STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER Review - An Uneven, But Mostly Satisfying Conclusion To The Saga

The embargo has now lifted, and after the jump you can find out what we made of J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Could the final installment of this iconic saga ever live up to expectations?

With The Rise of Skywalker, director J.J. Abrams had the unenviable task of delivering a satisfying finale to arguably the most iconic film franchise of all time, while also tying together the two vastly different movies that preceded it. On some levels - and crucially, an emotional one - he has succeeded, but he also does the already thin story a disservice by attempting to cram way too much in.

The Rise of Skywalker makes the jump to light-speed right from the off and rarely lets up. Within the first 10 minutes alone we've already witnessed 3 action sequences, and while some of what unfolds here is necessary to bring us up to speed, it would have been nice to spend a bit of time with these characters before they're thrust into the thick of it. There are quieter moments that resonate once the movie settles down, but another set piece is always right around the corner, and too few of these scenes are given the necessary space to breathe.

The action is, admittedly, pretty spectacular for the most part, with space-battles, lightsaber duals and speeder chases galore. It's all very exciting, but one does sometimes get the feeling that this break-neck pace is designed to distract us from thinking about the plot too much.

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As many figured he would, Abrams and his writers all-but ignore The Last Jedi (a few cherry-picked plot points aside) and focus on continuing the narrative laid out in The Force Awakens. If you have zero appreciation for anything Rian Johnson did with his film you may be nodding your head in approval right now, but here's the thing: most of the storytelling risks and a willingness to subvert expectations he brought to the table go out the window, too.

As a result, many of the gut-punching twist and turns of TLJ are replaced by far safer decisions and McGuffins (at one point, the heroes are looking for a thing to help them find another thing that'll lead them to the thing), and it soon becomes clear that there simply wasn't enough thought put into the script. 

Despite these problems, though, there is a lot to love about TROS - particularly for long-time fans. Abrams and co. clearly love these characters and the galaxy far, far away they inhabit, and the movie does manage to hit all the right emotional beats. The highlight is probably how Leia's arc plays out; her scenes (and there are more than you might expect) serving as a poignant, fitting tribute to the beloved Princess and the late Carrie Fisher.

The cast is on top form, with both Daisy Ridley (Rey) and Adam Driver (Kylo Ren) emerging as the standouts yet again. John Boyega (Finn) and Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron) are given more to do this time and definitely make the most of it, while Billy Dee Williams makes a very welcome - if far too brief - return as Lando Calrissian. 

The ending is also very well handled, and while some will undoubtedly take issue with certain decisions (retcons?), we leave on a touching, powerful note which brings events full circle for a stunning final shot.

It's a shame the story isn't stronger, but The Rise of Skywalker is still never less than entertaining. It's ambitious, exciting, funny, heartfelt, a little cheesy, and - yes - a bit of a mess at times. But when it's at its best, it really does remind us why we fell in love with Star Wars in the first place.

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