The Force Awakens (2015) director J.J. Abrams returns to see-off the franchise that revolutionized cinema and to bring to a satisfying conclusion a simple story of light and dark, love and hate and the power of individuals to change to course of galactic events. So, before I delve into the highs and lows of this movie, I first need to once again so thank you to Mr. George Lucas, without whom, none of this would ever had happened.
Set one-year after the disastrous events of The Last Jedi (2017), the story picks up with the Resistance still in hiding from the rampant First Order and its new Supreme Leader Kylo Ren who’s search for the scavenger Rey is only intensifying. Rey, now without a teacher, struggles to master her ever increasing force abilities while fighting her own inner-demons and the role she is to play in the future of the galaxy. With the future of the Galaxy in the balance a sinister presence from the past threatens to bring about an era of darkness and the death of the Jedi once and for all.
Abrams direction, pacing and focus on character development and conflict is masterful. Daisy Ridley gives her best performance of the series and Adam Driver’s subtle showing as the ever-tormented Kylo Ren reaches its climax. His Kylo is what Hayden Christianson’s Anakin could have been. Despite passing away three-years ago, Carrie Fischer has a central role in this movie and the use of old footage in a new story feels as well done as it can given the unfortunate circumstances. Iain McDiarmid’s return as the Emperor worked really well and he remains as evil and threatening as ever. Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron was the surprise performance of this movie, but a pleasant one to be sure. The newcomers – Kari Russell, Naomi Russell and Russell E. Grant in particular each add an new element to the story that has been missing so far and while his time of screen is more limited than I would like, it is of course great to see Billy Dee Williams back as Lando Calrissian, the smoothest mo-fo in the Galaxy. After eight movies, Anthony Daniles and C-3PO finally get a significant amount of screen time and a more central role in the progression of the story.
It is, as you would imagine, quite difficult to write about what made this film so wonderful while remaining spoiler free. Once enough time passes, I will come back with a more detailed appraisal of the movies good points which can only be done by including spoilers. Safe to say, there are plenty of them.
While the film is a technical and aesthetic triumph, it does suffer from moments of predictability, and a tendency to somewhat under-explain the narratives wider context.
Flaws in the writing and some thematic missed opportunities may be due to fact that Abrams also acted as writer. He came in late and built upon a screenplay initially written by Chris Terrio. Perhaps some of the movies plot-holes and weaker thematic moments would have been eliminated if Abrams had been allowed to work on a script from scratch or, even better, if Kathleen Kennedy had brough Rian Johnson back and had the two of them unite their stories. Of course, all of these issues could have been avoided had the overall story-arc been decided upon (with more input from the Story Group) before the cameras rolled for the first time on Episode VII. Given this didn’t happen, I think Abrams did an admiral job tying together his vision with the choices made by Rian Johnson. To me he is the hero of this trilogy.
Despite its flaws, The Rise of Skywalker is, overall, a wonderful movie which succeeded in bringing together themes and story elements from all of the previous episodic films and bringing the story to a satisfying end. This was no mean-feat and for it Abrams deserves much credit. There was never going to be a ‘perfect’ ending to the Skywalker Saga. Fans from different generations place emphasis on different things and our fandom is one that thrills in picking apart all aspects of the story they find even a little disagreeable. However, I left the cinema with tears in my eyes and a feeling that while the story has now ended, it ended in a way that does justice to what came before. Any film that can leave you in tears, yet with a sense of melancholy joy is one that will live with you forever.
One book closes. But there are still plenty of fantastical adventures to go on in that wonderful galaxy, far, far away….