FILM REVIEW – STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER. With Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, Ian McDiarmid, Oscar Isaac, Billy Dee Williams. Written by Chris Terrio & J.J. Abrams. Directed by J.J. Abrams. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action. 141 minutes.
The release of the original “Star Wars” in May 1977 was a game-changer for moviegoers and for Hollywood. The release of STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, the final chapter of the nine-film “Skywalker Saga” entertains and will satisfy many fans, but will not linger in the memory. After the climax of Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame,” the stakes here seem a bit of a letdown. It’s unlikely that this is what was intended when George Lucas launched the enterprise more than 42 years ago.
During the opening crawl, we’re told that Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) appears to be alive and is pulling the strings to crush the rebel Resistance. General Leia (the late Carrie Fisher in repurposed outtakes from the two previous films) has been training Rey (Daisy Ridley), who is soon out on a crucial mission with Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) along with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and droid C-3PO (Anthony Daniels). It’s a bit of a shaggy dog story as they move from planet to planet, with only two plot points that matter.
First, Rey has to confront and resolve the psychic bond she has with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who is in charge of the First Order, the successor to Darth Vader and the evil Empire in the earlier films. It takes up a lot of the film’s running time and makes little sense, even in terms of the fantasy world of the series. Second, we have to get to the final end of the war that has driven the series featuring both an epic space battle and a showdown with Palpatine.
None of the newer cast members have the panache of Fisher, Mark Hamill, or Harrison Ford from the original Trilogy, although Billy Dee Williams – reprising his role as Lando Calrissian from “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) – gives it a go. Ridley and Driver get to pout and brood and strike poses, but never fully engage us. A number of veterans of the series make appearances on screen or, in one scene, on the soundtrack. However, it is the use of Carrie Fisher here that proves to be a major flaw. Leia is a key figure in the series and Fisher was, arguably, irreplaceable, but the use of archival footage, CGI, and body doubles is awkward and obvious. In scenes where Leia is supposed to be speaking with other characters, we are reminded of her absence more than her presence.
Of course fans will want to see it, whether to embrace it or criticize it, but it’s not likely to lead to demands to continue the story of the surviving characters. More likely if “Star Wars” continues, it will be in one-off spinoffs like “Rogue One” (2016) or the current streaming series “The Mandalorian.” “The Rise of Skywalker” may not be the worst of the series, but there is this: with all the shout-outs to the previous films, at least there’s no sign of Jar Jar Binks.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books including Jar Jar Binks Must Die. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.