*WARNING! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
Spaceship battles? Check. Exploding planets? Check. Lightsaber duels plus dramatic screaming? Check and check. Is that what Star Wars is really about, though?
Christmas came early for Star Wars fans in 2019. The saga that started in 1977, with the movie Star Wars: A New Hope, is finally coming to an end.
In general, the film still continues the journey of the Resistance in the aftermath of their battle with the First Order. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) now becomes the leader of the First Order after he killed Supreme Leader Snoke. He comes with a bigger ambition; expanding their fleet and army to wipe out the Resistance once and for all. Along the way, he makes an unexpected ally; none other than Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) himself. All this time, he’s been hiding in an unknown territory, plotting revenge. Palpatine proposes to build a new regime called the Final Order, but first Kylo needs to find Rey.
However, the Resistance always fights back, despite their lack of numbers and resources. Again, the fate of the Resistance and the whole galaxy are in the hands of Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), and Rey (Daisy Ridley), with a little help from an old and much-loved character, Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) who makes a return for the final battle. Together, they embark on an adventure to find the location of Palpatine’s lair, which leads them to new and forbidden places and to meetings with new people along their journey such as Zorri (Keri Russell) who’s an old acquaintance of Poe, and an ex-stormtrooper named Jannah (Naomi Ackie).
Meanwhile, Kylo and Rey face a more difficult battle. Not against each other, but a battle within themselves. Rey is still haunted by her past, her parents, and who she really is. There’s a fear inside her and it takes a toll on her Jedi training. On the other hand, Kylo is consumed by the guilt of killing his own father, Han Solo (Harrison Ford). Their internal struggle would test whether they belong to the Light Side or the Dark Side.
Some mind-bogging questions will be revealed in this latest instalment of the intergalactic expedition. Rey’s origin story, including the reason why the force between Rey and Kylo is strong yet contradictory, is an example that jumps to mind. But the more I watched, the more I realised that the whole plot itself feels very familiar to Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983).
That’s why I had mixed feelings about the movie. JJ Abrams seems to be running out of ideas by handing out too much lip service; meaning using tons of reference to the previous franchise. He keeps throwing fans pop culture elements such as Ghost Force, cameos from old characters, Luke’s legendary X-Wing, Holocron, Sith – you name it, with a hope that fans will like it and forget about the plot.
It is not a bad move though. He has played it safe – too safe perhaps – it seems that there’s nothing fresh with The Rise of Skywalker. I kept having déjà vu while watching it, since it’s very similar to The Force Awakens – like Rey’s costume and the setting that is purely surrounded by desert. A bit disappointing to say the least, as some fans (like me) get excited seeing new planets. He did, however, introduce us to a new creature, Babu Frik, a droidsmith who has turned into an internet sensation for her signature “Heee..heeey”. There’s also a new, cute but forgettable droid called cone shape.
Another issue I have with the new instalment is Poe Dameron’s character development. At first, he was painted as a brave and honourable fighter-pilot in The Force Awakens, but all of a sudden – maybe after they grasped how generic and one-dimensional Poe was in The Last Jedi – he became filled with mansplaining bravado. I guess there’s no turning back from that, so JJ gave Poe the same rugged, sarcastic character just to add a more Han Solo vibe to the ensemble. Not to mention a waste of character like Rose Ticco; I think JJ might as well have killed her character off at the beginning of the movie if she had nothing to do in this latest chapter. In spite of that, the cast did a wonderful job as always, including the droids R2D2, 3CPO, and BB8, and especially Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver acting as Rey and Kylo. The “will they/won’t they” situation gets deeper and more intense.
Despite the flaws in the movie’s plot and in some the characters, visually this film is very stunning, especially the CGI technology they use for Princess Leia. Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia, passed away in 2018 so her appearance brings a sense of bittersweetness to the audience.
Honestly, I wish that the plot focused more on a slow transformation of Kylo Ren returning to become Ben Skywalker and eventually helping Rey and the Resistance, even though no one trusts him. Instead, we spend almost two hours watching the resistance searching for a map – frankly another Force Awakens déjà vu. The good news is the The Rise of Skywalker fulfils its promise when it comes to an epic battle between Rey and Kylo. Yes, I cried.
To answer my question above, Star Wars has always been more than just an epic war movie in space. It teaches the importance of working together and family values. Luke Skywalker couldn’t win the war against the Empire without the help of Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, and the rest of the Rebellion. The same reoccurring premise was also used in The Last Jedi, as Luke was helping the Resistance by ending his isolation and eventually fulfilling his Jedi legacy. The Rise of Skywalker strengthens this value as they come together once again to put everything in place.
Opinions by critics and fans might be divided over The Rise of Skywalker. As a fan, I still find it hard not to be biased about this film. Was it enough? No. Have they successfully created iconic characters we would still talk about for the next ten years? Maybe not. But at some level, this film tries to pay a fitting tribute to the saga. I’d give the film 3.5 stars out of five.