STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER – Film Review

The surviving Resistance faces the First Order once more as Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron’s (Oscar Isaac) journey continues. With the power and knowledge of generations behind them, the final battle commences.

Well, here we are. I never thought this day would come if I am going to be one hundred percent honest with you. This weekend, the final film in the decade-spanning Skywalker Saga has been released, titled The Rise of Skywalker, which promises to bring a definitive, satisfying, and thrilling end to this beloved series that started all the way back in 1977 with George Lucas’ Star Wars (later retitled to A New Hope).

For many children all around the globe, the Star Wars films are ones that they grew up with and have loved ever since their youth. Many people grew up popping in the VHS tapes of films like The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi and falling in love with this empowering saga about hope, family, love, and so, so much more. Whether it was the fan favorite characters like Luke Skywalker, the villainous Darth Vader, the Jedi master Yoda, or the bounty hunter Han Solo, the characters are ones that have become iconic in the decades to come.

These movies have offered so many classic moments in cinema, that if I were to sit here and make an effort to list off every single one of them, it would take me hours to do so. Perhaps the most famous one is the shocking twist in the aforementioned Empire Strikes Back, where it is revealed that the evil Sith lord Darth Vader is actually the father of none other than lead protagonist and hero Luke Skywalker.

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Mark Hamill (left) as Luke Skywalker, Carrie Fisher (center) as Princess Leia Organa, and Harrison Ford (right) as Han Solo in Star Wars (1977).

The point I am trying to get at here is that Star Wars means something to seemingly every movie fan. There truly is something for everybody in these films, even if you are not the biggest fan of science fiction action epics like this. This may come as a gigantic surprise to all of you reading this, but my first exposure to this massive franchise was not during my youth. I did not start watching the adventures of Luke and company as a three or even five year old and fall in love with these characters my whole life. My first exposure to Star Wars in general was at the age of nine, when I first played the video game Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. The first Star Wars film I watched, however, was the original 1977 one, but that was not until my pre-teens at least.

So, even though I did not grow up loving this franchise, I did eventually find my love for this series, but it just was not until much later in life than most people may expect, especially from a film lover like me. But, I do remember that the first time I watched these pictures, absolutely cherishing the themes that they carried, and having an absolute blast with all of these characters that I eventually become emotionally attached to. When the original trilogy came to an end, it was bittersweet for me.

It was actually really heartwarming to see Luke, Han, Leia, and the rest of the gang finally defeat the treacherous Empire and to see none other than Darth Vader himself be redeemed, but it was also kind of sad because some part of me thought that I may never get to go on another journey to a galaxy far, far away with these characters again. Sure, it was definitely nice to see the prequel trilogy explore some of the more lesser known areas of this expansive universe and give answers for how Anakin Skywalker ultimately became corrupt and turned to the Dark Side, but those films, while still entertaining, just did not quite have that spark that the original trilogy had for me.

But then, the sequel trilogy became a reality back in 2015 with the release of J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which beautifully set up a heavily intriguing story that introduced brand new characters such as Rey, Finn, and Poe, while also bringing back fan favorites such as Han, Luke, and Leia. For me, The Force Awakens was so much more than just “a retread of A New Hope“. I often hear that complaint, and simply do not feel that way at all. Sure, the two have similar themes and sometimes, some of the characters’ arcs are similar, but they feel distinctly different in my eyes. I remember seeing that film in theatres for the first time and falling in love with this franchise even more.

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John Boyega (left) as Finn and Daisy Ridley (right) as Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015).

Then, in 2017, we had a follow-up to that film, titled The Last Jedi. Let’s just get this out of the way right now – that was, and still is to this day, the most controversial entry in the saga to date. So many people all around the world hate that film with a burning passion. Many disliked the choices that writer/director Rian Johnson did with that picture and thought that it had ruined the series. People did not like the portrayal of Luke Skywalker in that film, they did not like the Canto Bight sequences, and they also thought that it was a bit corny at times as well. Those are not all of the complaints it got, but that is the biggest ones I have seen over the years. I, however, cherish that film with all my heart. Not only is it a masterpiece, but for me, it is still to this day the second greatest Star Wars movie ever released.

So, here we are then. Two years since the release of The Last Jedi, four years since the release of The Force Awakens, and more than forty years since the release of A New Hope. We are at the end of the saga. A day I truly never thought would come. When you love a franchise this much, when it ultimately comes to an end, it can seem surreal.

Going into The Rise of Skywalker, the final entry in the series, once again directed by Abrams who previously helmed Force Awakens, my expectations were lowered considerably, which may come as a shock to some of you. The only reason why, is because of the immense amounts of hate this film got online before it was released to the public. I am not talking about the fan reception, but the critical reception. Critics actually really loved the first two films in the sequel trilogy, and both of them have more than 90% on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes. But Rise of Skywalker has a rotten score, making it the first film in the franchise since The Phantom Menace to have a negative score on the service.

People kept telling me that this movie was awful. A disgrace to the fans that adore this series. I heard that if you loved The Last Jedi, which I did, then I would really hate this movie. So I went in to the theatre with my expectations checked at the door. But, I have to say… The Rise of Skywalker floored me. From the bottom of my heart, I did not expect to leave this theatre with this much joy radiating from me. This is no bad film, not even close. In fact, it is one of the best Star Wars entries to date, and I actually enjoyed it even more than Force Awakens.

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John Boyega (center) as Finn and Oscar Isaac (right) as Poe Dameron in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019).

At this point, we come to expect breathtaking action set pieces for these films, yet even still, my jaw was on the floor watching all of these action sequences playing out in front of me. There are tons of fun moments here that will leave people massively thrilled throughout. If you did not like the fact that Last Jedi did not have a “true” lightsaber battle, then fear not, because Rise of Skywalker contains a long, brilliantly choreographed, intense lightsaber battle that left me white knuckled. One of the best in the saga.

Accompanying these mesmerizing action scenes, are state of the art, visually awe-inspiring visual effects that left me speechless. I honestly cannot comprehend how long it must have taken the team to even create the effects for even one scene, let alone an entire film. All of the visuals here are gorgeous, and look so convincing. Yes, of course we know that it is computer generated imagery, but that does not make it any less appealing when it is done with this much skill.

Dan Mindel, who previously served as the director of photography on the aforementioned Force Awakens, returns once more to shoot this picture, and he did a remarkable job yet again. Virtually every frame of The Rise of Skywalker is astoundingly beautiful, with a few shots in particular leaving a lasting impression on me. There are some frames here that I will never forget seeing for the first time.

John Williams has composed the score for every film in the Skywalker Saga to date, including Rise of Skywalker. This is the last time he will compose a score for a Star Wars film, and he went out with a bang here. He creates a euphoric score that will excite you, pull on your heartstrings, and make you joyous. Although a lot of this score is new material, something really great I thought Williams did this time around was use subtle cues from previous tracks he composed. A couple of times during the film we can hear the iconic Imperial March playing in the background, as well as many others that I did not expect to hear and delighted me.

Speaking of pulling on the heartstrings, this is an extremely emotional movie. It is gladly not overly emotional; it hits exactly when it needs to. There are a couple of moments in particular that left me in tears. Yes. I cried twice during The Rise of Skywalker and I did not expect to do that. I don’t know why to be honest, because I cried during Force Awakens and Last Jedi too. But there are two sequences here, that hit me hard.

 

But it is not a film that is overblown with sadness. Much like the others before it, this entry is filled with terrific humor that happily always lands and managed to put a humongous smile across my face. It was really nice to sit down in a theatre, and laugh, smile and have fun with a packed audience seeing Star Wars one final time.

One of my favorite things that the sequel trilogy offered us was Daisy Ridley as Rey. I am so incredibly glad that the filmmakers decided to hire her to portray a hero for a whole new generation starting with The Force Awakens, because Ridley is a revelation. I truthfully believe she is one of the strongest actresses working today, and one that I don’t think is getting enough roles. Here, she delivers yet another gripping performance as Rey, who gets explored in ways I did not expect. Although Rey is most certainly an interesting character, Ridley makes her more charming and entertaining to watch on screen. You can tell that she genuinely has a blast playing this character.

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Daisy Ridley as Rey in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019).

Also enthralling here is Adam Driver who reprises his role as Kylo Ren. Out of all the characters that go through an incredibly memorable journey here, its Ren whose story is the most exciting. Kylo goes places in this story that left me in complete and utter awe. His journey is one of the most touching, riveting, and fascinating of the entire Star Wars saga.

It feels so good to have been able to see such an incredible film serve as the final installment in one of the most beloved franchises in the world. Of course there are going to be people that see this movie and absolutely despise it, but that is to be expected. With any film, not everybody is going to be pleased, but there are people out there that will be. I was not only left pleased, but envigorated and emotional, as I witnessed a beautiful end to my all time favorite film series.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is an absolute revelation. Filled with gripping performances, awe-inspiring action and visuals, an emotional core, and beautiful technical elements, this is a beautiful way to end such a beloved saga.

Overall Grade: A+

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action

Cast: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid, Billy Dee Williams

Directed by: J. J. Abrams

Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Running Time: 142 minutes

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