When I think of Star Wars, I think of the thin lines of morality that this infamous franchise has popularized. The prominent theme of good and evil has become the epicenter of what Star Wars embodies within pop culture. What this franchise did so well was set a benchmark in popular character development structure; hero’s turning to darkness and villains turning to the light. Star Wars aims to question us – to show us that we are all infallible to the temptation of the dark, just as we are drawn to the light. Or hell, maybe not, maybe it all is laser sword fights and spaceships.
The Rise of Skywalker is not a new benchmark, but a retelling of the same flavor of morality that we’ve seen before. Simply put, this is a film that speaks highly of conflict, sacrifice, and inner turmoil — however, when the moment arises for its characters to bite the bullet – we’re left with a safe outcome. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the final film in the Skywalker saga and continues the journey of Rey (Daisey Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) as they build toward their final – predictable – conflict.
Now, I don’t mean to infer that this entire film was predictable, as there are revelations; it’s just that the revelations The Rise of Skywalker has ultimately do not bolster its own material, but rather show themselves as nothing more than plot patch-ups from the previous installment. What the storytellers here miss is that it is the marriage between the twist and its impact that truly makes it a revelation; the twist alone is not enough – there must be a payoff and there must be a reason, but The Rise of Skywalker refuses to take the risks or provide believable reasoning as to why it has taken its particular narrative direction.
This leads us to this films use of the force; a case study example of the Deus ex machina trope – using it to solve every problem, conflict, or explain away any nonsensical plot decision – it has become so central to the narrative that character development is seemingly an afterthought. In this film the force has taken to a whole new level of power, which allows the writers to essentially write off or write in anything they wish in an attempt to “fix” this films already shaky structure.
Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver return as the leads – with Ridley and Driver putting their all into ending their characters and finalizing this trilogy – what I can say is that I feel they have been one of the best parts of this trilogy; much like Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan held together the prequels, it was the sweetness of Daisy and the raw energy of Adam Driver that has made these films far more enjoyable than they would’ve been with less committed cast. Though Drivers energy is noticeably flatter in this film, I see this as a choice by the storytellers to move the focus away from his character toward Rey’s “conflict”. Supporting cast such as Boyega and Oscar Issac show me that while they may be insignificant characters, they are just as invested as ever. I struggle to fault any of the performances in this trilogy, its just a shame the narrative couldn’t keep up.
When it comes to the visual aesthetic of the film, J.J Abrams creates a visual marvel. Its aesthetic truly adds a sense of finality to this film with its gorgeous shot selection; it flaunts its expensive visual effects, set-pieces, and musical score to compensate. The film incorporates an interesting colour palette of rich bright blues alongside deep reds and pale yellows in a way that not only distinguishes locations but builds the intensity of its atmosphere. The set-pieces are incredible and contain some of the best action the franchise has to offer, whether that be an all-out space war or Kylo Ren and Rey colliding in the midst of tidal-like waves that help this feel very cinematic. Usage of the camera is improved upon the static-like cinematography of The Force Awakens (not as effective as The Last Jedi’s camera-work) in a way that creates many picturesque shots that demonstrate the type of imagery that can be found in this universe. While I know that Disney has money to spend, they go overboard with its usage of flashy sequences in the last act – breaking immersion and being heavy on the eyes.
J.J Abrams doesn’t hold back in his exploration of the Star Wars universe as we are taken on an adventure to many new places and old places too. The set-design in these new locations feature some impressive originality behind them and are constructed in a way that is fresh but fitting for its world. What’s more impressive in these old sets is the level of detail put in and how they have aged in this new era. Star Wars movies always have had a very impressive array of work done on its costuming, make-up and hairstyling and The Rise of Skywalker is no exception to that. John Williams is once again the MVP of the Star Wars universe, glueing the film together as it reaches its finality. He injects this film with a vigorous score that powers each set-piece and Williams uses a range of iconic Star Wars themes that bring nostalgia, excitement and a sense of an ending to it. The sound mixing is off the charts – the use of sound in scenes where there is lots going on all blurs together that assist the soundscape that its sound design and score have established.
The ideas that Abram’s teases throughout this film are far grander than the ones we receive — to not follow through with these ideas only makes the real outcome taste even more stale. This story does not seek to challenge its audience, but merely to appease them by connecting dots within the observable Star Wars universe and thematically, nothing truly new is brought to the table. This doesn’t mean it isn’t entertaining or that the saber fights aren’t great or that the force isn’t just god damn awesome. This film is great to look at, it’s great to experience, but it becomes rather agonizing to think about. While achieving the task of concluding this trilogy, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker serves only to prove yet again that shock and surprise is no replacement to meaningful plot development and thoughtful timely themes.