Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Review: Epic Conclusion That's Strongest in the Smaller Moments
Although it lacks the more cohesive, streamlined storylines of its predecessors, Episode IX is buoyed by always-dazzling visuals, satisfying emotional beats and solid performances
SPOILER WARNING: This review contains very mild spoilers for Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a jam-packed tribute to George Lucas’ legacy and the millions of dedicated fans who’ve kept the franchise alive and well for decades. And while it lacks the more cohesive, streamlined storylines of its predecessors The Force Awakens (2015) and The Last Jedi (2017), Skywalker is buoyed by always-dazzling visuals, satisfying emotional beats and solid performances.
The Rise of Skywalker, aka Episode IX, takes place not long after the action in The Last Jedi. When audiences last saw General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac), Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) and Droid friends BB-8, R2-D2 and C-3PO, the rebel forces fighting for good (the Resistance) were decimated by the evil First Order. Rey was trying to master her power, while also managing a powerful Force bond with presumed rival Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
Episode IX opens with a look at the opposite forces that fuel the universe — the light and the dark. New First Order Supreme Leader Kylo Ren is furiously trying to find the mysterious Emperor and squash the remaining members of the Resistance, while Rey is continuing her Jedi training under close watch by General Organa. When both sides receive separate intel about how to potentially destroy the other, this sets off a complicated series of action, space travel, and treasure hunting, ahead of the eventual epic end-all battle of the light vs. the dark, good vs. evil.
Rey, Finn, Poe, Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), BB-8 and C-3P0 set out to find and destroy the source of the First Order’s power. Meanwhile Kylo Ren, who happens upon damaging information about Rey’s past, is hot on their trail and seeking to convince Rey to embrace the dark side before he’s forced to destroy her altogether.
Directed by J.J. Abrams (The Force Awakens), Skywalker is a love letter to Star Wars itself, though a crowded one. In addition to a lot of story told over the course of the film’s nearly two and a half-hour run time, there are Easter eggs upon Easter eggs, and major set pieces that have become touchstones of the franchise. While thrilling to see, there’s a blink-and-you-miss-it feel to all the action, because of all the ground the film covers.
One major highlight is the touching sendoff to Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia. Using extra footage from the beloved actress’ final performance before her death in 2016, Skywalker gives the star and her character several key shining moments — including one with her daughter, actress Billie Lourd. The return of Billy Dee Williams’ Lando Calrissian also makes for a fun addition, along with several other cameos to look out for.
Newcomers to the Star Wars universe include Jannah, (Naomi Ackie), Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell), a figure from Poe’s past and Allegiant General Pryde (Richard E. Grant), a First Order officer, each of whom have memorable character moments that make a difference in the story. However, it’s Ridley’s Rey and Driver’s Kylo Ren that anchor it all and deliver the most emotionally-charged performances.
Episode IX provides definitive conclusions to several plot points laid out in both Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, but also raises several surprising questions as it does so. And although the franchise is built upon crowd-pleasing action sequences and space travel and the legacy of The Force, etc., this film is strongest in the smaller moments and emotional connections between beloved characters, which can always use further exploration and attention.
Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker opens in theaters Dec. 20.