Before I go ahead with this, I should enforce the headline of this article, what I am about to write is going to be full of spoilers. That’s not to say that every single moment in the film will be in there, there’s probably tonnes of stuff that I’ve forgotten since my viewing finished at 20 past 11 on Thursday evening. I’d also like to point out two things.
The first is that despite my feelings after the first trailer that I posted about in my “The Fans Awanken” article, I still genuinely went into this film with the absolute best intentions because we all obviously want the best Star Wars experience possible. I’ve tried to split the film into three acts and then an overall opinion at the end to try and provide you with my feelings as I was remembering the events of the film as I walked home from the cinema.
The second thing I’d like to add is that these are just my opinions and if there are any messages or comments of any kind, be it at the bottom of this blog post or on my social media platforms, that I feel are resorting to name-calling or abusive in any way (and that includes abuse aimed at others, be it other commentators or people involved with the movie themselves), then I will not be engaging, I won’t hide them, if you’re going to put your name to that kind of stuff I’m not going to keep it private, that’s on you to control your behaviour. Again, these are just my opinions, I’m not in posting them as fact and I’m more than happy to engage with differing opinions in a polite and civilized manner because that’s how discussion works and it may just change my viewpoint if I’m shown things in a different light.
I’m going to start with this, I think the first two-thirds are an absolute mess. You’ll soon see why, but first off the bat, and in fairness, this isn’t really anyone’s fault, but the scenes with Carrie Fisher in were pretty much always awkward. Daisy Ridley often did her absolute best with what she was doing (and I think this is probably her best film), but due to the way the footage they had leftover from The Last Jedi was used, it just didn’t really work for me. I can’t think of any particular lines that were delivered by Leia that really had any impact and its clear that she was supposed to have a much bigger part, unfortunately, Carrie Fisher’s death made this impossible and the use of cut footage from the previous film just didn’t really work as well as the crew had hoped, I think it would have been better for the film if Leia had have died between The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker, as the send off the character has been given is really rather weak.
What did work in the first act though is the reveal of Palpatine, we knew he was going to be in it, but what an excellent performance by Ian McDiarmid right from the off. From the very moment we set foot on Exegol (which is basically the Sith HQ of the Galaxy Far, Far Away) the atmosphere is incredibly menacing and your first glimpse of the Emporer is genuinely scary. That Abrams took one look at the decision made in TLJ to kill off Snoke early and basically go “yeah, he was nobody” by allowing Palpatine to have been his creator was an excellent idea that I was fully behind. Yes, it’s kind of wedged in there, but because the previous films didn’t really give us anything about Snoke’s past other than that he was greatly feared, particularly by Luke, this gave the writers an excellent opportunity to just let his prior death happen and move on with Palpatine’s plan.
However, the wheels begin to fall off from here on out, with The Inbetweeners (how many time did we have to be told they were all friends?) going off on an adventure where they constantly failed upwards. Every predicament they found themselves in was solved by something pretty random occurring, they get chased across a desert and then fall through some quicksand into an underground chamber, oh look, there’s a dagger with some Sith runes on them (that 3PO’s programming wouldn’t allow him to fully translate, which I did like), then oh no, its a giant wormy thing that’s going to attack, ah but Rey has unlocked Force Healing and so on, this continues throughout the film and reduces the sense of peril that The Inbetweeners find themselves in as you constantly expect something unplanned for will occur and get them out of their current predicament, there’s never really a situation where the relative skills of the group are put to use, aside from any time Rey has to use her lightsaber.
This failing upwards did lead to one excellent bit of action though, and probably the best non-Jedi or spaceship based action scenes in all of the films. After escaping from the wormy thing, The Inbetweeners find a ship (that happens to look exactly like the one Rey’s parent’s supposedly blasted off in The Force Awakens) and as Poe and Finn get it prepped for takeoff, Rey heads off to intersect Kylo Renn who is flying at them in his TIE Interceptor, Chewie heads after Rey to tell her to come back but is captured, then in a Force Pull tug of war, it seems as though the craft he is on is destroyed by a sudden burst of Force Lightning that comes from Rey. It’s not much later though that they discover Chewie is alive and Rey, Finn and Poe go to free him. Once the latter two have freed him from his shackles, the Wookie and his Friends blast their way through the corridors of the ship they’re on trying to make their way to the hangar with their ramshackle ship in. This particular moment is wonderfully shot with a low slung moody camera with blaster bolts going off everywhere and Storm Troopers taking hits left, right and centre, and whilst it gets a bit unbelievable just how many shots hit The Inbetweeners, Poe does eventually take a hit (though it’s only a flesh wound).
It’s around this time that we learn of Rey’s heritage, and this for me is the films biggest negative, there are a few things that happen that reveal more but it basically boils down to Rey and Kylo doing their Force Communication thing, though there’s some physical interaction as they fight with each other despite being in separate locations. It’s revealed that Rey is the Grandaughter of Emporer Palpatine, now at this point in the cinema I genuinely rolled my eyes, I refrained from groaning as I didn’t want to spoil anyone else’s experience, least of all the autistic girl behind me who was loving every moment of the film (which I was really pleased to hear, I’m not the sort to say “I don’t like this so you shouldn’t”, despite the fact I sometimes mock my partners taste in movies and music, that’s only ever meant in jest).
We’re later told that the Jedi Hunter who owned the Sith Dagger they’d found killed her parents under the command of Palpatine whilst trying to find Rey, which to me doesn’t really make a lot of sense. I find it difficult to believe that Palpatine, who turned Anakin to the Dark Side, discovered a way to bring himself back from the dead (or cheat death depending on a certain point of view) and also keep Darth Vader on a leash, then keep his continuing existence hidden for over 30 years, would just go “yeah, kill them”, they’d been captured, the ship Rey saw leaving with her parents on belonged to the Jedi Hunter, so they were definitely under arrest, I’m pretty certain Palpatine of all people (zombies?) would have been able to get the information he wanted from his son or daughter-in-law (I will make the assumption they were married, not that it’s important), considering he was able to get some information from Luke during the final act of Return of the Jedi.
Moving on though, the biggest positive that came out of this second act was most definitely the relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren, we got a taster of it in The Last Jedi, and really my biggest disappointment from that film is that there wasn’t more built upon the tension of either of them switching sides. But here, things build and build, Ren tells Rey he doesn’t want her dead, he tries to ask her why she didn’t take his hand in Snoke’s throne room and there’s a bit of to-ing and thro, culminating in the films most visually striking (and probably the most important) Lightsaber fight as waves crash around them, soaking them and Kylo showing Rey’s lack of training as he wears her down, though as she’s the Good Guy, she wins the fight, very nearly kills Kylo Ren but then uses her healing powers to keep him alive, telling him she didn’t nearly take his hand, it was Ben Skywalkers hand she almost took. This poignant moment is almost left hanging as Rey makes her escape, but Ren reflects on this and is visited by the memory of his father and from here Kylo Ren dies with Ben Skywalker beginning his return to the Light Side of The Force.
If these first two acts had have done away with some elements of the treasure hunt (and at least keeping 3PO’s excellent arc) then I think The Rise of Skywalker wouldn’t feel as confusing as it has done up until this point. Things do improve greatly from here on out though.
This final act was Star Wars at its best, big spaceship battle (though it’s definitely not the best one in the series, it does have a lot fan service in there), the Nazi Propaganda imagery was really cranked up with the imagery of the Star Destroyers and time we get to spend with the First/Final Order and Richard E Grants character, and whilst there were problems with the final conflict between Palpatine and Rey (it never really felt like she’d turn and take the Sith throne, whilst Luke genuinely gave a sense of him struggling with his emotions in Return of the Jedi), it was incredibly visually striking with the lightning and Ian McDiarmid doing what Ian McDiarmid does best: being an incredibly creepy presence as Palpatine. I’d have liked Ben to have had a bigger role in this fight and rather than Rey wielding two blue Lightsabers I’d have gone with Luke’s Green RotJ one alongside Leia’s blue (after all we’re shown the two training in a flashback), which whilst I know the green saber was damaged, it was also, reportedly, repaired (though I don’t think this is referenced in of the films). It would have made for an incredibly striking image with the two different coloured weapons fighting off Palpatine’s Force Lightning.
One final point, that’s not important but I think it does show Disney’s mindset with these and ties into my conclusion, is the gay kiss. It’s between two female characters in the background when the Resistance is celebrating. I’m pleased it’s in there, but a kiss between two white women is probably the safest Gay Kiss that Disney could have gone for, and there’s almost definitely a part of me that wanted there to be a more intimate relationship between Finn and Poe, especially with all the obsessions over each others past and keeping secrets from each other that we saw during the first act of the film, not to mention the way they behaved when they were reunited in The Force Awakens, I always kind of felt there was something more there, but Disney’s big-budget sci-fi opera having a kiss between a Guatemalan man and a Black Afro-British man was never really, and unfortunately, going to happen.
And it’s this playing it safe that I think ultimately harms The Rise of Skywalker. I said in the article I linked at the top of the page that I felt Disney/Lucas Film were going to put too much weight on the backlash that some quarters had against The Last Jedi, I also feared that Abrams would fall back on The Force Awakens’ nostalgia trip too much. Now whilst I’ll admit I don’t think either of these were as much of an issue as I feared they would be, and in the case of nostalgia, the final film in a nine-part series was always going to have a heavy dose of that.
It’s the fan input I feared would be most damaging. But whilst I think it wasn’t as all-encompassing as I thought it would be, it did play a part in the films core theme, if The Last Jedi was telling us “it doesn’t matter who you are” then The Rise of Skywalker was throwing a fit and screaming “it does, it does! Look she’s a Palpatine and he’s a Skywalker and only by them copulating will the Galaxy be saved/placed under Nazi control again” and that left me incredibly disappointed as a lot of the films best plot beats didn’t need Rey to be of the same blood as the Emporer to actually work.
Ultimately, I don’t think anyone should be leaving the cinema asking themselves if they enjoyed a Star Wars film, which is exactly how I felt as the credits rolled and I spent my walk home making notes on my phone.