Thursday, May 30, 2024

Star Wars The Rise of Skywalker Review: a nostalgic trainwreck with a heart that keeps on beating

When I first walked into the cinema to see Star Wars The Rise of Skywalker, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t have a terrible feeling in my gut. That’s never a good start for when going to see a film that’s been so widely criticized by both critics and an audience that has grown despondent and cynical with each other and the series itself.

So, it was a pleasant surprise to say that in spite of all the issues that came with The Rise of Skywalker, it was an enjoyable movie that gives a fitting end to Rey, a protagonist who has become to mean so much to me as this trilogy has slowly, but surely unfolded.

Of course, the ride to this ending was far from smooth.

The Rise of Skywalker starts with action and doesn’t seem to ever want to stop. First you’re with Kylo Ren, then with Finn and Poe, then the Resistance, then Rey, then back to the Resistance again, then Ren again. It just doesn’t stop and you’re already starting to get an idea of how wildly incoherent and jumbled the rest of the movie is going to be.

And incoherent and jumbled it is. For some reason Palpatine is back, – because he just is and no there’s no reason apart from that, stop asking questions – and is so hidden that our heroes need to find a Sith Wayfinder – also known as a MacGuffin, because JJ Abrams loves those – in order to get there. Cue a very convoluted journey, which feels a little tacked on, but honestly? It brings some of the greatest moments in the film.

One of these moments is the trio of Rey, Finn, and Poe finally interacting with one another as a group. We find out that Rey and Poe’s relationship isn’t as easy-going and smooth as Rey and Finn’s. It’s a nice touch, but a confusing one as Rey and Poe have barely spoken to one another, so instead of feeling upset at their spat you’re just left wondering why it matters to them what the other one does? You barely know one another!

It does make Finn an excellent mediator though, and after thinking about it, the only real explanation I can gather from Poe and Rey’s animosity is that they’re both jealous of the other’s relationship with Finn? I mean, hardly anything is explained in this film, so we’re just gonna roll with it.

Speaking of things that aren’t explained, Kelly Marie Tran (Rose Tico) has an insultingly low presence in this film. It feels as though Abrams saw the backlash Tran and Rose – quite unfairly – received and decided that Rose was no longer a character that mattered within this universe. It feels like a stab in the back, particularly with how excited Tran was about Rose being the first major character of Asian descent in a Star Wars film, and in answer to that excitement, is given fewer lines than a minor character, Snap Wexley. To say it’s disappointing is perhaps the understatement of the decade.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of disappointing moments in Star Wars The Rise of Skywalker. You may be surprised, considering that I genuinely have a positive view on the film overall, but while this trainwreck may have a lot of heart, it’s still a trainwreck that doesn’t have the guts to try and do anything different.

Instead, it relies on waxing nostalgia by showing off scenes that are directly ripped from Return of the Jedi. Rey fights with herself and worries about turning to the Dark Side, Palpatine is there and spouting the most ludicrous rubbish, the Resistance looks to finally be lost and oh, is that a sudden heel-turn from a villain? Yeah, this is practically Return of the Jedi but with fewer Ewoks. I mean, it’s fine if you just want Star Wars nostalgia rubbed over every orifice you have, and it occasionally works to get the tears flowing, but it’s also bloody boring. Say what you will about The Last Jedi, it certainly didn’t rehash the previous movies and hope that you didn’t notice.

In fact, in The Last Jedi it was often beaten over your heard to forget the past. In this movie, the past just keeps coming back like a zombie that just doesn’t know how to quit it. It also feels like a direct insult to the previous director of the film, Rian Johnson, who did his damned best to create a film that, at the very least, is much more unique than both The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker.

There are at least more women in this film, which puts it far ahead than the previous movies from Lucas. But don’t get your hopes up, as while they have interesting backstories it’s blatantly obvious that they were introduced to add promising love interests for both Poe and Finn. I’m only surprised The Rise of Skywalker didn’t have them say ‘no homo’ to really put the final nail in the FinnPoe coffin.

Sure, it’s a shame that these women were introduced in order to make sure the two male leads look less like they were in love with one another – it didn’t work, by the way – but it’s an even bigger shame for the women. Zorii Bliss and Jannah, two very different characters but connected to Poe and Finn in their own way, do not deserve to be written in a way that makes them as just a tool.

And don’t get us started on that 2-second lesbian kiss between two background characters. Just don’t, alright? It’s barely even worth mentioning.

But not all is lost, while this messy trainwreck still keeps chugging along at a glacial pace, the heart of Star Wars: hope, friendship, and family are all very apparent in this film. The trio are just one huge example of this, and if you’re a fan of found families then this movie will tick off everything for you. Even C3PO, R2D2, and Chewbacca have scenes that are oddly touching compared to their usual shtick, which was odd but not an unwelcome change.

There are instances of hilarity too, but fewer than before as the tone in The Rise of Skywalker is darker and you actually feel as though the heroes could really lose this war. One wrong move and everything could be lost, making each mistake feel 10x more powerful and tense. It’s made even worse as Rey and co are often hounded by The First Order, and an even more vengeful Kylo Ren.

Despite not being a fan of the character, Driver’s performance as the damaged Ren actually made me give a damn about what happened to him, and whether he would get the redemption so many of his fans were clamoring for. Whether he deserves it or not, however, is an entirely different story for another time.

But what really saves this movie from being entirely lost is Rey. Rey, who’s barely had any actual agency since she was first introduced, makes the decision to lead her own life and choose for herself. It’s a genuinely lovely movement to see the scavenger girl that we’ve watched ‘grow up’ take the reins of her life and make her own decisions.

Does it make Star Wars The Rise of Skywalker a good movie? Not really. Did I enjoy it all the same? Yes and I think that, ultimately, that’s what matters the most.

Did you enjoy our review of Star Wars The Rise of Skywalker? Check out our other Star Wars coverage!

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