kylo Ren (actor Adam Driver) and Rey (actress Daisy Ridley’ are given something of a character arc, mainly thanks to the first two films in the trilogy, their performances are still rather one note. Ridley is stoic to the point of being dislikeable while Driver’s conflicted villain still drifts towards the realm of ‘idiot manbaby’ though his ability as an actor just about stops it from tipping over the edge. Everyone else is given little to work with. Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron just jumps around being roguish, John Boyega’s Finn is given little to do apart from look troubled while Rose Tico (actress Kelly Marie Tran), one of the more interesting characters from the previous instalment, is given around one minute’s worth of screen time.
The irony is that on a technical level, JJ Abrams has a steady hand when it comes to catering for the needs of a blockbuster and when it comes to all the requisite whizzes and bangs, the film delivers on a visceral level. From the fleet of world-killing star destroyers to the final battle, which includes space horses, on one level a homage to the elements of the western including in the original film and, on another, almost a satirical bone thrown to the constant need to ‘one up’ previous instalments, it all delivers. But everything that hangs around is so threadbare, so unsatisfying that it feels hollow.
‘The Rise Of Skywalker’ wants to be a triumphant end to a story of heroes and the fight between good and evil. But it ironically becomes a bloated example of what is often wrong with modern movie-making and there are movies, such as ‘Avengers: Endgame’ which show modern blockbusters can be emotionally satisfying as well as catering to their corporate origins. A modern industry that ‘Star Wars’ itself very much responsible for. In that way, with an entire structure that reeks of corporate greed and the need to cannibalise the past is indeed a sad epitaph. A version of this review appeared in Estonian at SIRP – https://sirp.ee/s1-artiklid/film/skywalkeri-tous-ja-filmisarja-langus/
Star Wars Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker is now available on VOD, DVD and Blu-ray.
cast: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Anthony Daniels
One thought on “Star Wars Episode IX – The Rise Of Skywalker (film review).”
It’s too bad you can’t enjoy a great movie because of your need to have everything be logical. I believe in the importance of everything being logical in the real world such as politics (logical and truth being the opposite of Trump). But in a movie I just want to suspend belief and just enjoy the fantasy. I loved seeing all the dead come beach to life. And yes, I often similed and thought “what the fuc”, but it was so much fun that logic be damned. I not a Star Wars fanatic and I loved some of the previous Star Wars movies and was disappointed but still enjoyed others. But I was wowed but Rise of Skywalker and thought it was the best movie I’ve see in a long time. I hope your bad review won’t keep anyone who enjoys fantasy SI FI from watching this movie. I had low expectations and put off watching Rise for a while and was surprised at what a great way to end a great story. Absolutely loved it.