The Rise of Skywalker – Spoiler-Free Review

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The makers of The Rise of Skywalker were given an uneasy task. Not just to conclude a saga with all its ongoing plots and unanswered questions. It also had to provide an interpretation key to the whole saga, answering the question “how is this relevant, how is this related to the original story?” At the same time, J.J. Abrams had to harmonize his original take on the sequels, presented in The Force Awakens, with the new elements introduced by Rian Johnson in The Last Jedi. There were also various obstacles on the way, the most notable being how to deal with Leia’s role after the unexpected death of Carrie Fisher. So, without getting into details, how did the makers manage?

Last week, I posted seven questions or topics I believed the film needed to address. I can say that majority of them have been answered, and those that matter in a satisfying manner. Abrams has made sure to conclude the story and various subplots. The saga is now complete.

Straight Into The Epic

The first thing to point out about the film is its indisputable quality of keeping your attention. The story starts unfolding from the first moment, no beating around the bush, we are in the endgame. The plot focusses on the familiar main characters: Rey, Finn and Poe are working together for large part of the film, and against them, of course, Kylo Ren. The characters and their relationships suddenly get as much depth as in both previous episodes put together. That includes Kylo Ren and his relationship with Rey. (If there is one thing J.J. Abrams took over from Rian Johnson and expanded on, it is their Force connection.)

Pendulum Swings Back To Abrams

It is not surprising that with J.J. Abrams behind the camera again, the finale of the saga resembles more TFA than TLJ in atmosphere. That has its positives and negatives. Abrams did the right thing in taking the reins back firmly and to “finish what he started”. He provided a well-built conclusion that puts all the pieces together.

There are a couple of issues with this. Firstly, for all his assurances that he was going to respect Johnson’s take on the story, he had mostly pushed the elements (themes, characters, some individual story points or buildups) to the background. One example for all being the character of Rose. Disregarding personal preferences or reservations to her character, it is a fact that she was a major character in TLJ. Definitely not so in TFA. Jannah and Zoriis, two characters that appear in this film in a manner comparable to Rose in TLJ, are given considerably more attention than Rose herself.

The second problem, that I am going to return to later, is that some things we learn in TRoS would have been better if introduced earlier, because they change the perspective of many elements of the saga. In short, J.J. Abrams let the audience “play detectives” for four years only to provide some surprises, which seems a bit excessive.

The progression of the plot itself is full of unexpected twists and turns, however much in the big picture the idea remains quite simple.

The Story of the Four

What Abrams definitely did well was to turn the attention back to the “main trio” – Rey, Finn and Poe – and to Kylo Ren. What he did wrong was to ditch Rose in the process. Even if the newly introduced characters who replace her are interesting in their own way, at least one of them could have been skipped to provide more space for existing ones.

However little space various minor characters are given, the film gives the chance to remember them for more than just being “one of the pilots”, but at least as “this one pilot”. Neither of the minor characters also exhibits “Jar Jar” qualities of being obnoxious, and that goes even for the few aliens/droids among them.

The story is accompanied by evocative use of musical themes, not shying away anymore from using classics such as the Imperial March or the Emperor’s theme where appropriate. Visuals and locations are pretty, even though the makers could not resist visiting yet another desert planet. Fortunately, there are other venues. The “dark places” such as the broken Death Star interior as well as other “Sith” locations the heroes visit are sufficiently scary and impressive. Their titanic structures and design are sometimes only a few steps shy of Lovecraftian or Giger-esque aesthetic. This is contrasted by the familiar shiny design of First Order ships and a couple of other beautiful worlds we visit or at least see a glimpse of.

What About Leia?

It is known that the original idea for the saga counted with Han being the main “old” hero of episode 7, Luke in 8 and Leia was supposed to play an important part in episode 9. The filmmakers deserve a praise for managing to keep this premise even while using only Carrie Fisher’s recordings they already had.

The scenes involving Leia are brief, but they are very plot-relevant. J.J. Abrams and his team have handled the problem in a respectful manner while managing to make things work. Obviously, one can see that the scenes were pre-recorded and the dialogue has been scripted to fit them. But perhaps this limitation served Abrams well – external restrictions forced him to creatively figure out how to deal with the situation. The audience, being aware, is perhaps bound to judge these scenes less harshly – regardless, the scenes do not distract or break immersion. That means a job well done.

Best Of Three?

Overall, TRoS deserves a near one-hundred-percent positive review as the final episode of the trilogy. It had a job and did it. It is entertaining, at least on first viewing. Its downside, on the long run, may be the surprising plot developments that will cease to be surprising. It also remains all too comfortable within archetypes familiar from the original trilogy as well as various (old) Expanded Universe sources.

It nonetheless provides a lot of focus and characterisation for the heroes of TFA and TLJ, as well as an epic climax to the Skywalker saga. In that sense, it has done well. The only sad thing in that regard is that it did not manage to quite justify the creation of a new trilogy. It is, in many ways, an appendix – however entertaining in its own.

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Rostislav Kurka
Rostislav is a Protestant theologian and a self-trained Sith, counting Jan Hus, Dorothee Sölle, Darth Revan and Darth Traya among his main influences. He hails from the hundred-towered city of Prague, where he had spent a large part of his life creating worlds and inspiring young generations to roleplay. His involvement in organising children's camps led him to accidentally writing a Lord of the Rings musical, which made him temporarily famous, and a Three Musketeer-Jedi fanfilm, which didn't. He has recently moved to the frozen waste of Finland, because that's it, the Rebels are there.