Closing out a trilogy to the satisfactory of all is near impossible, let alone closing out an entire saga the likes of Star Wars, and yet that’s exactly what J.J. Abrams had to do with Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. Did he succeed? Well, that’ll differ depending on who you ask, as everyone has vastly different opinions in terms of how they’d like to see things wrapped up, or what direction the characters should be taken in; but for me personally, I feel as though Abrams wrapped things up beautifully, while also leaving some story paths open enough that they can be explored further down the road by others who choose to do so.
Now, when I say he leaves some things a bit open-ended, it’s nothing that’s frustratingly so. The sequel trilogy comes to a satisfying close, as promised, and the things that are left to be explored are more like we previously saw with the expanded universe, in books, comics and now with even more possibilities for various spin-off series on Disney+. But that’s the future, and we’ll focus on those things down the road should they ever come to fruition; for now, let’s focus on The Rise of Skywalker and why I felt it delivered the goods while also avoiding spoilers along the way. That’s actually harder to do than it sounds, as it stops me from getting into a few smaller aspects of the movie that weren’t perfect, but as a whole didn’t detract from the enjoyment of the film enough to dock it because of them.
First off, let me state that I loved The Last Jedi. I loved what Rian Johnson chose to do with the story, the twists he chose to make, the answers he chose to give and everything about it. No film has divided the Star Wars fanbase more than The Last Jedi; however, my biggest worry going into this film was that Abrams would try to completely backtrack things to appease those who just ripped into The Last Jedi. Now, it’s fine if you disliked The Last Jedi. I’ve realized it’s not worth getting into it with people for the most part, as some opinions are just going to be different. My main issue is the toxic side of Star Wars that flooded to lash out at everything new and fresh that The Last Jedi tried to bring to the franchise. Those people are filled with hate, and well, they’re clearly lost to the Dark side. So I really hoped that Abrams wouldn’t bow down to that smaller, yet very vocal side of Star Wars fans, as theirs is a voice that’s best left silenced.
Now I’ll go no further than the opening crawl in terms of information given out, so fear not if you’re looking to avoid any more of the story than that. I will say that I don’t feel that Abrams tossed Johnson and The Last Jedi under an AT-AT with his work here, though he did take a different storytelling approach in terms of how this final act was handled.
While it doesn’t say so in the opening crawl, or anywhere after, The Rise of Skywalker takes place roughly a year after The Last Jedi. This move makes sense, as the Resistance was in shambles at the end of The Last Jedi, so a leap forward in time to allow them to have somewhat found some footing, even though they still lack in the recruitment department.
The film begins with our heroes somewhat spread out, as a mysterious recorded message from the long-deceased Emperor Palpatine has been broadcasting across the galaxy. Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), Chewie (Joonas Suotamo) and R2-D2 are hunting down information that may help the Resistance figure out what this may have to do with the First Order, while Rey (Daisy Ridley) remains back at the new Resistance base, continuing her Jedi training. Meanwhile, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is on a personal mission to track down the source of this mysterious recording, viewing it as a threat to his newfound place as Supreme Leader of the First Order.
One of the trickier things in the third act of a trilogy is that you want to keep things feeling fresh, while also bringing everything to a close. So, Abrams has quite a bit of ground to cover, especially when you remember that he’s not only bringing this trilogy to a close, but also an entire saga of that’s comprised of eight films before this one. That’s an incredibly daunting task, but Abrams and co-screenwriter Chris Terrio, actually bring a solid balance to it all, and even those who may think old ground is being retreaded, my thoughts on it are that Darth Vader said it best in A New Hope, in that “the circle is now complete.”
For the first time in the trilogy, our heroes actually get to spend the majority of the film side by side, which is a fresh dynamic after two films spent mostly apart though working towards the same common goal. For those wondering how the scenes with Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa are handled, they did the best with what they could and since they chose to go the route of using archive footage from The Force Awakens instead of recreating her digitally (like they did for Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One, for example.) She’s actually in the film more than I thought would be possible, and while the scenes may not be as organic as they otherwise would have been, they also don’t feel awkward or forced in either.
There are some fresh faces added to the mix this time, with new characters such as Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell) and Jannah (Naomi Ackie), and while some may complain that these characters aren’t fleshed out well enough, I’d argue that they don’t have to be. We learn enough about them, and these are the types of characters I’d mentioned that can be expanded on in other formats. One character that did have a much smaller role than expected was Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), though I do feel that was done to keep the focus more on our core heroes this time around, over any other reason that some may read into. There’s only so much time Abrams and Terrio have to work with, and just so much work that has to be done without the audience having to sit through a three plus hour movie. **Update:According to Terrio, they didn’t want to leave Leia alone at the Resistance base without a lead character, so that’s why Rose remained behind. They also filmed scenes with Rose and Leia, but with the limited archive footage of Leia, the scenes didn’t work the way they’d hoped for and didn’t make the cut in the end. This seems entirely believable and a completely logical explanation, especially given the task she was assigned by Leia for her reason on why she was staying behind when Finn asked if she was sure she couldn’t come with them on their mission.**
As it stands, The Rise of Skywalker is roughly two hours and twenty minutes, and it’s paced incredibly well. This is a story about things coming together, and there are rarely pauses in the action for the audience to catch its breath. That’s not to say it’s nonstop action, but everything is always moving forward, and well, yeah, there’s also loads of action from start to finish, so while it’s not nonstop, it is pretty damn consistent in all the ways fans should want to see.
I do have to mention the score by John Williams, who once again absolutely knocks it out of the galaxy, helping bring the Skywalker saga to a close. He’s said that he’d only do the scores for the main films, and with this one being the last, it will likely be a curtain call for him in the Star Wars universe as well. So a major thanks to Williams for helping bring these films to another emotional level altogether with his beautiful music.
Some will say that Abrams likely tried to play it safe, aiming to appease everyone as best he could, which to some may have hurt the overall product. I’m not sure that this is the case. I do feel that he had a particular story set in mind that he wanted to tell, and heck, maybe he should’ve just signed on for the entire trilogy right from the start if that was the case; but it is what it is, and I feel that regardless of that, Abrams has concluded the Skywalker saga in epic fashion.
In the end, I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak for my own emotional reaction to The Rise of Skywalker when all was said and done and that is that I absolutely loved it. There’s just so much to take in, and so much to process, but it’s something I just felt in my core as “Directed by J.J. Abrams” appeared on the screen at the film’s conclusion, and I searched my feelings and knew it to be true.
I loved The Force Awakens, I loved The Last Jedi, and I’m thrilled to say that I loved this one too. You can’t help but be somewhat nervous going in to a film of this magnitude, as if it falls flat in the end, those feelings can’t help but ripple backwards and affect the previous films as well because you know the story doesn’t wrap up in satisfying fashion. Luckily, that’s not the case, as the Force is strong with The Rise of Skywalker, as it closes out the Skywalker saga in triumphant fashion!
Director: J.J. Abrams
Writer(s): Chris Terrio & J.J. Abrams.
Notable Cast: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Joonas Suotamo, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Naomi Ackie, Keri Russell, Lupita Nyong’o, Kelly Marie Tran.
Brendan Campbell was here when Inside Pulse Movies began, and he’ll be here when it finishes - in 2012, when a cataclysmic event wipes out the servers, as well as everyone else on the planet other than John Cusack and those close to him. Brendan’s the #1 supporter of Keanu Reeves, a huge fan of popcorn flicks and a firm believer that sheer entertainment can take a film a long way. He currently resides in Canada, where, for reasons stated above, he’s attempting to get closer to John Cusack.