The Rise of Skywalker review: all style, with a pinch of substance

JJ Abrams’ The Rise of Skywalker wraps up the Skywalker Saga for good but is it worth seeing during this festive season? Here’s Rhiannon Bevan’s review of the highly anticipated blockbuster film.

The Skywalker Saga is over. Four decades, eleven films and several ewok rip-offs later. This chapter reaches its climax with a film which manages to be both a non-stop rollercoaster of excitement, and the final nail in the coffin to an unremarkable sequel trilogy that could never find its feet.  

Writer and director, J.J. Abrams returns from The Force Awakens (2015) and had a momentous task ahead of him. How do you follow up on a film that was so divisive that fans couldn’t decide if it was our generation’s The Phantom Menace (1999) or The Empire Strikes Back (1980)?  

Well apparently, you throw caution into the wind, say “sod it”, and wheel out the Emperor for the fifth time now. How did he survive that Death Star explosion, I hear you cry? Who knows! Maybe it’s explained in the Fortnite tie-in event.  

And that’s the endemic of a huge issue with the film. It’s undeniably a lot of fun, but a bloated mess that needed to be spread out more. But of course, that would have involved planning, which Disney wasn’t very interested in. Make sure you’ve had a wee before you sit down in the cinema – there’s no good part for a toilet break here.  

Kylo Ren, now Emperor of the First Order, has finally begun facing his demons after murdering his father in The Force Awakens (2015). Image by Lucasfilm Ltd.

So, there we are, Palpatine’s back. And our heroes run around the galaxy to stop the plan he’s had since the start. All while our favourite daddy issues villain, Kylo Ren, battles with his morality after the events of The Last Jedi (2017). 

There were some worries that bringing Palpatine back reeked of desperation, but he does fit into this story quite well. He sets up the film nicely and provides a nice backdrop for the rest of it. It’s a shame Abrams could never leave the training wheels of the original trilogy behind but seeing Ian McDiarmid shoot lighting from his hands again was a thrilling way to round off the story. 

Moving away from the originals, the new stars, Rey, Kylo, Finn and Poe are a complete mixed bag. Starting with the positive, our main trio finally gets together. Rey, Finn and Poe’s personalities jell so well and it was well worth the wait to see them fly around space together.  

In the third film of the trilogy, we finally see our main trio working together to defeat the First Order. Image by Lucasfilm Ltd.

In his own right, Kylo Ren (or Ben Solo) shines the brightest here. Speaking as someone who was never really a fan of the character, I finally found myself engaged in his story. Adam Driver finally gets some depth to work with, and his ever-growing force bond with Rey is both visually and narratively stunning.  

Rey and Kylo continue their rivalry which has arguably been the best part of the new trilogy. Image by Lucasfilm Ltd.

The heroine herself, Rey, sadly has her story from The Last Jedi fizzled out. Her tearful realisation in the previous film that she’s a “nobody” is ignored by Abrams, with her internal struggles now being some surface level “try not to be evil” dilemmas – which she’s had an issue with before. As I’ve said, her force bond with Ren makes for some fantastic scenes, but regretfully, Rey’s journey doesn’t accumulate as poignantly as it should have done. 

But if you’re looking for poignancy, look no further than our princess, General Leia. Sadly, actress Carrie Fisher passed away in 2016. This was before filming had begun for Episode IX, but by using deleted scenes from the first two films, Leia effortlessly gets the ending to her story she deserves. 

Thanks to special effects, Leia gets the ending she deserves. Image by Lucasfilm Ltd.

In truth, this has gone on longer than any spoiler free review ought to. As I’ve said, and I’m sure you can tell by now, far too much happens. Too much is shoved in. On the surface, this is fine. The film is fun. There’s bits that makes you sad. There’s bit that make you laugh. Which I can only commend the film for.  

But dig a little deeper, and that’s only the case because they chuck so much at you hoping some of it will stick. I haven’t even delved into most of the characters, Finn, Poe, Rose, Hux, Lando – because there isn’t anything to say. Then you have the new characters. The film barely ever slows down, so none of them leave any impact.  

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a fun space romp in its own right. But in the bigger picture, it best encapsulates the issues facing the Disney trilogy. Episode IX is the natural accumulation of having two directors play tug of war with the plot and a writing team that makes knee jerk reactions to any criticisms they read on Twitter. There was fun to be had with this film, but it’s a relief that it’s over. 

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