Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – A Review
By Chris M. Barkley:
Star Wars – Episode Nine: The Rise of Skywalker (2019, 142 minutes, ****) with Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Kelly Marie Tran, Domhnall Gleeson, Naomi Ackie, Richard E. Grant, Billy Dee Williams, Keri Russell, Ian McDermid AND Carrie Fisher. Screenplay by Chris Terrio and J. J. Abrams, Story by Derek Connelly, Colin Trevorrow, Directed by J. J. Abrams.
“NEVER underestimate a droid.”
General Leia Organa
Last month, I had the privilege of meeting actor Anthony Daniels when his book tour in support of his memoir, I Am C-3PO, stopped at my old place of employment, Joseph Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati, Ohio.
As Mr. Daniels personalized my book, I gave him a brief re-telling of my first viewing Star Wars in May of 1977:
While attending Disclave in Washington D.C., I fairly stumbled into discovering that a new movie, Star Wars, was showing at the Uptown Theater on Connecticut Avenue, just a half a mile from the Sheraton Park Hotel. On that Saturday evening, it was one of only 30 places in the entire United States showing the movie. (It rolled out to several hundred more after that weekend.)
I was lucky enough to get a ticket to Saturday’s midnight showing. And when I emerged, dazed and deliriously happy two hours and a minute later, I ran into one of my new fannish friends, future Worldcon chair Michael Walsh. When we spotted each other, we simultaneously and spontaneously started dancing on the sidewalk outside the theater making a spectacle of ourselves.
When I finished my story, Mr. Daniels had a look of utter surprise on his face. After reading the first chapter of his book (which I HIGHLY recommend, by the way), he has stated that he is always surprised and amazed by how many people have been touched in some way by this series of films.
When I first saw what eventually became Episode IV: A New Hope, I was almost twenty-one years old. And amazingly, here I am now, forty-two years later, writing a review of the final film in what is now known as the Skywalker Saga. And what a wild ride it has been over nine feature films, spin off films, several television series and hundreds of novels and comics.
There has been been an immense wave of backlash from detractors of J.J. Abrams and haters of the previous two Star Wars films in advance of the premiere of The Rise of Skywalker. As for myself, I try to stay away from both the hype and the churn of internet spite, least anything disrupt or bias my enjoyment of this film.
Does anyone out there remember the good old days, when personal beefs and flame wars were either settled within the confines of printed, mimeographed fanzines or in person at sf conventions on panels (or, in some cases, the hallways or the consuite)? Nowadays, all it takes is just a smartphone and two minutes of idle brain farts.
But alas, I have digressed a bit too much. On with the show…
[The main review follows the jump]
THE RISE OF SKYWALKER
The dead speak! The galaxy has heard a mysterious broadcast, a threat of REVENGE in the sinister voice of the late EMPEROR PALPATINE.
GENERAL LEIA ORGANA dispatches secret agents to gather intelligence, while REY, the last hope of the Jedi, trains for battle against the diabolical FIRST ORDER.
Meanwhile, Supreme Leader KYLO REN rages in search of the phantom Emperor, determined to destroy any threat to his power…
So, the biggest non-spoiler was the return of the Empire’s evil Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious (Ian McDiarmid), who was back and badder than ever. And you thought Darth Vader had killed him by tossing him down that reactor shaft in Return of the Jedi (1983)?
But, you may be asking, how did that happen? Well, I can honestly say that this plot point really didn’t matter to me (although it most certainly will drive some purists bonkers); the Sith are legendary in all of their iterations for being slippery bastards so why shouldn’t Palpatine have a backup escape plan just in case Luke and Darth tried to take him out?
McDiarmid doesn’t get a lot of screen time but when you ooze with evil and radiate menace like he does by just just grinning slyly and blinking at you the wrong way, you don’t need it. He’s the BIG BAD here; he knows it and he KNOWS you know it!
In the opening moments, our angry proto-Sith, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) lands on Palpatine’s secret base with every intention of killing him and claiming the galaxy for himself. But before he can do so, the Emperor makes him a very persuasive offer he can hardly refuse…
In the meantime, Finn, Poe and Chewie (John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Joonas Soutano) receive some important intel to deliver to General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher, incorporating unused footage from The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi).
The information vaguely outlines Palpatine’s threat to wipe out the Resistance and subjugate any planet that dare to oppose them. Rey (Daisy Ridley), along with C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and the others take off in the Millennium Falcon to pursue a lead that may them to find the whereabouts of varied forces that threaten the galaxy…or lead them straight into the hands of Kylo Ren or, even worse, an elaborate trap set by Palpatine himself.
I have often said (to anyone who would listen) that making a film, whether it is good or bad, is a miracle in itself. You can hire the best producer, director, writer(s) cast, music and supporting crew and still end up with a headless, stinking fish that no one wants to smell, less look at for any length of time. And the cinematic highway is littered with the corpses of movie bombs that didn’t have a quarter of the problems this production had.
J.J. Abrams was tapped as the film’s second director, after the first hire, writer-director Colin Trevorrow and his co-writer, Derek Connolly, left the project when they could not come up with a viable scenario and in addition, had creative differences with Lucasfilms CEO, Kathleen Kennedy.
And when you add the unfortunate and tragic demise of Carrie Fisher into this mix, you have a perfect recipe for disaster. And some critics have (and will) say that The Rise of Skywalker is just that, a mess of meandering cliches that does not challenge anyone’s intellect and just tries to pander to the fans more basic instincts.
Well, I am going to beg to differ.
Abrams and his co-screenwriter Chris Terrio, took some elements of Trevorrow and Connelly’s work and crafted a story wherein they could almost seamlessly incorporate some of Carrie Fisher’s unused outtakes to tell an entertaining, thrill a minute story.
Most importantly, the story they are telling features some of the burning questions regarding the incredibly appealing trinity of heroes, Rey, Finn and Poe, that have driven these films. Moreover, they spend a lot of time together and they are a ton of fun to watch interacting with each other.
Luke (Mark Hamill) and Lando (Billy Dee Williams) are back in action, the former as a Force Ghost offering some timely advice to Rey and the latter as the ever dashing Lando Calrissian, who pops up unexpectedly to help out the Resistance in their most desperate hour.
An old Abrams casting alum, Keri Russell (Felicity, Mission Impossible III) shows up as an old frenemy of Poe’s who isn’t feeling that friendly when they encounter each other. And Richard E. Grant is chillingly businesslike as one of the old Empire’s admirals on the hunt for Resistance fighters.
It is also worth noting the exceptional performance of Adam Driver, who, as Rey’s Force counterpart, matches her physicality, intensity and verve in every scene they share. There’s something wonderfully dangerous happening when they’re together and and it fairly jumps off the screen and bites you as a viewer.
There are some surprises and revelations as well; there were several squeals of delight and shocking gasps in the crowd I was with at the very first 6 p.m. showing at our local theater. And let me tell you, it was a delight to share the experience with a large, boisterous crowd. THIS is the best reason to go to a theater to see a film or a play; the sense of joy and wonder among a community of fellow strangers, drawn in by a story and actors.
Going in, I thought that the choice of the title was a terrible piece of marketing. But after seeing the final images of The Rise of Skywalker, I realized that it was the most perfect, and best title they could have possibly come up with.
After forty-two years, the Skywalker Saga has come to a close. As always, I stayed through the end credits to savor the variations of John Williams soaring and magically energetic score.
And yes, when it was all said and done, it was a somewhat sentimental, frenetic, loud and highly satisfying experience, just as it was on a warm spring morning in 1977.
I hope you find it just as enjoyable as I did.
DEDICATED to the memories of Carrie Fisher, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew and Gary Kurtz.