For over thirty years, probably longer, the once considered Saturday afternoon children’s fair has dominated mainstream cinema to the detriment of adult movies. Kid’s films moved from cheap sets and worse acting to phenomenal blockbusters. The junk we were fed such as Flash Gordon was raised to an art form in its own right, and the one film that did that was Star Wars.
The Star Wars franchise became so successful it spawned countless other similar story lines, millions of plastic toys and games, and took up acres of newspaper and magazine space. It made the career of Harrison Ford and gave a living to over-tall men and over-small men asked to hide in all sorts of galactic costumes as friendly or malevolent aliens.
Star Wars – The Rise of Skywalker (titles are now obliged to sound Rowlingesque), is supposedly the very last one. Personally, I am pleased. The series almost killed itself midway when the writing got worse than bad, and the plots repetitious. It remains mindless stuff made with digital magic, with the ability to transport us to another place and planet. Just a pity it is all about killing lots of people and beings, exploding things, America taking over other worlds and saving them from Nazi’s wearing weird costumes.
This film is directed and co-written by J.J. Abrams. In an effort to keep us enthralled, features a twist and turn and surprise around nearly every corner, with the result it is a well-made mess of unconnected plots relating to past films that only the most dedicated Star Wars geek can follow. For children, taken to see it by loving parents, it must look an unintelligible muddle.
Yes, Rise of Skywalker is an action-filled, plot-packed, unabashedly sentimental, cameo-heavy, rousing adventure, but by heck, it’s a dog’s dinner.
Skywalker does not create anything new or fresh, or take us by surprise, it gives us what it has always given us, nothing more than soap and guns in outer space. If humans have littered planet Earth with plastic and garbage and Star Wars was not imaginative fiction, we would be guilty of littering space with the same couldn’t care less abandon. In a Star Wars universe space junk must crowd out the heavens – blown to smithereens spaceships, rockets and space stations, abandoned everything, bits flying everywhere.
Rise of Skywalker is visually lush, too much for the eye to take in, in some sections, and is as action packed as you would expect. The dialogue is slick, the pacing brisk (144 minute running time flies by) and it will leave fans with that inimitable glow that can only be felt after being immersed in a genuinely entertaining story. Because it recaptures the magic of the best “Star Wars films – mainly the original trilogy – and avoids the pitfalls of the worst ones, particularly The Last Jedi, it just about works as a conclusion to entire popcorn franchise. In essence, the film serves fans more than newcomers, but not well.
Its main flaw is that the movie feels rushed, like it’s packing in more than it can handle. This puts it in the same league as 2019’s other blockbuster, Avengers: Endgame, which also had the unenviable task of needing to provide closure to numerous other films while telling its own satisfyingly self-contained story. A close friend who took his young children to see it called me to complain he couldn’t follow the plot lines, the story was so muddled. I agree. I do not think it succeeds in every respect. Nevertheless, the special effects are as fantastic, the craft moved on in leaps and bounds since the early days.
Performances are earnest and, in some cases, emotionally driven. In the crush and rush some characters don’t get to do much other than roar to express an emotion when witnessing something happening … just over there!
The plot, take a deep breath: When Rise of Skywalker begins, Rey (Daisy Ridley) is continuing her Jedi training while Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) learn a terrible secret from a mole in the evil First Order: Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid looking oddly out of place having been killed off in an earlier film!). Hi ho, he used the “unnatural” powers from the Dark Side of the Force to survive and has been the secret antagonist of the sequel trilogy the entire time. Okay, let’s move on. Now it is up to our heroes to thwart Palpatine once and for all before he raises the Final Order and crushes what’s left of the Resistance, even as Rey grapples with her intense connection to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), on a mission to lure Rey over to the Dark Side with him. Okay, got that?
After the famous opening crawl and John Williams’ legendary theme song, we join the beleaguered and seemingly surviving members of the Resistance, led by Gen. Leia Organa, the late Carrie Fisher – a truly weird experience. The dead alive is, in my view, less an homage as crass and disrespectful. There is the now well-established Next Generation of headstrong, loyal and brave freedom fighters. From this minute on you can turn off your brain.
Much of Skywalker consists of hilariously silly metaphysical dances of strength and will and character between Rey and Kylo Ren, who don’t have to be in the same room or even on the same planet to face off with one another. Narcissism rules in a star wars world.
The trick requires Ridley and Driver to do a lot of acting in which they hold their arms out and flex like Greek gods of thunder and lightning, while grimacing to let us know they’re using all their might to ward off that attack or lift those rocks or shoot down that fighter plane. Maybe it’s hemorrhoid pain.
Driver is one of the best young actors fashionable, but he’s more convincing playing conflicted characters than bone-chilling evil. Ridley has an uncanny ability to hold the screen, even when the screen-filling, explosion-filled, CGI battles give way to close-ups of Rey, the weight of the galaxy reflected in her expressions.
In summary: there are moments when it feels as if this movie is trying to satisfy every Star Wars fanatic in the world. It does not come close to being the best of the bunch, not by a long light sabre. It’s a solid if confusing, visually dazzling piece of pulp sci-fi of the digital age. It gets three-and-a-half stars mostly for images and effects. This is a movie where my opinion and any negative opinion from other critics and reviewers will not hurt the film’s box office results one iota, one reason why this review is a month late and arrives without apology.
Incidentally, a piece of trivia: the man who gave us the instantly recognisable crashing Third Reich marching music, John Williams, appears in a cameo role as the bartender in the cantina on Kijimi.
- Star rating: Three-and-a-half stars
- Cast: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver
- Director: J.J. Abrams
- Writer: Chris Terrio, J.J. Abrams
- Cinematographer: Dan Mindel
- Composer: John Williams
- Duration: 2 hours,
- RATING CRITERIA
- 5 plus: potential classic, innovative. 5: outstanding. 4: excellent. 3.5: excellent but flawed. 3: very good if formulaic. 2: straight to DVD. 1: crap; why did they bother?