Movie Review: Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (Spoiler-free)

After 42 years, the story of Luke Skywalker, his family, his friends and his enemies has finally come to an end. It’s been a bumpy intergalactic ride and, on the whole, an enjoyable one (Jar Jar Binks notwithstanding). For Lucasfilm and its eventual owner, The Walt Disney Studios, it’s been a handsomely profitable one too, with a cumulative box office take over eight films of close to US$8 billion, not to mention all the multimillions made from spinoffs and licensing. THE RISE OF SKYWALKER will most certainly bring another US$2 billion into the coffers so it’s hard to imagine that this really is the end. The execs at Disney are staying decidedly non-committal on the question. They’re saying that while this chapter in the STAR WARS saga is closed, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t other stories to tell that will cross over. We’re seeing that now with the TV show, THE MANDALORIAN. Bounty hunter Boba Fett, who was a Mandalorian, appeared in STAR WARS Episodes V and VI. And, of course, there’s Baby Yoda.

For franchise fans, THE RISE OF SKYWALKER offers up plenty of eye candy. In this episode, the ghosts have risen! That’s not really a spoiler because both series producer Kathleen Kennedy and writer-director J.J. Abrams have already revealed that Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) has come back from the dead. Besides, his voice can be heard in the trailer. Anyhow, he’s back and he’s hell-bent on finishing off the Resistance once and for all. His plan also includes Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, BLACKKKLANSMAN; THE LAST JEDI; LOGAN LUCKY; SILENCE; PATERSON; THE FORCE AWAKENS; THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU; WHILE WE’RE YOUNG; INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS; FRANCES HA) killing Rey (Daisy Ridley; MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS) but Ren has other ideas. He wants Rey to join him on the Dark Side so that he can overthrow Palpatine and take over as emperor with Rey at his side as his empress. Rey, though, isn’t biting as she’s got too much of the Force in her. She also sees the good in Ren and is determined to convince him to see the error of his ways. (Doesn’t this all sound very familiar?) Meanwhile, Finn (John Boyega, THE CIRCLE), Poe (Oscar Isaac, TRIPLE FRONTIER; LIFE ITSELF; AT ETERNITY’S GATE; ANNIHILATION; SUBURBICON; EX MACHINA; A MOST VIOLENT YEAR; INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS) and Chewie (Joonas Suotamo) retrieve some crucial information from a mole in the First Order and they bring it back to General Leia (the late Carrie Fisher) at the Resistance Base. When Rey finds a Sith artifact that Luke (Mark Hamill) left behind, the gang heads out to a number of different planets – some familiar to fans and some new – and they run into a few people – some familiar to fans and some new – who can help them in their quest to end the empire.

I think we can all agree that Episodes IV, V and VI are the best of the lot and Episodes I, II and III are the worst so that leaves Episodes VII, VIII and IX in the middle. Where you rank these last three is a matter of personal taste but, to me, they’re all about equal. They’re full of fan service and lack the imagination and story structure that George Lucas put into his three films. I had hoped that THE RISE OF SKYWALKER would be more interesting and less of a mirror to EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI, and an inferior one at that, than it is. Even some of the dialogue is repeated. Sure, the fan boys and girls in your audience are all going to cheer when they see Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) for the first time. (That’s not a spoiler either because he’s in the trailer too.) I know because they all did at my screening. But would it have hurt to have less fan service and, by doing so, a story that’s less clunky? Remember that romance that seemed to be budding between Finn and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran)? Yeah, that’s so over that it’s not even mentioned. Remember how Finn once had lines that were more than monosyllabic shouts? Those days are over too. And remember when the sight of the black-suited First Order gave us the shivers? No more. The new First Order don’t wear hats anymore. THE RISE OF SKYWALKER is all rather okay even if we do finally learn who Rey really is.

I will say one good thing about the film though. Seeing Richard E. Grant (CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?; THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD; JACKIE; THEIR FINEST) as General Pryde is worth the price of admission alone.

THE RISE OF SKYWALKER is what it is. If you’re a fan of the franchise, you’ll love it regardless of its many shortcomings. I saw the film in Laser IMAX 3D, which is new to Hong Kong. I am not a fan of 3D because I find the image always too dark but this was really good. I was in the top row of the theatre off to the side a bit and the image was crisp, clear and bright. If you’ve got Laser IMAX 3D where you live, it’s worth the additional cost of a ticket.

May the Force be with you always.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, December 20th, 8:30 am HK time!

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