Updated: Dec 21, 2019
What's going on, you guys! The Rise of Skywalker is in theaters and we at Back Row: Movie News were one of the many people who saw it on opening night! There will be **SPOILERS*** IN THIS REVIEW. You are safe to read this opening paragraph and it will give you the gist of my opinion on the film without spoiling anything. To put it simply: I LOVE The Rise of Skywalker!! This was an intense, fun, emotional, epic, adventure/action film that does a wonderful job of closing out the franchise as a whole. The three main characters were great on screen together. Daisy Ridley and Rey stood out particularly. Adam Driver and his Kylo Ren were also handled rather well. I really underestimated this character when he was introduced in The Force Awakens. The returning supporting characters were interesting, which is a switch up from them not having much to do in the previous two films. There is a lot of good, but also a lot of bad. To keep it simple and spoiler free to close this paragraph out: The story feels slapped together, full of silly/over-the-top fan service, and a harsh pivot (slap in the face) from Rian Johnson's film before it.
Here come the spoilers! This is more of a initial reaction and first review, so it is basically going to be a list of what I liked and did not like. In fact, it will be a bullet list. To be honest, this is what most of my reviews come down to... Let's not focus on my flaws as a member of society for now and focus on what I liked and disliked about The Rise of Skywalker! ONE MORE THING; I am not going to do a full list. There are so many characters and moments and what not to talk about, but I need to draw the line somewhere. These are a few of the most notable positives and negatives about the film:
Rey - She has had a controversial journey. She was introduced in a heart-warming way, but the character (and actress) descended into the depths of fandom. If you combine the complaints of her character being a Mary-sue (FINE. She is. I admit it.) and her journey in The Last Jedi, not much was going for Rey going into this one. J.J. pulled it together for her on this one, though. Daisy Ridley delivered a wonderful, Star Wars performance. Rey, Finn, and Poe (and their actors) displayed great chemistry in their adventures together (finally!) Rey very very subtly wrestled with The Darkside at important moments in the two previous films. Due to time constraints (in-world and at our level,) her struggle is turned up to a 12/10, so it feels a little... Off. I still think it works though. J.J. did what he did in The Force Awakens, create a familiar and clear plot, then let the characters carry the story. Does it totally work? No. That's okay. It doesn't have to for Rey in this instance though. Worth mentioning that Ben Solo's journey through the film was just as good. Ooooo one more thing! Rey's staff being a (seemingly) double sided lightsaber is another instance of fan service that I really wanted. They also went with a yellow blade, which is very pleasing.
Returning Supporting Characters - C3PO heads this category. I have come to be extremely annoyed by 3po. He just grinds my nerves down to their very core and he hasn't mattered in a while. He was integral to the plot this time and he was just delightful! Great send off for Anthony Daniels and 3po in terms of The Skywalker Saga. Lando was a, minor, but effective character in this one. Having him there to help send off Leia really helped ease the pain of her loss. I am glad Finn had such a big role in the film, he and Rey have a really nice relationship, even though he and Poe didn't feel like they had a really effective character arc in this one. They are who we thought they were! The main exceptions were Snap Wexley, who I never ever cared about (even after reading Aftermath) and still don't care about and Rose Tico. Listen, I didn't love Rose in the previous film, but if you are going to include her, then do it. If you're not, then just write her out with a simple line of dialogue. Literally almost no one would have been up in arms about that. Same for Hux. J.J. wasn't as Funny as Rian Johnson with him, he used a recycled plot line from Star Wars Rebels, and he was killed off in a clumsy way. STILL, I think that the good outweighs the bad for these familiar, supporting characters.
The Music - My main man, John Williams! In one of our podcast episodes leading up to the movie, I said that I wanted the score for this one to be more... well, better than the previous two films. I wouldn't say that they are bad scores at all. There are a lot of effective tracks and moments, but they pale in comparison to the previous two trilogies' music. I wanted something that would really stick with me and it worked out that way. Great to hear the Imperial March prominently again and the return of The Emperor's theme (of sorts) from Return of The Jedi and the prequels.
Palpatine - The Sith almost returned in glorious fashion! I will elaborate a bit on why I thought this plot point (the main one, you know) was not my favorite idea, but Ian McDiarmid and Emperor Palpatine were played nicely. Towards the very end of the film, when he sucked the joint force power from Ben and Rey, and assumed his final form, it was FRIGHTENING. Those EYES. It's almost on the level of The Nun from The Conjuring Universe for me, man.
A Thousand Generations of Jedi Live In You - That moment at the end of the film in which Rey has to pick herself up from the edge of death to defeat the ultimate power in the galaxy (who is backed by thousands of generations of Sith) and she gets the strength from some of our favorite (and most obscure) Jedi from the past. The list, which has been detailed on many websites, YouTube videos, and podcasts already, is as follows: Qui-Gonn Jinn, Obi-Wan (both Alec Guiness and Ewan McGregor), Yoda, Mace Windu, Kanan Jarrus, Ashoka Tano, Luminara Unduli, Aayla Secura, and Adi Gallia. Kaesen and I were nearly sh*tting ourselves when we heard Jinn, Windum Kanan (who I thought was Anakin at first), and Anakin for real!! It was a PERFECT moment in the film and the franchise. It was an awesome surprise! It also ended in outstanding as Rey used Luke and Leia's(!) lightsabers to blast Palpatine's force lightning back in his face and blast him officially out of existence!
New/Expanded Force Powers - This was the kind of fan service that I wanted! Rey and Kylo playing tug-of-war with a ship, Palpatine literally almost taking out thousands of ships out by himself with FORCE LIGHTING, Rey and Ben's force connection being expanded on and used very well, REY USING FORCE LIGHTNING, Kylo Ren super force choking a minor character, Palpatine's immense powers (lightning, come back from the dead, tricking and guiding Kylo through several incredible ways,) FINN AND LEIA ARE BADASS AND STRONG WITH THE FORCE AND HAVE SUCH GREAT EMOTIONS... I LOVED the force in this movie.
New characters - Kerri Russel and Naomi Ackie were just setups for book spin-offs. They were so underwritten and unnecessary. Both gave good performances and were important to the plot (well, sort of), but I think that Abrams would have been better off pulling some characters from the original trilogy. I don't understand why he went for half-baked new characters when he could have played nostalgia to good effect. It is funny that I am condemning Abrams for bringing something/someone new to the table, but of course it doesn't work when he does.
Dark Rey - This is a real nitpick, honestly. I just think that this felt like it screamed, "DO YOU REMEMBER THE MOMENTS LIKE THIS IN EMPIRE AND FORCE AWAKENS HMMM? YOU LIKE THAT?!" It just felt a little forced to me and the lightsaber design for Dark Rey didn't work, and it was pretty inconsequential. I think the film hammered home her struggle with the darkside the whole time, so this was just a super obvious allusion to it and a callback to previous movies.
The story - I am a fan of this movie. There is so much more good than bad (this is an opinion based statement,) but the bad is so important. The worst part about this movie is the story. It feels like a slapped together apology to the fans. Not enough lightsaber fights in the previous two? Here you go! Rey not having significant lineage bothers you? BOOM, PALPATINE! Luke didn't bring down a Star Destroyer in The Last Jedi? Rey and Kylo Ren have that power!
There is too much going on, really. They had, like, two seconds to write the script first of all. There was so much work to be done in terms of finishing up character arcs, adding new stuff, retconning and spitting on The Last Jedi, setting up further spin-offs and movies.... This film just had so MUCH going on, it buckled under the pressure.
The idea that Palpatine is back is okay, definitely not a horrible idea. It just feels like they lifted something straight out of the legends material. Palpatine made clones of himself, manipulated Ben for his whole life, lived on a Sith World in the unknown regions, then came back and had epic darkside powers. Rey and the heroes chasing around an artifact was a fun action/adventure element, but the whole things feels like a punch right to Rian Johnson's FACE. Really, I should have expected this. J.J., Kathy, and team played it so safe, it hurts. Abrams said in an interview that The Last Jedi inspired him to take more risks with Star Wars, but he lied. I loved the story as cap to the saga, but as a cap to this trilogy and as a movie, it is upsetting. People like to say that Rian Johnson's Last Jedi was a good movie, but it wasn't a good Star Wars movie. The two movies that Abrams made are good Star Wars movie, but not good movies. There are merits for both ways of crafting a Star Wars movie, but they do not work together and the contrast is very upsetting.
That wraps it up for this one! Thank you for reading! I love The Rise of Skywalker! I love Star Wars! The Skywalker saga is a unique and treasured work of art, that we will forever debate and enjoy. Be sure to checkout the latest episode of the podcast on YouTube, or listen almost anywhere you get your podcasts!