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Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker spoiler-free review: Kylo, Rey save the film


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Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker spoiler-free review: Kylo, Rey save the film

It's a bumpy ride on the way to a mostly satisfying conclusion.

Promotional image for Star Wars Episode IX.
Enlarge / The best new-trilogy actors awaken in Rise of Skywalker.
Ars Technica takes spoilers seriously in film reviews. After this article's opening section, minor plot details are revealed to explain certain opinions, but we otherwise do not include any "major" spoilers. Deeper spoilers will likely appear in the comments section upon the film's launch, usually posted with spoiler tags.


The best thing about Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is that it concludes the latest trilogy much in the same way it began. This new trilogy has all the trappings you'd expect in a Star Wars film wishlist: droids, Wookiees, blasters, lightsabers, epic space battles, wacky new characters, and on and on.


But the beating heart of this film, and the biggest reason I recommend it, is the evolving and intriguing relationship between Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Rise of Skywalker is often a turbulent ride, usually to its detriment, but the storytelling conclusion for these eternally linked rivals (and the performances that carry these characters to their most powerful moments in the Star Wars series) eke this film across the "good enough for fans" line.


Without that quality (an admittedly large percentage of the film), Rise of Skywalker might otherwise serve as proof that director/co-writer J.J. Abrams was the wrong person to finish the latest trilogy. The film rushes between plot points, overuses certain characters, and wastes others. And whether you loved, tolerated, or hated 2017's The Last Jedi, it's easy to conclude that the previous film's most intriguing developments and concepts were abandoned—and without any convincing proof that Abrams had better ideas in store.

“I’ll go without your blessing”

From here on out, the review is more specific about Rise of Skywalker's successes and failings, so while it is mindful of spoilers, you've been warned.

Let's begin with the biggest failing of the film by far: how the character of Princess Leia awkwardly fits into the plot.


Shortly after the tragic passing of actor, writer, and activist Carrie Fisher, Lucasfilm announced that she would appear in Rise of Skywalker as Leia and that the film would use her real-life footage, as opposed to a CGI-ified Fisher. The resulting footage is perhaps the worst-case scenario Star Wars fans could have imagined: cookie-cutter dialogue against a green screen that could conceivably be slapped into any plot, devoid of the heart or humor that consistently marked Fisher's work in the role of Leia.


One example of her toothless dialogue, transcribed verbatim from the film: "This mission is everything. We cannot fail." Notice how spoiler-free that sentence is? Sure, that sounds like something Leia might say while serving as a general on a Resistance outpost. She offers slightly more specific dialogue in one interaction in the film, to set a major plot point into motion, but even that sequence has a jarring disconnect between herself and the character in question—and fails to sew together her character picking up a baton that was dropped at the end of Last Jedi. Everything about Leia's appearance in Rise of Skywalker is rough, and it forces at least one other character to awkwardly produce the exclamation point that she was clearly set up to do herself.

In late 2017, I suggested recasting the role of Leia. I really wish someone at Lucasfilm could have either done that or jettisoned certain plot threads.


Instead, in order to make Leia's limited appearance work, the film begins with a blur of fetch-quest activity. A pair of early sequences include striking visuals as heroes whiz through a variety of worlds, but these differ from the slowly unfolding opening sequences that have marked the best Star Wars films. Abrams frames every major player on their own separate journey, instead of letting us take our time to see each hero's progress since the last film and how their individual progress has affected the others. We see a brief in-fighting outburst that hints to this sort of dynamic, but it's quickly interrupted by a forced Leia-nization of the plot.

“I have been every voice”

As I said last time around, Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) continue to suffer from the sneaking suspicion that one of those characters was supposed to tragically die two films ago. As a result, they are once again forced to split precious character-development screen time, which they admittedly nail better in Rise of Skywalker than ever before. Abrams keeps these two characters together more in this film than in previous entries, and the payoff comes from their chemistry and bond as soldiers who've survived together. Theirs is a truly brotherly bond of annoyance, understanding, and faith, and it gets paid off in every dimension—from quippy one-liners to action-scene heroics.


The trouble here is, Abrams makes a few dreadfully wrong calls in terms of who to leave on screen and who to dismiss from the action. Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), in particular, returns to the action as a wasted hanger-on, and her dialogue mostly comes in the form of calls-to-arm battle cries instead of paying forward her progress as a unique "everywoman" soldier among the ranks of Jedi and Resistance leaders. Weirdly, in this film, Finn mostly pretends she doesn't exist, in spite of their emotional connection by the end of Last Jedi (when she, ya know, saved his life). Why write her into the film and force us to ask what the heck happened between the two?


Instead, Rise of Skywalker suffers from a serious case of sidekick-itis, in that Poe and Finn are constantly surrounded by hangers-on. C3PO (Anthony Daniels) is the sole standout among Poe and Finn's companions; the rest take away opportunities for Poe and Finn to bond either with each other or with a pair of compelling new characters (Keri Russell as a spice runner and Naomi Ackie as a mysterious survivor). Did we really need another droid who offers zero new dimensions of cuteness or humor? And did we really need.... ahem, nope, there's no spoiler-free way to conclude this sentence about the bloated cast.


Speaking of spoilers: two massive plot points will likely drive series fans up the walls, which I will only vaguely hint at. Their impact on the plot is different than Luke Skywalker's renouncing of the Jedi Order in The Last Jedi, so it's not necessarily an apples-and-apples thing to claim that the 2017 film's haters will be equally bothered by how Rise of Skywalker patches its plot together. But, hoo boy. One of these plot shifts betrays a character's apparent principles, and I'm still shaking in annoyance about it. The other will have fans scouring existing Star Wars repositories of stories and lore to patch together exactly how a new piece of information came to pass—and whether it makes any logical sense.

“Wookiees stand out in a crowd”

Once the opening blur of fetch quests and video game-like missions concludes, and Rey and Kylo's trajectories firm up, the rest of the film becomes easier to stomach. This is largely because Kylo and Rey continue to reach across dimensions in striking fashion—a good reminder that Rian Johnson's directing wizardry from Last Jedi was easily one of the best contributions to the series at large. But Abrams does eventually get the hang of juggling Rey and Kylo's primary plot with Finn and Poe's parallel journey, and the film's final hour nicely paces its mix of pain, discovery, jokes, hope, and explosive action.


I'm left so stunned by both Driver and Ridley's performances that I can't pick a favorite between the two. Each pushes the other to extremes as centerpieces of this trilogy's most brutal conflict, and both are forced to consider disobeying their characters' purest principles—and convey their struggles with these choices through tense, drawn-out sequences. Some of these are marked by epic, brutal lightsabering. Others are marked by tear-filled stares and conversations. Neither feels out of place or overdone in the context of their eventual, dramatic conclusion. (Meaning, don't expect Driver to star in laughable memes based on this film's footage.)


The major plot point that moves both actors to the film's conclusion might be debated by series addicts for some time. But I would argue that this development, even if it doesn't add up in terms of series canon, is the new film's most nimble element. Both Rey and Kylo needed to come together and battle their respective, diametrically opposed demons to face off in the breath-catching manner that Rise eventually reaches. Abrams and co. figured out a nifty plot device that would bring the characters together in ways that each actor can believably (and enjoyably) sell.

“Confronting fear is the destiny”

And each character's steps towards the film's end is the stuff that we desperately want from big-screen Star Wars adventures: a brutal weighing of darkness and light, of fear and hope, that reminds us why Luke, Han, and Leia's first journey in 1977 was so inspiring (and continues to be so). Hopefully, readers here won't think it a spoiler to say that Rise's big moral conclusion is that "you are not alone." Every major character's path to the end revolves around this concept, in terms of knowing that a greater force connects us all, no matter where you come from or what you might call a "family." (Though this comes without really sewing together a similar message from the end of Last Jedi, which is a letdown.)


Abrams may have been hogtied to serious expectations and demands from fans and Lucasfilm alike in selling Episode IX's ultimate moral message. This is a bloated, unwieldy film, and it's proof that we're all better off if the Star Wars side of Disney takes a breather from tentpole trilogies going forward. But the crucial stuff made it across Rise's finish line, enough to well my tears up in satisfying, dedicated-fan fashion, and Ridley, Driver, Isaac, and Boyega can all be proud of delivering their best performances yet in this final entry.



Source: Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker spoiler-free review: Kylo, Rey save the film (Ars Technica)  


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Just saw it.... and as a big fan, who hates what Ryan did... and found the Ep. 7 from J.j as "so so" I find the Rise of the Skywalker as a very good conclusion. Definitely better than 7, by light years better than 8, better than the first 1-3 and on pair with Ep 4.... maybe 5. 6 being still the best.


J.J did a really good job coming out of the sh*thole Ryan left for him after Ep. 8. 

Unfortunately there was just too much to correct/clarify in these 2,5 hours so sometimes the film feels a little bit too fast and too chaotic. Nevertheless -- he tried to close all the open questions, has lead to a satisfying conclusion.... 

I was happy at the end... and felt satisfied. So as my colleagues that came with me to the cinema.

Overall rating : 7.5/10 .... tending even to an 8/10.

Edited by PrEzi
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Not a fan of any of the sequels or prequels but this isn't terrible.. The first part is a disaster though so much jumping around and stupid conversation.
Picks up when it gets into the real meat which is Kylo and Rey doing their thing. D-O is funny, everyone is a bit more serious this time around.

Seems to be on par maybe slightly better than TFA, minus that first 30 mins or so which is a complete clusterfuck.

Overall the trilogy sucks with no real direction, no decent characters (as developed/shown within this trilogy), lackluster soundtrack and stupid dialogue and story.

Hard for this to be worse than TLJ though which is almost universally hated. 5/10

Watch the Mandalorian instead, that is real Star Wars. Many are considering these sequels as non canon, I am one of them.

Edited by Ryrynz
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  • 2 weeks later...

They tried to cram way too much into a movie with a shorter runtime than last jedi... With how much they wanted to do, i wouldn't have been opposed if they split this movie into parts 1 and 2. Was a nice wrap-up to the story. After watching the star wars cartoons, with the depth of the storyline in star wars, i think it is more fitting to be a long running big budget tv series rather than movies. 

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