In the dark: Leader movie reviews

‘Rise of Skywalker’ ends latest ‘Star Wars’ trilogy on high note

Posted 1/8/20

Perhaps the most authentically “Star Wars” aspect of “The Rise of Skywalker” is that it works far better than it has any right to.

Speaking as a lifelong “Star …

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In the dark: Leader movie reviews

‘Rise of Skywalker’ ends latest ‘Star Wars’ trilogy on high note

Posted

Perhaps the most authentically “Star Wars” aspect of “The Rise of Skywalker” is that it works far better than it has any right to.

Speaking as a lifelong “Star Wars” fan, this is a film series whose entire history has been marred by drastic late-stage changes to long-term plot arcs, and structurally slipshod storytelling spackled over with grand style and sheer force of will.

Moreover, as the third installment in a wildly uneven trilogy, “The Rise of Skywalker” manages to be far more rousing than “Return of the Jedi,” to the point that I doubt it will require a Special Edition fix, in the years to come, to make its final victory scene suitably heartfelt without being cloying (yes, we get a glimpse of the Ewoks again, but no song and dance number this time).

Let’s get the negatives out of the way first. I have never been a fan of J.J. Abrams or his “Mystery Box” method of plotting, which has always constituted purposefully poor planning to my mind.

Further, as a fan of what Rian Johnson attempted with “The Last Jedi,” bringing back [spoiler] was perhaps the worst move of this entire third trilogy of “Star Wars,” with a close second being the decision to reverse course on what had already been revealed about Rey’s parentage.

Even by the standards of a fable of “a long time ago,” about outer-space wizards who wield swords made of light and shoot lightning bolts from their fingertips, certain resurrections strain credulity, and especially without any prior hints or clues, the return of [spoiler] comes across as desperate to pander to the fans who disliked “The Last Jedi.”

Likewise, what I loved most about the seemingly anticlimactic reveal of Rey’s parents in “The Last Jedi” helped hammer home the notion that the “Star Wars” universe is bigger than the story of just one family, and that you don’t need to be related to one of the characters from the original trilogy to become a Jedi, or to matter to the narrative.

Now that I’ve got my grumpy old nerd complaints out of the way, however ill-considered those two reversals of “The Last Jedi” might be, “The Rise of Skywalker” sells the hell out of them.

Abrams serves up engaging action sequences, and clever new twists on the powers of the Force and the technology of the “Star Wars” universe.

Abrams also leans hard on the underlying strength of the cast itself, the latter of which both he and Johnson had failed to capitalize upon to their full potential previously.

In retrospect, Johnson’s most damaging misstep in “The Last Jedi” was keeping each of the “Big Three” of the next generation’s trilogy of heroes separated from each other through most of the film, and it’s an error that Abrams corrects right off the bat in “The Rise of Skywalker,” by bringing together Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron for their first extended outing together since the deaths of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker.

Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac all have winning charisma to spare as individual actors, but it’s the lived-in chemistry they bring to their characters’ interactions that makes them believable, not just as allies who have sworn oaths of fealty to each other, but also as affectionate yet bickering friends, occasionally losing their tempers with each other, but only because of how much they care about one another.

This was what made Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley’s arguments as Spock and Bones on “Star Trek” so much fun to watch, and it’s what Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford effortlessly brought to their snarky banter in the original trilogy.

Beyond that, any of you reading this review could predict most of the plot beats of “The Rise of Skywalker,” down to the inspiring final speech to the troops as they face seemingly impossible odds, and those moments when all hope really does appear lost, followed by the cavalry riding to the rescue, but what matters is how well those beats are told, and in context, hearing Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian again is like watching Gandalf’s charge on Helm’s Deep in “The Two Towers.”

Lando’s message — “There are more of us” — underscores the theme that triumph doesn’t come from the deeds of a single chosen one, but from friends and allies coming together on behalf of a common cause, and even the final duel of the Jedi versus the Sith is about drawing on the strength and wisdom of all those who have fought before you.

In that sense, even the last line of dialogue in the film feels earned, because regardless of who Rey’s parents were, “The Rise of Skywalker” closes with her realizing that her heritage determines neither her identity nor her family, because she is who she chooses to be, and her real family is the one she picked up — one by one, like the scrappy scavenger she is — along the way.

That this material works as well as it does is due largely to Daisy Ridley’s acting. While the role of Rey doesn’t offer her a broad spectrum of emotions to play, she absolutely nails the levels of earnestness, existential terror and conscientious determination that the character requires.

All this, and along the way, we get the classically villainous Richard E. Grant as an Imperial officer who exudes enough snarling menace to do justice to Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin, plus a hilariously satisfying fate for Domhnall Gleeson’s sniveling General Hux, a remarkably deft performance from Adam Driver as self-questioning creeper Kylo Ren, and Carrie Fisher restored to fictional life as General Organa, the latter through the least cringey use of CGI that I’ve seen to recreate a dead actor onscreen, and I swear that’s not as backhanded a compliment as it sounds.

You did all right, new crew.

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