Sunday 22 December 2019

Film Review: Star Wars – The Rise of Skywalker

The Skywalker saga lurches to a disappointing and disjointed conclusion in JJ Abrams' Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

"The dead speak!" proclaims the opening crawl of The Rise of Skywalker. Brace yourselves, because it only gets stranger from here on out.

Opening with a narrative leap that sees this third and final film in the sequel trilogy feel distinctly different to the preceding two, 
The Rise of Skywalker
 races to cover a lot of ground and wrap up not just this trilogy, but the trilogy of trilogies stretching all the way back to The Phantom Menace.

The nefarious Emperor Palpatine (a returning Ian McDiarmid) has risen from the great beyond, sending a message of evil across the stars. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Supreme Leader of the First Order, responds by seeking out the source of Palpatine's broadcast; meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) is diligently completing her Jedi training under the tutelage of General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher, via footage previously deleted from The Force Awakens).

And so begins a quest that sets Kylo and Rey on a collision course, with the rivals both hunting for a mystical Sith gizmo that will lead them through the darkest depths of space and to Palpatine's icy lair. Along the way, the two lock horns in the ancient deserts of Pasaana, the ruins of the Second Death Star and the snowy streets of Kijimi, before coming face-to-face with the wizened Emperor and his legions of Star Destroyers.

Racing out of the gates like a laser bolt, The Rise of Skywalker is a sprawling, pulpy story told at breakneck speed. The plot sees our heroes – Rey, Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) – bounce around the galaxy and bounce off one another. That notion – of bounciness – is what sums up The Rise of Skywalker. It's very glossy and packed with whizzbang spectacle, but sorely lacking in the character and narrative cohesion department.

In a thematic sense, Abrams' film is a jumbled mess. It jettisons much of what Rian Johnson's divisive but necessary middle chapter The Last Jedi introduced, which will no doubt upset or annoy fans who appreciated Johnson's vision and nuanced understanding of the Star Wars galaxy – myself included.

It appears as though Abrams' first instinct when being handed the blank sheet afforded to him by Johnson's neat ending was to rip it all up and start again. Mysteries that Johnson put to bed – such as Rey's parentage and Kylo's true allegiances – are violently shaken awake by Abrams.

The first hour in particular is a disjointed jumble of ideas that never sits still. Rudimentary storytelling devices – like establishing shots – have been seemingly left on the editing room floor in order to keep the film moving at a frenetic speed.

Weird plot contrivances and boneheaded backtracks – one involving Chewbacca is particularly strange – mean that amidst the chaos, Abrams and cowriter Chris Terrio find themselves lost down some narrative cul-de-sacs of their own making. Somehow, The Rise of Skywalker is light on plot but way too convoluted at the same time.

The script – from start to finish – is equally as garbled, with some of the worst dialogue in the series since Attack of the Clones. Abrams is relying on colour and noise to distract his audience from the fact he has nothing to say and doesn't know what to do with the characters – it doesn't work, and a limp 'reveal' at the film's midpoint displays a reliance on shocking twists over satisfying arcs.

New heroes – such as Keri Russell's bounty hunter Zorii Bliss and Naomi Ackie's horseback warrior Jannah – add next to nothing to the story, while established characters like Kelly Marie Tran's Rose Tico and Domhnall Gleeson's General Hux are sidelined. Even legacy characters like Lando Calrissian are wasted, with Billy Dee Williams' glorified cameo in the iconic cape little more than pandering fan service.

Carrie Fisher's farewell is poorly executed as well. Using unused footage from The Force Awakens, Fisher is awkwardly inserted into the film and the visual effects used to make this happen don't mesh with the rest of the actors around her, like Tran and Dominic Monaghan's new Resistance fighter Beaumont Kin. Leia and her legacy would have been better served with a subtle and understated offscreen exit, in my opinion.

A bitterly disappointing conclusion that starts out wobbly only to become increasingly tangled in a mess of half-baked ideas, shaky action and stupid plot developments, The Rise of Skywalker sees the Star Wars saga end with a pitiful whimper.

The Verdict: 4/10

JJ Abrams' vaunted return to a galaxy far, far away undoes any goodwill its infrequent moments of brilliance offer through a nonsensical plot, shoddy writing, messy action and an upsetting willingness to hand audiences what they think they want, rather than what the story naturally calls for. It's a film written and developed by a committee, with retractions and retcons galore. The story and this series deserved far greater than this terrible final chapter.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is in cinemas across Australia now.

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