(Spoiler-Free) Review: “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is a Mixed Bag

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(Spoiler-Free) Review: “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is a Mixed Bag

A promotional poster for

A promotional poster for "The Rise of Skywalker."

A promotional poster for "The Rise of Skywalker."

A promotional poster for "The Rise of Skywalker."

Jack Forrest and Graham Kanwit

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After 40-plus years, the Skywalker Saga originally envisioned by George Lucas has come to a close. “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is the final movie (or so we’ve been told) in the nine-film Star Wars series. Under the direction of J.J. Abrams, who kickstarted the sequel trilogy with “The Force Awakens” in 2015, the saga ends in an entertaining but occasionally unfulfilling way.

Many of the highs of “The Rise of Skywalker” stem from the best aspects of Star Wars as a franchise. The movie’s lightsaber duels are fun to watch as usual, with unique new locations and combatants this time around. Despite being a bittersweet final Star Wars outing for the composer, John Williams’ score is as beautiful as always. The visuals, from the set design and special effects to the cinematography, are stunning. The creative new planets show a different side of the galaxy far, far, away, while not straying too far from familiar set pieces.

The main crew of characters shine, with standout performances from Adam Driver as Kylo Ren and Billy Dee Williams in his long awaited return to the role of gambler-turned-Resistance hero Lando Calrissian. Rey and Kylo continue their unique relationship that has been evolving since their first meeting in “The Force Awakens,” as well as their “Force connection” from “The Last Jedi.” The mysterious Emperor Palpatine returns to the big screen for the first time in 14 years, just as evil as ever.

The untimely death of Carrie Fisher was handled respectfully in the film, with cut footage of General Leia from the previous two episodes being reimagined to fit the plot of “Skywalker.” Fans of the princess of Alderaan will be pleased with her final film appearance. 

The final scene of the nine-movie Skywalker Saga is an emotional and fitting conclusion to the franchise many fans hold so dear. It is an emotional final moment up there with the Ewok celebration in “Return of the Jedi.”

In spite of strong performances and a satisfying ending, “The Rise of Skywalker” has plenty of flaws. The most glaring and disruptive is the pace; the movie never takes a moment to breathe. Characters jump from planet to planet in the blink of an eye, exposition is delivered haphazardly and there is little thematic consistency with the other episodes in the trilogy. 

Important characters are sidelined throughout the movie. “Skywalker” has the effect of diminishing the roles of both Finn and Poe in the greater saga, pushing them to the side rather than fleshing them out at the forefront. There are too many minor characters, cameos and new character introductions to become invested in many arcs other than that of Rey and Kylo Ren, making it seem as though these two characters were the only ones the trilogy directors cared to properly develop.

The movie is also given frustratingly little context; the opening crawl reveals information that has galaxy-wide implications. It is disappointing to see this reveal reduced to the first couple lines of the opening crawl rather than allowing the audience to react to these developments with the characters. Many of “Skywalker”’s big reveals are explained without fanfare and without proper time for the characters react. Palpatine may be back, but there is virtually no explanation for how he is back.

The sequel trilogy as a whole suffers from a lack of planning, made obvious by “Skywalker”’s attempts to course-correct Rian Jonhson’s bold but controversial “The Last Jedi.” In the first twenty minutes of the film alone, it becomes abundantly clear that, regardless of what Abrams and Johnson may claim, there was no shared vision for the trilogy between the directors. Abrams seems to almost completely undo “The Last Jedi”: many of that movie’s biggest and most rewarding twists are stripped of their power or unsatisfyingly explained away. With the last-minute reversals of these twists in “Skywalker,” it feels as though Abrams is attempting to appease everyone and succeeding to please no one.

“The Rise of Skywalker” is a movie that succeeds at concluding the Star Wars saga, but fails at being its own movie. It is not due to a lack of effort, however, as many of its flaws are from Abrams’ hesitance to take major risks. When the movie succeeds, it is a satisfying conclusion to a saga known around the world, but “Skywalker” doesn’t always meet the mark.

Rating: 7/10