WARNING: Spoilers for Rise of Skywalker
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (RoS) was always going to get people up in arms. We know this because there has not been a Star Wars film in recent memory that hasn’t. With just a 55% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes as of writing, it’s a film with plenty of bad press, something which it really doesn’t deserve.
Those who hate the film claim it “doesn’t do anything new or even terribly distinctive” and say that it “moves too fast, skipping from one epic scene to the next and leaving audiences no time to truly think on the previous one”. And with those complaints, they completely miss the point of the film. Yes, it doesn’t do anything distinctive, it is quite clearly a Star Wars film in every way, and no, you don’t get to do much deep introspective thinking, but then I can’t remember that being a major part of the initial trilogy either.
What RoS does do is entertain, in a way many blockbuster movies of the recent past have deeply failed to, with spectacle, high-fantasy and escapism on another level. Star Wars was never supposed to be over analysed and dissected the way it has been. It wasn’t supposed to be satire or commentary on a modern world. What it was supposed to be was epic, fantastic entertainment, and in that the new film scores highly in every category.
The scenery and settings are without a doubt the best of all the Star Wars movies. Asked honestly would the critics and fans say they yawned, as Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) battled one another on a thin causeway amidst raging stormy seas, or would they admit that as set pieces go, this destroys all one-on-one fight settings in the previous films? Would they scoff at the final battle between Palpatine and Rey, or admit that an eerie Sith temple makes for far more an enthralling finale than the bridge of a space ship? In RoS J.J. Abrams created a world that was more epic, more visually stunning and therefore more gripping than any of the original films could even imagine, giving the characters the space to expand our minds and return us to how we felt when we first watched, for example, the Battle on Hoth.
In RoS all the characters get their chance to be heroes, even the droids, but it is Rey’s story that everyone obviously bought their tickets for. It is clear that there was a healthy dose of inspiration taken from the successful Tomb Raider franchise when creating who Rey was to become, as the softly upper-class British accented orphan took on the might of a vast, obscene and unknowable supernatural force (they even gave her an opportunity to delve into a colossal ruin to retrieve a relic) and it works. Rey as a character can proudly stand alongside Luke, Leia, Han and Obi-Wan as being a great Star Wars hero and her path to that position was twisting and unclear right to the end.
Was she a little “Mary sue”? Perhaps, but then Luke, Han, Leia and Obi-Wan can hardly be described as being deep, multi-layered and complex characters either. Despite her power, the writers have done enough to make her end uncertain, and to get us to support her. In this context, it is enough.
After The Last Jedi, many asked just where the final movie would go in terms of its plot. Snoke was dead, Rey was a Jedi and there was no real big bad for her to confront. Reddit pundits theorised that the series had spent all it’s good ideas and that the final movie was, therefore, sure to be a dud.
Admittedly Palpatine’s return was a sudden surprise, but there can be little doubt the final movie loudly shouted down those detractors. Beautifully paced, RoS switched expectations and kept us guessing to the final blow, while all the while being a high-paced thrilling adventure offering up plenty of amazing sights along the way. The two hour and 22 minute run time absolutely vanishes as the film dexterously hits all the points that have made Star Wars such a massive hit.
Any fan of the original who loved Vader striking down Obi-Wan after a slow-paced and pointless lightsaber battle can hardly claim they weren’t thrilled when Rey backflipped over Kylo Ren’s TIE silencer to slice off the wing. I am sure those same fans would struggle to explain why Vader chopping off Luke’s hand has more shock and humanity in it than the surprise twist that sees Rey impale Ren with a sword, then choose to bring him back from certain death.
There was also plenty of fan service in this one, and it’s clear it’s a movie that has been made by people who love the franchise in a way that even George Lucas himself never did. Moments from Carrie Fisher’s daughter Billie Lourd appearing wearing the same hairdo her mother sported in Return of the Jedi, to one final flash appearance of Warwick Davis as Ewok Wicket, are neatly slipped in alongside plot patches such as Chewbacca finally getting his medal.
While this movie is not a deep thinker, and maybe doesn’t even match Rogue One for emotion, and depth, it is an absolutely epic piece of Star Wars theatre. Those who remember what it was like to switch off their brains and let the franchise thrill them in A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi are sure to enjoy this just as much as the original films.