Starring Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Richard E. Grant, Domnall Gleeson, Keri Russell, Lupita Nyong’o, Ian McDiarmid
Austin Family Critical Rating: ** of *****
Austin Family Family-Friendly Rating: **** of *****
Warning: The below review offers spoilers about Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker.
J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, the ninth and final installment in the Skywalker series of Star Wars films, is a truedisappointment – particularly given the strength of the prior two episodes in this saga.
In 2015, Abrams’s spirited Star Wars: The Force Awakens introduced us to a slew of charismatic new characters – including Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) – while also bringing back old favorites Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). In 2017, director Rian Johnson injected even more originality into the sequel, Star Wars: The Last Jedi – a truly idiosyncratic film that gave me hope Disney would allow visionary filmmakers to push this world in new directions.
Alas, The Rise of Skywalker has neither the spirit of The Force Awakens nor the originality of The Last Jedi. As the film begins, we learn that Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is somehow still alive (despite being killed in Return of the Jedi), and he’s working with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) to destroy Rey and the rest of the Resistance. And thus begins Rey, Finn, and Poe banding together to save the galaxy – and answer the lingering questions of this series.
It’s not so much that The Rise of Skywalker is bad – it’s just wholly unmemorable. Individual scenes are never allowed to play out or breathe – each one dutifully serves its function, and then we’re swept along to the next thing. There’s no sense of adventure.
More importantly, nothing is really at stake. I don’t mean that Rey and the other characters aren’t in life or death circumstances (though no death seems to be final), but that none of those circumstances are meaningfully dramatized. As I watched the film, I thought about the storytelling in The Empire Strikes Back (1980). The sequence in which Han gets frozen in carbonite is so incredible because there’s real danger there – Han’s cocky, renegade behavior has finally landed him in a vulnerable place we never expected. In The Rise of Skywalker, Abrams is just going through the motions. Everything is indicated and nothing is felt.
Every once in a while, there’s a potentially interesting scene. At one point, our lead characters have to decide whether to wipe C-3PO’s memory in order to get an importance piece of information about the Sith. But the consequences of having an entirely new C-3PO (the rare character who has played a role in all nine episodes of Star Wars) are never meaningfully addressed – instead, this device is used for a few clunky jokes (C-3PO re-introduces himself to the major characters), and then the droid’s memory is quickly restored by R2-D2. Problem solved.
Another potentially interesting scene involves Kylo Ren facing the ghost of his father, Han Solo (Ford, in a brief cameo). Their exchange is tender and human – exactly the kind of moment the rest of the film is missing. But then, the music comes barreling in, instructing us exactly how to feel and disrupting any meaningful silence between them.
Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker is rated PG-13 for fantastical violence and action. If your child has seen a prior Star Wars film, then this one is most certainly appropriate. I’d recommend it for ages eight and above.