The Rise Of Skywalker (2019)
A new Star Wars movie on the big screen is always cause for a trip to the pictures, and The Rise Of Skywalker is no exception – in fact it benefits from more than one such trip! On first viewing this movie can seem like something of a hot mess; spectacular, disorientating, overloaded with characters (both legacy and new trilogy), and rather too rapid for its own good. Thankfully multiple viewings is what the Star Wars movies have proven themselves to be made for. From cinema tickets, to VHS, to DVD, to Blu Ray, and soon to 4K – long-term fans have shown themselves willing to return again and again to this saga. So perhaps a packed Episode IX is not such a bad thing, as devotees will no doubt enjoy returning to savour this hearty meal for many years to come.
The dead speak! So we are told in the opening crawl. Ian McDiarmid’s gloriously evil Emperor Palpatine is back (and he won’t be the only one resurrected during this movie, but more on that later). The camera pans down to a beautiful opening shot that shows Kylo Ren’s Star Destroyer orbiting a red world. We follow Kylo’s mini quest as he rapidly follows an ancient marker which leads him to Exegol, the secret home world of the Sith. Here we find Palpatine (and also news that he was pulling the strings of Snoke - in fact we see what looks like another Snoke floating in a vat of liquid). Kylo had thought to kill Palpatine but after Palpatine pledges him a massive fleet of Star Destroyers, he can’t resist the ambition of turning the First Order into the ‘Final Order’. Now its not 100% clear whether these countless Star Destroyers which suddenly burst from the ground are all crewed but if so it does raise the question of where all the personnel came from and how they are sustained on what appears to be an utterly desolate and storm ridden world. I’ve always been attracted to the original trilogy as a World War 2 movie set in space, and indeed the first three films seemed to provide a serviceable reflection of military warfare; supply lines, command structures, ship-building logistics and such-like – sadly the new trilogy really doesn’t seem to care about any of this. At any rate the appearance of a huge fleet of Star Destroyers, each armed with planet killing cannons, certainly ups the ante more than another Death Star would have done.
We meet our heroes aboard the Falcon, and it’s really nice to see the great chemistry between the cast. I really think the main cast members; Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and in particular Adam Driver have been a huge boon to the new movies, and their likeability goes to new heights in this film. We go from a really cool crystalline looking space station, to a series of hyperspace skips. Again, we’ve been told in the past that TIE Fighters are short range military craft but the ones in pursuit of the Falcon seem to be able to pursue it through hyperspace, so I guess the screen writers decided to upgrade them. It’s a fun chase sequence at any rate, and the info recovered from the space station leads the goodies to the realisation that they’ll need to find their own path to Exegol to stop Palpatine before he conquers the galaxy.
It’s lovely to see Carrie Fisher one more time heading the resistance. Let’s not forget that it’s her we first meet in A New Hope, well before we’re introduced to Luke or Han. This film pays homage to her as “the Princess of Alderaan” and also we are shown one tantalising shot of a 30-something year old Leia wielding a lightsaber in training – obviously created with the magic of almost photo-real CG but a real unexpected treat nonetheless. I’d heard it said before she passed that Carrie had remarked that The Force Awakens was Harrison’s film, The Last Jedi was Mark’s, and that she’d like this third one to be hers – well in many ways it is, and a poignant last goodbye to a much-loved lady.
The first step in our heroes’ quest leads them to a desert world – it’s all rather familiar. We get another nice chase sequence, not unlike the pod race from Episode I, and we also get to see Rey demonstrate ‘Force Healing’ in a twist on the ‘Daniel in the lion’s den’ bible story. Fans of The Mandalorian will also recognise this as a nice little tie-in to everyone’s favourite little Yoda Baby.
The next destination is where the movie really starts to pick up and find its feet. I really like this section set on the planet Kijimi, it works really well. The snowy environment of ancient stone buildings and lots of stairways (a great detail is the little ramps for droids to navigate) is something quite fresh for Star Wars, and the two new characters we meet here – the slinky Zorii Bliss and the Cartman-esque midget Babu Frik – are both triumphs. In the best Star Wars tradition, they’re entertaining for every second we spend with them and you’re left wanting to know more about their back stories. The film even allows itself to slow down and breath for a moment as Poe and Zorii share an intimate conversation overlooking the higgledy-piggledy rooftops of the town.
C3PO in a moving sequence gives up his memory in order to reveal the destination of the ancient marker. However, he does get his memory back again not much later so it’s a rather phony extraction of viewer sympathy. This isn’t the only case of the film saying you thought ‘x’ was dead but – syke! - actually they’re still alive. It happens rather too often in one form or another (Palpatine, Chewbacca, C3PO, Zorii, Kylo, Han, Rey) and there’s the risk of eye-rolling ‘resurrection fatigue’ creeping in. I personally would have preferred C3PO was left with his memory wiped, it makes his sacrifice and “taking one last look at my friends” speech more meaningful, plus it’s a neat callback to the end of Episode III where he gets his memory unceremoniously wiped.
The film accelerates in the second half. We head into a Star Destroyer to rescue Chewie, across a tumultuous sea into the ruins of the Death Star to retrieve the ancient marker, a quick trip to Jedi island Ach-To, back to the Rebel Base to agree a plan, and then everyone off to Exegol for the final battle. However even though things are moving almost too fast to keep up, the level of visual detail and the quality of the props and sets remains absolutely top level. For example, the cell that Chewie is being held in on the Star Destroyer is only glimpsed for a few seconds and could have been a simple little box room, but it’s not. It’s a masterpiece of attention-to-detail and every inch of the room is filled with something interesting for the eye. It makes me very proud to be British and I know that the peerless set-dressing tradition of the original Star Wars has been impeccably continued for this film at Pinewood Studios.
Having said that, the final confrontation in the ‘Sith Stadium’ at Exegol is actually one of the least interesting environments from a visual perspective. Rather like the later Harry Potter movies, the finale of Rise Of Skywalker goes very much for a murky greyscale palette. The desaturated visuals may have been a choice by director JJ Abrams intended to show the shades of grey within Rey, I’m not sure, but for me it made a very exciting sequence seem rather drab. I did like the outcomes though, and the payoff of the ‘Reylo’ relationship was handled really well. Nice also to see Richard E Grant get to ham it up with a great death scene as the ill-fated Final Order fleet meet their Waterloo.
The Rise Of Skywalker isn’t a perfect movie, in many ways it’s rather messy but there’s so much to enjoy in it. It’s packed with cool moments, big emotions and spectacular visuals. The pace of the film is such that I can imagine there is a fair amount on the cutting room floor (where was Nien Nunb for example in the final attack, and did Wedge really only get 1 second of screen time?). I’m already looking forward to the home release and watching the making of documentaries and deleted scenes. I think there is a bit more to this movie yet to be revealed. And is it the end of Star Wars on the big screen? Not a chance. Star Wars will be back, and we’ll be waiting.
Ps. Chewie gets a medal. About time. About bloomin’ time.