Movie Review: The Rise of Skywalker

Ugh.

I’m going to be real with you: I’ve been dreading writing this review. Which is strange for me, as someone who has spent a good portion of her time on this site writing and writing and writing about Star Wars until every conversation starts with “Well, if you’d read the Thrawn trilogy, you’d know that…”. I came home from the midnight showing of The Last Jedi and sat down to write my review six hours later, so enthralled was I with everything that I wanted to get out there, everything that I wanted to say. But it’s been a week since I saw The Rise of Skywalker, and I have been throwing out every excuse in the book to avoid actually sitting down and cracking out this review.

Because God, I’m just exhausted with the capital-d Discourse that has surrounded this film since it came out. As the final part of the sequel trilogy, I always knew that Rise was going to come with a whole lot of questions, most of which would likely go unanswered, and that fans and boo-ans alike would be trying to wrap their heads around what this meant and whether they liked it.

To be fair, I didn’t expect one of the questions posed to be “So, why does The Last Jedi actually exist?”. It’s equal parts dazzling and baffling to see the way in which director JJ Abrams seems to completely write off huge swathes of Rian Johnson’s preceding movie. I’m no fan of The Last Jedi, but it’s sort of gobsmacking to watch JJ Abrams toss such a casual two fingers up at people who did love it. No matter what you think of either movie, there’s no arguing with the fact that this is a staggeringly incongruous move, and one that’s going to make the trilogy as a whole feel wildly uneven on a rewatch. Oh, and yes, I’m right there with everyone who is pissed as all hell that the wonderful Kelly Marie Tran (who plays Rose Tico, a lead of The Last Jedi) barely manages a full ninety seconds of functional screentime in Rise of Skywalker, and she’s one of the luckier survivors of Abrams scorched-Earth attitude towards the film that came before this one.

But, of course, the real question here is whether or not Rise of Skywalker is actually a decent entry into the Star Wars canon as a whole, and the Skywalker Saga in particular. And look, okay, listen: I get it. When I look at this movie, I can see why people are frustrated by it. Even if we take the Last Jedi mega-shade out of the equation, and let’s make no mistake in saying that it is significant, there are a number of problems with this film. Finn and Poe (who are in love and always have been and also will be, hashtag stormpilot until I cease to be) don’t really get any significant arcs that differ from what has come before, and it’s a let-down that Rey is the only one of our trio of new leads who feels like she has gone through an entire, completed storyline of her own. Domnhall Gleeson’s iconic Hux gets an ignomonious exit to be replaced by a hastily shoved-in Richard E Grant. Palpatine’s re-ermergence as the big bad comes swinging it out of left field, and the film doesn’t much bother with small things like actually explaining why he’s back or what he’s doing here.

But look, here’s the thing: I do think that there is a difference between a film being a objectively good movie and a good entrance into the Star Wars cinematic canon. And while I think there are many good reasons to discount this as a solid example of cinema at large, it works for me as a Star Wars movie. It has a rollicking adventure throughline that bounces our characters from planet to distinct planet, a central trio with great chemistry whose warmth and friendship echo that of the best of the original trilogy, and it has a high-stakes central plot surrounding Rey and Kylo that’s all about the big, broad concepts of dark and light and the Force and all that nonsense. I like it because it feels like a Star Wars movie, because it seems like it understands the rules of this universe and the way that being in it makes me feel.

But what kind of review is that? I like the way this film makes me feel, for the most part, and that’s not much in the way of good reasoning for liking the damn thing. But, like I wrote at the start of my cinematic retrospective of Star Wars, I am almost incapable of writing about Star Wars in a genuinely removed and objective way – the critical parts of my brain are switched off in favour of the gurgling pleasure centres that were warped around the Gungans and the whine of a TIE fighter engine.

And that’s why I’ve been dreading writing this review. Because I could sit here and argue this way and that on the Rise of Skywalker, take on the very legitimate criticisms and try to counter with the stuff that worked, but in truth, when it comes down to it, I liked this film because it feels like a Star Wars movie. And, as somebody who is always looking to come back to the galaxy far, far, away, when it comes down to it, that’s the best I can ask for.

If you enjoyed this article and want to see more stuff like it,  please check out our other cinematic universe retrospective – for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Jurassic Park movies, and the Batman cinematic universe. You can check out more of my work on my personal blog, The Cutprice Guignol!

By Louise MacGregor

(header image via Cult MTL)

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