VOD film review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Ivan Radford | On 13, Apr 2020
Director: JJ Abrams
Cast: Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Ian McDiarmid
Watch Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker online in the UK: Disney+ / Sky Cinema / NOW TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Virgin Movies / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store / CHILI
“The dead speak!” Those are the three words that begin The Rise of Skywalker, the conclusion to the original Star Wars saga. They set the tone for a climax that’s inevitably nostalgic but also spends a little too much time looking to the past rather than forging a future. Returning after 2015’s The Force Awakens, director JJ Abrams takes the helm once more, and it’s hard not to feel that he’s so concerned with making a sequel to his own Star Wars chapter that he doesn’t bother with continuing the bold steps taken by The Last Jedi.
He and co-writer Chris Terrio unwind and undo a number of decisions made by Rian Johnson’s brave, mature blockbuster, resulting in something that’s decidedly on a different track. If that makes for something underwhelming in many ways, though, it also recaptures some of the hastily rewritten legacy handed down to this new trilogy by the original three movies – that is to say that, when you’re watching Rise of Skywalker, it’s all very fun. It’s only when you stop to think about it that things start to unravel.
The way that Emperor Palpatine (a wonderfully game Ian McDiarmid) is referred to feels rushed and unexplained, while the relationships between, and identities of, our new heroes – Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) – feel like they drastically change every two minutes. Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose, who played a prominent part in Episode VIII, is almost nowhere to be seen. And, for no real reason, screen-time is instead given new characters, including a waste of Dominic Monaghan and an underwritten part for the brilliant Naomi Ackie. An early nod to some hitherto-undiscussed Jedi mythology is destined to lower the stakes and raise the WTF factor in equal measure. And the less said about one reveal mid-film designed to shock, the better.
And yet, and yet. The Rise of Skywalker is also full of enough bombast and action that it can still make the jump to light-speed when it matters. That’s largely thanks to the cast, with Ridley, Boyega and Oscar Isaac’s fighter prodigy Poe making for a flawless band of friendly rebels. They’re joined, impeccably, by C-3PO, in a neat piece of fan-pleasing scripting that gives Anthony Daniels the best part he’s ever had in a Star Wars film. And Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren remains one of the franchise’s best, and most compelling, antagonists – given wriggle room to explore his inner conflict by the introduction of a straight-laced villain (Richard E Grant, having an absolute blast) and the gentle nudge of Domnhall Gleeson’s General Hux into comic relief territory.
JJ Abrams, meanwhile, still has superb instincts behind the camera, serving up a canyon chase on a desert planet – and a cropdusting-style showdown with a TIE fighter – that are pure eye candy, while the eerie atmosphere of Sith world Exogol is deliciously chilling. You might have a bad feeling about it, but the visuals are undeniably strong with this one.
The result is an often gorgeous, sometimes frustrating and occasionally anticlimactic piece of cinema – the kind of gargantuan achievement that can’t help but please and disappoint at the same time. But with Ridley and Driver reliably shouldering the required emotional lifting, and Abrams delivering epic action up until the final showdown, The Rise of Skywalker still delivers the goods where it counts – well, as long as you’re not actually counting. You may not always be pleased with how things are wrapped up – rumours of rewrites and cut scenes leave you wondering what could have been – but at least we can all agree that we’re glad this particular Star Wars saga has ended.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is available on Disney+, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription or a £59.99 yearly subscription. It is also available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of an £11.99 Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription.