NOTE: This review contains spoilers. Do not read it if you have not seen the film and want to go in fresh. You have been warned.
The Rise of Skywalker is a film I never thought I’d see. Like so many, I grew up thinking Episode VI: Return of the Jedi would be the end of the Skywalker Saga. This new sequel trilogy has changed that, and I’ll be forever grateful to Lucasfilm & Disney for continuing the saga and giving the Skywalker family a fitting end.
One housekeeping item before I dig in: I’ve seen the film twice as of this writing. I firmly believe seeing it multiple times changes your experience with the film. Having knowledge of what happens and the key reveals helps you see a lot more nuance in Daisy Ridley’s performance as Rey, as well as a few other characters. With that in mind, understand your first reaction may not ultimately be your final opinion. We’ve seen the same thing happen with the prequel films as well as Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, so it’s become the norm for Star Wars movies.
Once the opening crawl finishes, you’re in for one hell of a fast ride. While the film clocks in at 2 hours and 22 minutes long, it moves much, much faster. This is especially true at the beginning. This is a film that doesn’t give you time to process what you’ve just seen because there’s just too much to do and see. Some fans and reviewers have taken issue with this, but I don’t. The film takes place over a few days at most. The characters don’t have the time to stop and think, so why should the audience?
Near the middle, the film does slow down and let the characters think a little, but not much. I do wish certain moments were dwelled on and expanded. Finn’s unspoken message to Rey is at the top of the list, but I also think it isn’t vital to the story being told in the film. Addressing it as part of the epilogue would have worked just as well. Still, the core story doesn’t suffer for not knowing. This film, and ultimately this entire trilogy, are about Rey’s journey from a forgotten desert scavenger to a beacon of hope for the entire galaxy.
A Question Finally Answered
To that point, we finally learn the answer to who Rey really is, and it’s both a doozy and kind of predictable. Rey is not a long-lost Skywalker (yet). She’s not a clone. She’s a Palpatine. Specifically, she’s the granddaughter of the Emperor. This has harshly divided the fan base as they feel it undercuts the idea established in Episode VIII: The Last Jedi that Rey is a nobody, lessening the idea that anyone could come from nowhere and rise up to be the most powerful being in the galaxy. I disagree.
This choice strengthens Rey’s story and furthers the narrative that truly anyone can become a force for good if they make that choice. I also believe this film, particularly through Daisy Ridley’s performance, that Rey has always known her last name and the weight it carries, but that is its own discussion. Answering this question definitively does not undo the events of the previous film. It provides greater context and makes Rey’s choice to reject the darkness within, something we see terrifies Luke, all the more heroic. It also strengthens the character of both Luke and Leia in that they are aware of her bloodline and choose to train her anyway. They see the good, they see the purity of heart and spirit, and choose to nurture it. The message remains the same – anyone, even the offspring of the galaxy’s most evil, can be good if they only make the choice.
A Fun, Emotional Ride
In the end, Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is pure fun. The pacing issues limit the impact of the emotional moments, but they are still plenty of tear-jerkers. The obvious one is the return of Harrison Ford as Han Solo. It may take place entirely in Kylo Ren’s mind, but hearing Han say “I know” to his son made me absolutely lose it. Whether Kylo was going to say “I’m sorry” or “I love you” doesn’t matter. It was incredible.
Leia’s death minutes before was also emotional, but I expected that to happen. Still, it was a fitting end for the character and a much better way to say goodbye to Carrie Fisher. Where I really lost it more than any other moment in the film, in both viewings, was Chewie’s reaction to Leia’s death. At this point in the saga, Chewbacca is 250 years old. He knows loss better than any other character in the saga save for Yoda. In losing Leia, he has lost everyone he cares about except Rey, and she’s on her way to confront Palpatine. Joonas Suotamo imbues the moment with such pain that the scene actually hit me harder the second time around.
Capping Off the Saga
The goal of this film was not just to end the sequel trilogy, but to end the entire Skywalker saga. It does so effectively, tying together the themes presented throughout all three trilogies. Having Palpatine as the ultimate villain, and revealing that he’s been pulling the strings from behind the scenes like a demented wizard of Oz, made perfect sense. He is the Skywalker saga’s boogeyman and always has been. He manipulated Anakin but failed with Luke, so it makes sense that he’d try again with the next generation. Until he was truly defeated, the galaxy, and Star Wars, would never be able to move forward.
What this film fails at is finishing its own story. That can mostly be forgiven though, given the purpose of the film, as the film doesn’t really have its own story. The story is Palpatine is back and the Resistance has to stop him. That’s the entire original trilogy in a nutshell and the final act of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. If there’s one repeat criticism of JJ Abrams Star Wars films, it’s that they echo too much of the past. For Episode VII: The Force Awakens, there was enough new to get away with all the echoing. Here, not as much. But again, the function of this film is different.
Somehow, it works. It doesn’t really make sense, but it just works. I’m not sure there’s anything more Star Wars than that.
7/10 – Good, but not great
Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is a fun, emotional race to the finish of the Skywalker Saga. It won’t please everyone, but it does its job.