By Fiach Mac Fhionnlaoich
Bringing the Star Wars saga to a close is no enviable task. A massive cultural juggernaut that has permeated imaginations worldwide since the release of its first instalment, it has also already been given a conclusion twice. Firstly, with the release of Return of the Jedi in 1983 and then again following the end of the prequel trilogy in 2005.
Following his role in kickstarting a third trilogy with 2015’s Episode VII: The Force Awakens, JJ Abrams returns as director and co-writer to bookend the final instalment. Whilst polarising among fans of the space epic, the previous instalment of the saga, Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, tried to break away from old patterns, warning against the idolisation of the past by characters on both sides of this new trilogy’s central conflict, and raising wider questions on the impact of the central battles between good and evil, Jedi and Sith, on the galaxy that surrounds them. It’s sad to think that fan reaction to that move may have led to the end result of Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, which ends up feeling like a film made by a committee.
The actors, for their part, do an admirable job with the material they’re given and seeing Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) finally share extended screen time together is a joy. Lucasfilm, Disney and Abrams were left in a tough position following the untimely passing of Carrie Fisher and do their best to give Fisher’s General Leia Organa the send-off she deserves. Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico suffers from a dearth of lines or significant role in the plot, while Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren remains a frustrating cipher, though Driver does his best to imbue with the character with a tortured humanity.
The film relies heavily on collective nostalgia, rather than trusting the themes and characters that have breathed new life into this set of sequels, with a ridiculous amount of call-backs that seemingly attempt to weaponize the audience’s memories of previous and better instalments of the saga. Plotlines begun in Episodes VII and VIII are either dropped, retconned or quietly ignored and the final showdown descends into a CGI-fest which fails to capture the pathos of previous outings.
The closing minutes feel hollow, and the insertion of a split-second same-sex kiss between two background characters (enough for Disney to jockey for brownie points in advance of the film’s release but hardly the sign of a bastion of progressivism) only adds to the sense of a film that seems to have very little to show us that we haven’t seen before. I didn’t leave The Rise of Skywalker with much curiosity as to what comes next from the franchise, nor did I find it an entirely dismal effort, but for a fan of a galaxy far far away, that blasé reaction may be the most difficult feeling to reckon with of all.
2.5 stars out of 5