In A New Hope, when Han Solo describes the Millennium Falcon, he says “she’s got it where it counts.” The same could be said of The Rise of Skywalker- an occasionally frustrating and erratic film. However, in its best moments, the final instalment proves to be a soaring love letter to the franchise and its themes. The force is mostly with it.
Touted as a culmination of the Skywalker saga, (comprised of three trilogies worth of films), The Rise of Skywalker takes place a year after the events of The Last Jedi. When the saga’s overarching villain- Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is discovered to be alive and well, our heroes, Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac) attempt to find the Dark Lord of the Sith. They do this in planet-hopping style by finding various MacGuffins that hold the key to his whereabouts. This is punctuated with Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver) persistent force encounters with Rey, who uses them to test the young heroine’s commitment to the Jedi cause.
For a film that’s supposed to wrap up nine films, The Rise of Skywalker is surprisingly light on its feet, often charming with its humour (mostly courtesy of C3P0) and frantic exploration. But, the film does have weight, with a permeating bleakness coming from the heroes’ impossible task of overcoming Palpatine’s final order. This gives the film a great amount of urgency. Characters often have to sacrifice their dreams in service to the larger cause of stopping the ultimate evil.
Although, at times, this aspect is deflated by the film’s persistently cavalier relationship with consequence. There are scenes that commit to an emotional weighty moment and are completely undermined later by a quick fix or explanation. The film’s breathless pacing and excessive amount of plot also mean that some of the new intriguing elements of the film are brushed under the carpet.
But the film does succeed in creating rousing action sequences, whether it’s the opening space chase that’s fueled by snarky dialogue and amusing scenery changes as opposed to adrenaline. Or the central lightsaber battle that takes place on the ruins of the old Death Star. Aesthetically, it resembles the fiery Mustafar duel in Revenge of the Sith and best represents the cyclical nature of the film series.
In a trilogy that’s showcased, talented young actors: Adam Driver has impressed the most with a delicate balance of ferocious physicality and subdued facial expressions. In the Rise of Skywalker, the actor illustrates the internal strife between Kylo Ren and Ben Skywalker with touching subtlety.
Daisy Ridley adds more shades to Rey, namely, in the form of a shadow version. She takes the inviting aspects of the character and twists them into an animalistic presence. And Ian McDiarmid’s return as Palpatine retains the terrifying stillness that was a memorable aspect of the character in Return of the Jedi.
Above all, The Rise of Skywalker is most at home in its thematic echos of the franchise. Rey’s plight is similar to both Anakin’s and Luke’s final struggles, insofar as she feels likes she’s destined to a fate she can’t change. So, she shies away from it confronting it out of fear.
This internal strife feels in keeping with a series that’s always used its mythological hero’s journey as a metaphor for burgeoning adolescence. Rey’s journey is a powerful conflict of self-identity. Is she bound by her family blood? Or can she overcome it and achieve a sense of self-actualisation? The film’s persistent questioning and depiction of this struggle are engaging.
In fact, this conflict extends to some of the supporting players, who have to grapple with their place in the wider conflict and story. At one point, Poe asks Lando (Billy Dee Williams), how did you and a small group of people beat a huge Empire? Lando simply says we had each other.
Likewise, Finn through the prism of a new character- Jannah, realises he’s not the only renegade Stormtrooper. In a story that’s had the supremacy of bloodlines and a prophecy of a chosen one, The Rise of Skywalker emphasises the optimism of banding together, and the similarities that unite us.
The Rise of Skywalker is an experience that at times could die a death of thousand nitpicks and continuity questions. I’ve not even begun to process its complicated relationship with The Last Jedi. But it’s a film that has an emotional truth about its characters and themes.