Film Reviews

Film Review: Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker

As the deceased Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) returns, Rey (Daisy Ridley) and the Resistance prepare for a final battle with Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver) First Order.

“What a shame then, that the ‘Sequel Trilogy’ ultimately ended with a whimper rather than a bang”

All the way back in 2015, The Force Awakens seemed a relief to most Star Wars fans. Whilst not the most original of films; the cast were charming, the world-building was intriguing, and the action was exciting. J.J. Abrams, who had similarly revived the Star Trek franchise, seemed to have caught lightning in a bottle again. What a shame then, that the ‘Sequel Trilogy’ ultimately ended with a whimper rather than a bang.

Blame has been laid at the door of Rian Johnson who helmed the last main instalment in the franchise (The Last Jedi) which subverted many of the set-ups established in The Force Awakens. Defenders of The Rise of Skywalker will claim that Abrams was simply making the best of a bad lot, as though The Last Jedi left the franchise irreparable.

“Having seen The Rise of Skywalker, I’m left pining for a film that dared to try something new in a 40-year-old franchise”

True, it was far from a perfect film, and it deserves some of the scorn it received for its efforts to subvert the expectations of audiences rather than tell a coherent story. However, having seen The Rise of Skywalker, I’m left pining for a film that dared to try something new in a 40-year-old franchise. Skywalker is slavishly dedicated to replicating scenes from George Lucas’ original trilogy and at points seems mean-spirited in the way it contradicts Johnson’s work. Which would be more forgivable if Skywalker had anything interesting to say itself.

The main villain of the original trilogy returns in this film to hammer home the lack of ideas. McDiarmid is a good sport in the role, but the script allows him to be neither the Satanic figure of the originals nor the scheming Iago of the prequels. His reliably entertaining performance is reduced to mumbling out lines designed to fill in plot-holes but that raise more questions than answers. Even at his most evil, Abrams only ever allows him to nibble at the scenery rather than devour it.

“A general tiredness of all the actors”

This seems symptomatic of a general tiredness of all the actors. The apparent ‘main trio’ of this trilogy all seem somewhat bored or embarrassed by the material they’re given. John Boyega has been vocal about his lack of interest in returning to his role and it is apparent why. He and the other two (Oscar Isaac and Daisy Ridley) are given little to do but run about: occasionally shouting out some quip, or solemnly murmuring some nonsensical exposition.

“Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is a role elevated by the performance”

Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is a role elevated by the performance, but the reintroduction of the Emperor makes it clear that Abrams has no idea of what to do with him. These actors should hopefully enjoy better roles in more interesting material now. Driver specifically has recently given a wonderful performance in Marriage Story (dir. Noah Baumbach), streaming on Netflix.

The weakness of the script seems to stem from Abrams’ and co-writer Chris Terrio’s focus on making Star Wars the way they think it must be. Good must fight evil – so the pre-packaged evil from the original trilogy returns. There must be exciting battles- so there are about half a dozen, each more forgettable than the last. Lessons must be learned – so Abrams hastily sets up a character arc and moral for each main character here in the last film of the trilogy, often seeming to come out of nowhere or even contradicting their earlier motivations.

“By the end of the exhaustive runtime it may seem a relief that it’s over”

By the end of the exhaustive runtime it may seem a relief that it’s over. Not just the film but the entire franchise. However, noticeably the three trilogies have recently been rebranded as the ‘Skywalker Saga’ so that Disney can proudly proclaim that story has come to an end, whilst churning out as much dreck as they want under the Star Wars IP.

We’ve already had resoundingly okay films in Rogue One and Solo, and a television show propped up by the public’s interest in a puppet in The Mandalorian. The hallmark of Disney’s Star Wars seems to be inoffensiveness to the point of offence and the dead horse will likely experience a few more beatings before it stops being profitable.

To any who dare to continue with this franchise of diminishing returns: may the Force be with you.


Gareth Bourne

Featured Image courtesy of  Lucasfilm, Bad Robot and Walt Disney Pictures via IMDb.

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