To all things, an end…
Review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Starring Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Carrie Fisher, Kelly Marie Tran
In 2017, Star Wars: The Last Jedi boldly set about burning much of the franchise’s past in order to make way for a new direction. The film proved to be a controversial entry into the nascent Star Wars sequel series, reviewing well with critics, but polarising fans. With many online responses tinged with misogyny and some fans going so far as burning their merchandise, the direction that future films might take became an interesting question.
With The Force Awakens’ director JJ Abrams on board, questions remained as to whether The Rise of Skywalker would jettison some of The Last Jedi’s unpopular elements. While there is no major retcon (with one or two exceptions), The Rise of Skywalker marks something of a step in the nostalgic direction, attempting to make an entire universe of fans happy.
While Insights was favourable towards the film (the review called it “a bold statement”) Abrams undoubtedly had his work cut out for him in finishing off the sequel trilogy. For the most part, The Rise of Skywalker delivers a fitting end to the mainline Star Wars story.
The latest in the series picks up shortly after the events of The Last Jedi, with the Resistance weakened by the triumphant Dark Order, which has succeeded in destroying whole planets and shattering the peace of the new republic. An old villain returns from the original trilogy very early in the piece (mentioned in the opening crawl) and threatens to derail any hopes of the heroes’ survival.
Delivering on this story is a talented ensemble cast who continue to perform strongly. Daisy Ridley returns as Jedi trainee and sequel series protagonist Rey. Uncertain of her role in the universe and shaky as to whether she can help lead the Resistance against the First Order, Rey finds herself tempted by the dark side. Ridley has largely delivered star-making performances through the sequel trilogy, and Rise of Skywalker once again entrusts her to deliver the major focal point of its wider arc.
Adam Driver (who recently spoke to Insights about the role that his faith has played in his life) reprises his role as Kylo Ren/Ben Solo. The film comes at a conflicted point in his arc: both at the height of his power as Supreme Leader of the First Order, and yet weakened by the revelations about the past character’s returm and an internal struggle between dark and light sides of the force. Where the Kylo Ren character could have been easily dismissed as being a Darth Vader cosplay, Driver has brought emotional range and depth to his portrayal.
Oscar Isaac and John Boyega return as supporting characters Poe and Finn respectively. While these two show great comedic chemistry in bouncing off one another, their characters’ side arcs bring some additional dimensions to the film’s plot, largely to do with the nature of loyalty and friendship.
If there’s anything that Leia Organa’s inclusion in The Rise of Skywalker reveals, it’s how much Star Wars (and Insights) misses Carrie Fisher. The late actress’ appearance was pieced together from scenes that she shot prior to her December 2016 death, but the material seems to be hastily thrown together. Nonetheless, her posthumous inclusion gives viewers the chance to farewell Fisher.
Less understandable is the way that the film under utilises Rose Tico after the character’s promising debut in The Last Jedi. With actress Kelly Marie Tran receiving abuse online for her character’s controversial arc, this traduced role feels like a capitulation to fanboys who don’t deserve anything.
With most films since 2015’s The Force Awakens releasing in December, Star Wars has since become an annual part of people’s pre-Christmas plans (including dedicated scifi church services).
The Star Wars universe is primarily depicted as nontheistic, with the Force being a non-personal entity that binds the universe and everything in it together. Still, there remains much for Christian audiences to explore in the series, including the struggle between competing temptations, and the nature of redemption. The Rise of Skywalker promises many further points that the church should consider unpacking, including interesting questions about nature versus nurture and the need for a small band of misfits to stand together against powerful agents of oppression. Star Wars has always been a series that intentionally plays against the political backdrop of the day, and there is much to consider here for today’s world of Trump-dominated headlines.
As this current Star Wars trilogy draws to a close, we have the chance to evaluate whether this was a necessary inclusion, or simply a Disney cash grab. If The Rise of Skywalker proves anything, it’s that this series has breathed new life into the Star Wars universe, introducing the wider story to new generations while reminding long term fans why they loved the series in the first place. After the prequel trilogy damaged all franchise goodwill, this was a much needed revival. This is perhaps The Rise of Skywalker’s best contribution: placing a bow on the Skywalker saga.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is now playing in cinemas.