This tentative review of a film that will stir a lot of emotions in lovers and haters all over the world is spoiler-free. But since we are on the topic…
Prologue: Old Man Ranting about Modern Sensibilities
(skip to the next section for the actual review)
Let’s get one thing out of the way: Darth Vader is… Luke Skywalker’s father! When I heard the news in 1980, I was stumped, I was elevated, I was down, I was up. I was many things, but one thing I was not: Cross with the source that provided me with the information. A fellow fan had whispered it to me in confidence; it was months before I would be able to see the film that contained this stunning revelation. When the time came, my knowledge didn’t lessen my enjoyment in the least; if anything, it made me feel closer to the film.
That’s the way it was, back then. We did not have a word for ‘spoilers’ because there were no spoilers. We would go through every international magazine and newspaper we could lay our hands on to learn as much as we could about every upcoming entry in the Star Wars saga or other beloved franchises. Sometimes in languages we didn’t have much of a grasp on, leading to a lot of misinformation by mistranslation.
But things have changed. These days, when you tell someone: “James Bond’s latest adventure takes the secret agent to the beaches of Hawaii…” somebody will shriek: “Hawaii? Secret agent? You should have said ‘spoiler warning!’ Thanks for ruining my life!” It’s not a generational thing; 50-year-olds as well as 15-year-old have made The Plot and the cheap trickery of The Surprise Twist their Golden Calves.
Personally, I don’t get it. When The Force Awakens came out in 2015, I used secret tools of the publishing industry that were at my disposal then to get myself a very early copy of the novelization, so I could concentrate on more important things than plot in the theater. Thinking of it now, I could have been fired for my love of Star Wars (or at least very harshly spoken to).
But fear not; I just wanted to get this off my chest. I will play nice and keep this review what’s called ‘spoiler-free.’ Even though there would be so much more to say if one were actually allowed to talk about a film in a film review.
Characters Will Fall into Abysses
So, Emperor Palpatine is back (oh, come on, that was in the trailer!), and our heroines and heroes have to travel to several exotic and dangerous worlds to retrieve information about his whereabouts before they can face him for one last battle. On the way, lots of things will break in lightsaber duels, unruly henchmen will be chocked in midair, there will be vehicular chases through narrow canyons, enemy spaceships will be infiltrated to rescue captured allies, blaster shoot-outs in corridors will ensue, Ren and Rey will go back and forth between light and darkness a lot, a shocking family secret will be revealed, and characters will fall into abysses instead of properly dying.
The plot of The Rise of Skywalker is pretty much the plot of a Star Wars movie.
In other words, the plot of The Rise of Skywalker is pretty much the plot of a Star Wars movie. There is yet another desert planet, but, in a shocking surprise twist, nobody thought of building another Death Star this time (still, the film is not entirely Death-Star-free).
One thing that bothered me about the film’s two direct predecessors (and I wasn’t bothered by much; I’m firmly in the Disney Star Wars love camp) was that the three core characters, Rey, Finn and Poe, don’t get to spend much time together. The actors have wonderful chemistry, so it seemed like a wasted opportunity (or a few of those).
In The Rise of Skywalker, they go almost everywhere together, and it pays off. It’s a joy to watch them fight and flirt, although there is too little of the latter. It appears that the writers had to put so much into this alleged final episode that they had to drop the romance. So, what happened with Finn and Rose? She is still there, but Finn’s hand briefly on her shoulder is the only tenderness we get to see between them. Too bad, apparently it was not mutual. The rumored/hoped-for Finn/Poe romance has, so far, also been denied.
There is one very brief public display of same-sex affection concerning a very minor character and an extra (blink, and you will miss it). It feels like a cop-out; trying to please the progressives, while not feeding the dinosaur trolls.
Old Foes and Friends
The resurrection of Palpatine is less cheesy than one might expect, and it makes so much sense in the greater picture that you might actually believe they had planned it all along. I don’t believe it for a second, which is why I bow even deeper to J. J. Abrams and crew for making it work. The integration of Leia is another matter. It is painfully obvious in most of her scenes that they were written around unused snippets from other films.
Lando Calrissian makes not one, not two, but three great entrances. The first is a bit predictable and clunky (I would say ‘forced,’ but it sounds like a bad pun in a Star Wars context). The second one is rather sweet. The third one is extremely predictable, but also extremely rousing. The kind of Star Wars moment we have paid for.
The film is full of those. And full of recurring characters and creatures from all three trilogies; some expected, one totally unexpected (by me, at least). Even though most of these appearances are short, they all carry weight. Sadly, that doesn’t leave much space for new characters. It would have been nice to see more of Poe Dameron’s dangerous ex-girlfriend. Richard E. Grant gleefully hams it up as a General of the First Order. Unfortunately, it seems his character’s purpose has been cut short somewhere along the way from first script to finished film.
All’s Well That End’s Well
At the time of writing, the film has been out for about a day in Europe and a couple of hours in Japan, and already there are numerous complaints about it tying up the events of the eight previous films too neatly. And, of course, there are the dime-a-dozen accusations of ‘plot holes.’
About the neatness: It’s certainly a case of ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t.’ If there had been any less closure (and there is a lot), amateur critics would have complained even more about what they think are plot holes. About those: What the layman considers a ‘plot hole,’ storytellers usually think of as ‘leaving things to the imagination.’ Over-explanation is a much fiercer enemy to juicy storytelling than so-called plot holes. The Rise of Skywalker explains a lot but still leaves room for your own ideas to run wild.
You will get roughly two and a half hours of satisfying, mostly clever fan service.
In the end, whether you enjoy Episode IX or don’t depends on what you think of the Disney Star Wars trilogy in general. If you are convinced that Rey, Finn and Poe will never be able to hold a candle to Han, Leia, and Luke, then there is nothing here to convince you otherwise. If you have let them into your heart just like the classic characters, and you think they deserve to play instrumental roles in the conclusion of the entire saga, then you will get roughly two and a half hours of satisfying, mostly clever fan service. As a fan, I don’t object. Whether there is more to it, only the years going by and repeated viewings will tell. I’m looking forward to it.
Everybody involved swears that this is really, honestly the end of the Skywalker saga, definitely. Yet, the final scene, the very final line of dialogue, seems to hint that there might be more to tell. Not just in terms of Star Wars, but also in terms of Skywalker. Call it a new hope, if you will. I, for one, won’t be terribly mad if they ever break their promise.
Feature image by AlexandrBognat / Shutterstock.com