DIRECTOR: J.J. ABRAMS | SCREENPLAY: CHRIS TERRIO, J.J. ABRAMS | STARRING: CARRIE FISHER, DAISY RIDLEY, JOHN BOYEGA, ADAM DRIVER, OSCAR ISAAC | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
“Long have I waited…” as Palpatine says, and indeed forty-two years, eight main films and two spin-offs later, it’s time to lay the Skywalker saga to rest. Star Wars movies have an uncanny ability to polarise fans like no other franchise. Sometimes it seems that Star Wars, along with Doctor Who, are the main targets of what has become known as toxic fandom due to the passionate negativity they seem to generate. And this film will be no different.
From the scene immediately following John Williams’ proud fanfare and the usual title crawl, The Rise of Skywalker barely pauses for breath, getting straight to work with a dazzling mix of visual brilliance, stunning action sequences and good-natured humour that immediately establishes this as a Star Wars film in the classic style. There’s a lot to unpack here, which is essentially J.J. Abrams’ Christmas gift to the Star Wars faithful, showing us just how much had already been foreshadowed in the two earlier entries in the trilogy, and leaves us with a proper closure to all nine with no threads left hanging.
We’re told in the opening crawl that Palpatine’s voice has been heard, and both sides, good and evil are in a desperate race to locate him. The returning Ian McDiarmid is absolutely on top form here. His Palpatine is truly the stuff of nightmares, his every slight gesture oozes cancerous, corrupting evil, every line delivered with a relish that drips with menace. The last quarter of the film channels scenes from Return of the Jedi – but within the plot narrative, it’s entirely appropriate and veers off on a tangent of its own to bring the saga to a conclusion that’s satisfyingly perfect, with a plot twist revelation that will rival Darth Vader’s shock announcement in The Empire Strikes Back.
Carrie Fisher, we’re told, appears in the film thanks to some unused footage left over from The Force Awakens – but frankly, you would swear that the late actress had been on the set of The Rise of Skywalker. Thanks to the digital sorcery of Industrial Light & Magic, Leia’s appearances in this film are largely seamless (a flashback sequence with a younger CGI version of the character being the exception). Ultimately, Princess Leia is given the send-off the character so richly deserves.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Star Wars film without the usual tropes which fans look out for, so yes, we do hear that a character “has a bad feeling about this” there’s the odd “utini”, and there’s an adorable new character for the toy market in D-O, a droid with social anxiety. But most of all, it gives full rein to the further fleshing out of the central characters of Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo Ren, while also giving an opportunity to several of the older characters to say their proper farewells, some in voiceovers, others in person – again with at least one major surprise that will warm even the most hardened heart. It also finally gives Anthony Daniels some meat to work with as C-3PO; our favourite protocol droid having been reduced to a cameo in this trilogy until now. The full comic range and pathos of the character is given ample opportunity to shine as the confused and befuddled droid suffers a memory wipe for the greater good. John Williams’ score alternates bombast with melancholy, using several themes we’ve heard before, again a sure-fire fan pleaser.
J.J. Abrams has pulled off the seemingly impossible and delivered one of the best films of the year, with a final scene that couldn’t possibly be more perfect, bringing us a nostalgic echo of where it all started in 1977.