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'Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker': The Force is Kinda Strong With This One

Dir. J.J. Abrams — 3.5 stars

Behind-the-scenes still from "Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker."
Behind-the-scenes still from "Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker." By Courtesy of Annie Leibovitz/Vanity Fair
By Clifford Courvoisier, Crimson Staff Writer

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

A director has a vision! Despite overwhelming odds, that vision becomes a film. And in spite of dozens of studios and executives proclaiming the poor quality of the film at initial screenings, “Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope” becomes universally loved, sparking one of the greatest film series of all time. Now, 42 years and eight films later, the Skywalker saga comes to an end with J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker.” But contrary to its title, this final film feels more like a confirmation of Star Wars’ downfall than its rise. As “The Rise of Skywalker” brings the series to a close, it is obvious that the passion and creative vision that George Lucas brought to the films has been diluted. Despite the film’s many flaws, Abrams does manage to piece together an entertaining narrative. Unfortunately, “The Rise of Skywalker’s” mistakes are so apparent and avoidable that it's frustrating seeing how much better of a film it could have been.

Some time has passed since Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) sacrificed his life to save the dwindling Resistance forces from Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and his vengeful First Order. The fragile situation has been shaken by the reappearance of an old enemy, the dreaded Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). Armed with a legion of Star Destroyers, Palpatine possesses enough power to seize ultimate, irreversible control over the galaxy. Upon meeting Kylo Ren, the Emperor gives him a new task: Find and kill Rey (Daisy Ridley). Possessing a new set of Jedi skills, Rey and her friends, former stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), Resistance fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), set out to stop Kylo Ren and the Emperor, bringing peace back to the galaxy.

Abrams is quite zealous with how much information, subplots, and diversions he tries to pack into two and a half hours. However, despite its perhaps excessive ambitiousness, the film does a number of things very well. First, it nails nostalgia for the original trilogy. The “Rise of Skywalker” has been criticized for catering too much to the whims of fans through blatant callbacks to the original trilogy. While it is true that Disney’s sequel trilogy is Star Wars for a new generation, and uninspired repetition of plot lines from Lucas’s films would be tiresome, filmmakers should still keep these newer films true to the charm of the Lucas trilogies that came before. Through the reemergence of similar themes, enemies, and character goals, “Episode IX” is the first in the string of new Star Wars films to truly feel like a logical continuation of what came before, while still providing something new for the next generation of Star Wars fans to call their own.

Additionally, the spectacle of the film provides strong entertainment value. Though a film's flashiness does not necessarily mean that it is good, Star Wars has always been larger than life, filled with space battles, lightsaber duels, and breathtaking scenic environments. “The Rise of Skywalker” is no exception. The setpieces and environments are beautiful to look at, and they ground the narrative in a living, vibrant world. The scenes that take place around the ruins of the Death Star are phenomenal, as are those involving the Force link between Rey and Kylo Ren. Though the cinematography occasionally struggles to keep up with the action in some of the busier scenes, it otherwise does a good job of organizing the chaos, keeping the most important things in focus amid the noise of the battles.

But spectacle alone is not enough to hold viewers’ attentions. Dramatic tension is key to making adventure films effective. This is where “The Rise of Skywalker” falters the most. While the beginning of the film is extremely effective at establishing stakes by showcasing Palpatine’s return, this tension rapidly dissipates as the movie consistently demonstrates its unwillingness to take risks or commit to its creative decisions. Characters are constantly placed in harm’s way, but they always manage to concoct an escape despite overwhelming odds, ultimately diminishing emotionally resonant moments. This trope occurs so frequently that by the end of the film, it's hard to believe anything that one is being shown. Without dramatic tension, all action scenes are reduced to little more than glorified light shows, which is disappointing considering the technical impressiveness of these scenes.

Furthermore, the film squanders many characters that could otherwise have been highly compelling. In “Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens” audiences were shown glimpses of the Knights of Ren, elite Force-sensitive warriors at the command of Kylo Ren, who could have proved deadly enemies for Rey and her friends. However, in “The Rise of Skywalker,” they act as little more than glorified bodyguards with little bearing on the story.

Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) is similarly wasted. Rose had a rather large part in Rian Johnson’s “Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi,” but Tran was viciously bullied over social media following the film’s release. Admittedly, her part in “The Last Jedi” was poorly written, but rather than creating a unique, rewarding character arc for her in “The Rise of Skywalker,” her character is almost entirely removed.

Nowhere is wasted potential more obvious than with Finn, who was established in “The Force Awakens” as a primary character — a rogue stormtrooper, the first to wield a lightsaber, and a crucial player in the Resistance. However, in “The Rise of Skywalker,” he is unforgivably presented as more of a side character whose only real contribution appears to be inserting himself in the middle of dramatic scenes and shouting “REY!”

Additionally, there are many small issues that combine to create an uneven viewing experience. The humour, though occasionally welcome, is often misplaced. Repeating a joke three times in quick succession does not make it funnier, especially when it interrupts an otherwise interesting moment. Rey conveniently develops powers that previous films have explained as extremely difficult or impossible, and the film's glossed-over justifications feel largely unearned. Lastly, the final showdown feels a bit lackluster for the concluding event of the Skywalker Saga.

“Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker” is the final chapter in the 42-year-long Star Wars journey. Though its errors and missed opportunities are many, and it is clear how the journey could have been improved, the “Rise of Skywalker” should still be applauded for what it manages to achieve. Abrams manages to bring back some of what made the original trilogy great, fixes many issues created by the previous installment, and concludes one of the greatest franchises of all time in a way that most people will accept, if not love. Considering the unbelievably high expectations for the film, this is pretty much all that anyone could ask.

—Staff writer Scotty Courvoisier can be reached at clifford.courvoisier@thecrimson.com.

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