** NO-SPOILER REVIEW **
And so, the Skywalker Saga finally comes to an end, with the ninth and final instalment in the series. The new Sequel Trilogy has certainly been an interesting one. JJ Abrams set things up nicely with The Force Awakens, keeping the tone similar to that of the originals. But for the follow-up The Last Jedi, writer/director Rian Johnson decided to disregard almost all the plot threads created by Abrams, and went off on a complete tangent and created a whole set of new ones, splitting the Star Wars fanbase in the process. JJ is back however, to course-correct for the final chapter, and hopefully tie everything up neatly. What a momentous task he has.
This is perhaps why The Rise Of Skywalker was practically set up to fail before it had even started. Within the first 30 minutes of The Rise Of Skywalker it’s clear to see that there has been no planned overarching story for this new trilogy of films. After the backlash The Last Jedi received, it seems almost like Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy went into panic mode and roped in JJ with the mandate to “fix this!” The opening half hour contains so much explaining and retconning of The Last Jedi, it demands a lot of concentration to keep up. And there is A LOT crammed in there to undo The Last Jedi, right from the opening crawl itself.
The Knights of Ren are back. The issue of Rey’s parentage is re-addressed. Rose and her cringeworthy subplot have been side-lined. C-3PO is given more to do. And as we all know, Emperor Sheev Palpatine is back. Thanks to Johnson for killing off Snoke without an explanation of who he was and how he came to power, Abrams needed another villain. And so, while Palpatine’s return is undoubtedly cool, he does feel kind of whipped out of nowhere and shoehorned in out of the blue. It does make you wonder where Johnson actually intended a third film to go after The Last Jedi.
Thankfully, the film itself works as a whole. It feels more like a direct sequel to The Force Awakens as Abrams returns to the plot threads he started in the first film. It also looks absolutely glorious – vibrant, exciting, and with fast pacing and wonderful action sequences. The acting is top notch too, particularly from Adam driver (Kylo Ren) and Daisy Ridley (Rey). Their scenes just sizzle with tension and drama. Ian McDiarmid (Emperor Palpatine) is his usual wicked self, all cackles and evil. And importantly, the essence of Star Wars is present – fun, excitement and drama. Gone is the Marvel-esque slapstick humour that The Last Jedi was guilty of.
As has been widely reported, there are some sequences and plot elements written around Carrie Fisher’s unused footage from The Force Awakens. And while these scenes generally work ok, there is a slight clunkiness to them, and you can’t shake the feeling that JJ has just written some dialogue to fit around whatever Carrie Fisher happened to be saying.
Overall, the story ends up in pretty much the right place and where you’d expect it to – there are very few surprises or twists. Once again, Abrams has borrowed elements from the Expanded Universe and the film is littered with easter eggs. It’s just a shame that the Sequel Trilogy is rather disjointed. Why Lucasfilm gave two directors creative free reign to do whatever they wanted is a mystery. The trilogy’s story arc should’ve been laid out from the start to ensure it had a coherent beginning, middle and end much like the Prequel and Original trilogies.
The Rise Of Skywalker does play it safe by returning to so-called ‘fan servicing’, but with a huge task of having to course-correct the trilogy plus wrap up an entire saga, I think JJ has managed to pull it off admirably. Would it have been a better film had The Last Jedi developed upon The Force Awakens story? Without a doubt. But it still delivers a satisfying ending to the Skywalker Saga and retains the essence of Star Wars which is a lot better than the alternative.
Looks fantastic, crammed with action and drama, but sometimes muddled. Those of you who liked The Last Jedi will most likely hate The Rise Of Skywalker, due to it retconning almost everything. But by tying things back to The Force Awakens, JJ Abrams has delivered a more fan-friendly ending, and The Rise Of Skywalker is all the better for it.