WARNING. This article will be full of spoilers. Don’t read it if you haven’t seen the film yet. Or, if you do, don’t complain. Spoilers follow the spoiler space.
Like a lot of people, I think, I was a bit apprehensive about this film. It had so much weight to bear. It’s the climax of a nine-part epic spanning 42 years of real time (and about the same amount of in-universe time). How could any mere film live up to that weight of expectation?
And of course Star Wars is not just any old nine-part epic, but one whose earlier films defined the childhoods of a lot of people. Even now, visuals from the early films are so deeply burned into my mental retina that I can see them at any moment.
What I loved most about The Force Awakens, the first of the new trilogy, is that it seemed to recover the atmosphere of the original films: the rather ramshackle future (or, OK, distant past in a galaxy far away, but you know what I mean) in which low-status characters careened out of control from adventure to adventure. Among the many disappointments of the prequel trilogy was that our heroes were largely high-ranking mystic policemen and even actual goshdarned queens, with enormous resources at their disposal. The Force Awakens gets that right, and The Last Jedi does too, despite failings in other areas.
Ultimately what makes the whole film work is the relationship between Kylo Ren and Rey. We’ve seen the mystical connection between them before, but it’s stronger and clearer this time around, and more powerful as an emotional driver as well as a plot driver. When they fight — as when Luke and Vader fought in the original trilogy, it means something beyond determining who is going to be the winner. I found myself really believing in their strange, optimistically co-dependent mutual antagonism — which is good, because The Rise of Skywalker really needs us to buy into that.
Much of the credit for this must go the the actors, both of whom give subtle, repressed performance that remind me of no-one more than Judy Dench. They don’t emote, they suggest. Adam Driver is able to a remarkable amount by keeping his face all but immobile; Daisy Ridley almost always conveys a tightly wound and emotionally cautious quality. She very rarely smiles. When she finally does right near the end — as she says the name “Ben” — it really hits home. The bottom line of the film is that it made me care about these characters in the way I cared about Luke, Han and Leia back in the day; in a way I never cared about Anakin, Obi-Wan or Padme.
While Finn, Poe Dameron and the rest do perfectly serviceable jobs, everything revolves around Rey and Kylo, and that becomes more true as the film progresses. I expected to be excited, even delighted; I didn’t expect to be moved, but I was, more than once. I am so glad I successfully avoided spoilers, because Han’s appearance took me completely by surprise, and to great effect. Kylo’s recapitulation of his line from before he killed Han was powerful: “I know what I have to do, but I don’t know if I have the strength to do it.” The line was brilliantly ambiguous in The Force Awakens, and now all the more stirring as its meaning seems to have changed.
When the title The Rise of Skywalker was announced, it filled me with trepidation, because I feared it would turn out that Rey was a Skywalker after all it referred to her. I had loved her being nobody, as revealed in the second film, and did not want to see that undone. As it happens, I need not have worried: she is not nobody, but her ancestry is not what I — or, it seems anyone — guessed. And I love how much discovering herself to be Palpatine’s granddaughter did not much slow Rey down, how she didn’t let it define her. In the end, the meaning of the title remained deliciously ambiguous: it could most obviously refer to Ben Solo’s return from the dark side; but it also works as a reference to Rey’s consciously taking on the mantle of Skywalker right at the end. Choosing to be a Skywalker instead of a Palpatine.
And I liked that Palpatine’s reappearance was not laboured, we didn’t get stuck with a long explanatory backstory. I’m not sure bringing him back was the best thing to do, but given that they did it I’m glad they just did it and got on with it. I liked the tank full of Snoke clones,
Well. So far I have been very positive. I wouldn’t want anyone to think I thought TRoS was perfect. There are plenty of things to complain about. The whole opening sequence felt like a retread; Chewie’s death and then turning out to be fine after all was cheap; all the stuff with the magic dagger that points to the location of the magic octohedron was really silly (although I will give that a bit of a pass since it did at least give us the marvellous visual of the Death Star wreckage).
I can’t imagine why, early on, someone said they have sixteen hours before the Final Order ships would destroy everyone. The is no way all the planet-hopping and adventuring we saw happened in sixteen hours. Why even bring it up? I’m just going to mentally elide that line.
How do I feel about a fleet of Star Destroyers each with a planet-destroying weapon? I think it’s a mis-step. In the early New Who episode Dalek, a single Dalek posed a credible threat to all of humanity. I enjoyed later episodes with thousands of Daleks flying around London (Doomsday, The Stolen Earth) but they retrospectively took away from the power of that single Dalek in the earlier episode. Much the same happened here: did we make all that fuss over a single planet-destroying weapon? They have thousands of them now. At any rate, if they really wanted a Star Destroyer-mounted super-weapon, I would much rather it had visibly rendered the planet uninhabitable rather than physically breaking it up. That sequence started right — earthquakes and plasma blooms — before, as it seemed, sort of giving up and having the planet come apart.
But even with all those caveats, ultimately I found The Rise of Skywalker a satisfying conclusion to the nine- (or eleven-) film Star Wars saga. The all-CGI Leia was convincing enough that I didn’t notice her not being real; the visuals were often stunning, not least in the destruction of the numerous Star Destroyers; and Chewie finally got his medal!