Spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.
The Rise of Skywalker closes the ‘Skywalker saga’ with little surprises, but lots of love.
When Ian McDiarmid was revealed to reprise his role as Emperor Palpatine in the supposedly final installment of what is now known as the ‘Skywalker saga’, many in the fan community responded with elation. Those same fans might want to hold onto their seats during the first five minutes of The Rise of Skywalker, to prevent themselves from jumping out of them out of sheer excitement. To give a small glimpse as to why, it’s hard to stay completely spoiler-free, but we’ll try to keep it down to the bare minimum. Beware though, from here on out, there will be some mild spoilers ahead.
With Kylo Ren traversing a dark, dilapidated temple on a hidden Sith planet and following the voices as Sith Lords from the recent past, the opening scene contains more dark side lore and fan service than most other Star Wars films have in their entirety. Sidious reveals himself to the youngest, corrupted Skywalker, with a bit of dialogue tying the scene straight to the speech he gave his grandfather in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
As a fan emotionally invested in the story spanning these nine films, it’s intensely gratifying to see everything come together like that. The downside though, is that as soon as a certain key element is revealed, it makes the plot to Episode IX intensely predictable as well. That key element is, despite The Last Jedi’s insistence they were nobodies, the reveal of Rey’s parents. We’ll keep from mentioning who they are here, but suffice to say that if you think Rey was illogically adept and overpowered in the ways of the Force, this explains it all in one fell swoop.
Speaking of Rey’s powers, The Rise of Skywalker notches them all the way up to eleven. Never before have the Star Wars films shown a Jedi this powerful, with such insanely bad-ass moves. And even if the pleasantly fast-paced but fairly unsurprising plot leaves you uninterested, it’s hard to imagine being bored by how they are depicted. There’s a scene where Rey takes down a Tie-Fighter with her lightsaber that runs beautifully. As does a prison break sequence, in which Poe takes a gun from a stormtrooper, slides it across the floor with the camera following it, as it reaches Chewie’s hands picking up the weapon.
What also reads very well, is a certain stylistic inheritance from The Last Jedi. Rian Johnson’s installment rearranged familiar elements into something that allows for exciting new avenues, but JJ Abrams steers the ship straight back to the road he was on during The Force Awakens. The connection between Rey and Kylo however, and the deftly cut scenes showing their communication across worlds through the Force, is carried on directly through Abrams’ film. And like its predecessor, it continually reinforces the idea that either Rey can fall to the dark side, or Kylo might return to the light.
The way unused archive material from The Force Awakens is written into the movie to allow for Carrie Fisher’s appearance as Leia impresses as well. She is a very big, very essential part of the movie, and apart from some expository dialogue delivered by Maz Kanata, her involvement rarely feels, with lack for a better word, forced. “Rey, don’t be afraid of who you are”, she says early on, and that bit of dialogue initially thrown away, turns out to be the key theme of the entire film here. Even Return of the Jedi‘s promise of Leia as a Force user is finally delivered in The Rise of Skywalker.
And that’s emblematic for the whole film, really. Sure, Palpatine isn’t the most inspired or surprising choice for a villain, but does a 9-part story really need big deviations in its final chapter? Having him once again be the puppeteer behind the shadows ties all the films in both the OT, prequels, and Disney era together. And just as several elements of The Force Awakens mirrored A New Hope, the final act of The Rise of Skywalker mirrors much of Return of the Jedi.
In that final act, there’s a moment similar to that openings scene which is so filled to the brim with fan service, it would’ve been almost comical in any other film. Yes, every rumor you heard about cameos is true, and then some. It not only ties together all nine films but finally acknowledges the Rebels and fan-favorite Clone Wars animated series within the movies’ context as well.
But you know what? The Rise of Skywalker has earned the right to deploy all those bits of fan service. It brings Kylo and Rey’s character arcs to a captivating close, fancifully bids adieu to familiar faces, and reinforces the themes of pacifism and resistance against totalitarianism running through the saga. It’s not concerned with pulling the rug from under you but bringing a nine-part story to an end that actually feels emotionally gratifying. Its final scene might drive the point home with a sledgehammer, but why would you want to watch nine movies and several seasons of cartoons about space knights with laser swords if you’re looking for subtlety?
The Rise of Skywalker unequivocally succeeds in its mission. That it does so by coloring between the lines, is not something to complain about. Not when it renders the entirety of Star Wars into an image so satisfyingly symmetrical.
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