Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker

Year: 2019
Production Co: LucasFilm
Studio: Disney
Director: JJ Abrams
Producer: JJ Abrams/Kathleen Kennedy/Michelle Rejwan
Writer: Chris Terrio/JJ Abrams/Derek Connolly/Colin Trevorrow
Cast: Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Anthony Daniels, Adam Driver, Jonas Suotamo, Ian McDiarmid, Billy Dee Williams, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E Grant, Keri Russell, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hammil, Harrison Ford, Naomi Ackie, Lupita Nyong'o, Kelly Marie Tran, Greg Grunberg, Billie Lourd, Dominic Monaghan, Warwick Davis, James Earl Jones, Andy Serkis, Samuel L Jackson, Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Liam Neeson, Alec Guinness, Frank Oz, Lin Manuel Miranda, Ed Sheeran, Kevin Smith

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was beloved all over, getting 79 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and taking so much money it probably contributed to Disney being flush enough to buy LucasFilm in the first place. The most recent and seemingly final instalment, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, was met with eye rolls from critics.

I never saw what was so much worse in the last film than the first apart from the fact that the novelty had worn off. The quality of the scripting, VFX, characterisations, direction and plot in both films (and every one that came in between them) was of the exact same standard.

When Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out in 2015, it was roundly cheered by critics, getting a 93 percent RT score. Now comes what we're told is the final instalment in the series George Lucas started in 1977, and even though it'll make over a billion at the time of writing this review with little effort, there's been a very muted critical response even though it's from the same director, has the same balance of new story and overt callbacks/fan service, gets the tone of a Star Wars movie perfect and wraps everything up more or less satisfactorily.

I can only assume whatever mojo the Pirates franchise had lost between the first and final entries applies here too. While bigger and better films came out throughout 2019, it proves once and for all that Star Wars is no longer a sacred institution bordering on a religion. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is just another movie, and as we realised when the sheen of giddy excitement from The Force Awakens had worn off a bit, Abrams trades in nostalgia as much as storytelling. How much you respond to all that will directly affect the amount you love the original trilogy and as such will have a lot to do with how old you are.

The Resistance has regrouped on a forest planet where Rey (Daisy Ridley) is in Jedi training under the tutelage of General Organa (Carrie Fisher), but an urgent mission comes up. We've already learned during the opening crawl that the voice of Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) – who's been dead since the end of the Empire decades before – has been heard in broadcasts across the galaxy, apparently having come back to life and threatening revenge against the Resistance.

The gang learn that Luke (Mark Hammil) was searching for the lost planet Palpatine's transmission originated from, Exegol, so they set off to find and destroy the undead despot once and for all. But Kylo (Adam Driver) has beaten them to it, using a Sith Macguffin to find the hidden world and confront the Emperor's animated corpse.

Apparently driven half by some mechanical device and half by sheer force of will alone (in one of the film's many callbacks, he delivers the line he spoke to Anakin in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith about the dark side leading to powers some consider unnatural, in this case resurrecting the dead), Palpatine says Snoke was just a tool to get Kylo to embrace the dark side, knowing he'd end up with the strength to restore the Sith to power.

He reveals a new First Order (which is what he now calls the Final Order) fleet of awe-inspiring scope and size, each one now equipped with the planet-destroyer technology the Death Star and Starkiller bases had and which will finally enslave the galaxy effortlessly, and tells Kylo he has to find and kill Rey to complete his transformation.

Luke's trail leads Poe (Oscar Isaac), Threepio (Anthony Daniels), Finn (John Boyega), Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) to a sandy planet where they're joined by Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), who's been hiding among the locals. They discover a dagger inscribed with the Sith language that will lead them to the other Macguffin, except that Threepio's programming forbids him from translating it. Meanwhile Kylo and his knights of Ren are hot on their tails, and they only just escape, Rey's powers growing all the while.

They have to go to a rainy, rocky planet which is an old haunt of Poe's, looking up an old contact who can do the tinkering on Threepio's memory necessary to extract the location of the Macguffin.

Only just getting away again with Kylo's knights and a contingent of Final Order troops snapping at their heels, they travel to a place where the remains of the second Death Star lie smashed in an ocean of enormous waves. Rey takes off alone to retrieve the Sith Macguffin but Kylo is waiting for her, leading to the sabre fight in the gigantic surf you've seen in the trailer.

To talk about anything that happens after that would be to give away the spoilers and secrets that are always part of Abrams' m.o., but it of course leads to Rey taken before the pale, ugly corpse of the barely-living Emperor where he intends to ingest her strength to restore himself, the Sith and the Final Order completely under his control.

Suffice it to say that it further cements the Chosen One narrative many people have criticised about the entire Star Wars saga. Rey's story paralleled Luke's in that she was a forgotten nobody in a galactic backwater, and like Luke she ends up having ancestry that marks her as being as special as she always hoped.

It's a curious outlook for a Hollywood movie because it's always been about the tension between particularly American and European viewpoints, of anyone being able to make something of yourself through individual accomplishment versus merit being passed down through noble blood.

The ingredients in The Rise of Skywalker are 70 percent story and 30 percent fan service. We all loved Lando Calrissian, but having him show up on the desert planet because he accompanied Luke on the search for the Sith planet has no real bearing on the story at large, and honestly poor Williams looks as old, tired and disinterested as Harrison Ford did in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Visually there are some strong images, but I'm surprised not even a director as good as Abrams has been able to match Rogue One: A Star Wars Story for the sheer visual pop of so many different places in the modern Star Wars era. It's okay for the look and aesthetic of your locations to arise from story, but this is Star Wars – they should all have definite and unique colour schemes and moods because of the environments, weather, creatures, industrial infrastructure, etc.

Maybe being the final chapter where things are at their darkest, Abrams wanted that reflected in the cinematography. Apart from the desert planet of Pasaana (which we've seen anyway in Tatooine and Jakku), every other place the characters visit seems to be dark, forbidding, stormy and scary.

But the Skywalker saga is all over now (so we're told), and through either the level of quality or the copious amounts of Star Wars movies we're getting these days, nowadays they're just names on the top ten box office lists like any other.

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