Film review ‘STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

With a guaranteed worldwide audience but also an amazingly finicky, near-fundamentalist fan base, helming a Star Wars film must be a very tantalising and yet daunting prospect for any director. After directing the mostly loved The Force Awakens, JJ Abrams takes back the reins from Rian Johnson who gave us the intriguingly off-beat but ultimately silly, The Last Jedi. With The Rise of Skywalker, purportedly the last Star Wars film (at least in this cycle), Abrams has delivered an energetic, visually spectacular but structurally messy and often quite clunky film.

In a tangle of plot threads we learn that the new Star Wars generation heroes, orphaned scavenger and aspiring Jedi Rey (Daisy Ridley), reformed stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and the caddish pilot and now resistance commander Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) have united once again to battle a resurgent Emperor Palpatine (Ian MacDiarmid) whom we last saw being tossed down one of those shafts that seemed to have slipped past Star Wars universe OH and S building regulations. As the nefarious Palpatine secretly assembles a fleet of Sith spaceships, our heroes must follow a murky series of clues across the galaxy in the hope of uncovering the evil emperor’s secret lair.

For much of this film, Abrams struggles to find a coherent tone and rhythm as Rise frantically flails about trying to deliver a new story, a slew of action sequences and the all-important fan service. Add to that some leaden dialogue and erratic performances and the early part of this film will have fans worried. Eventually, though, Abrams pulls most of the elements together and The Rise of Skywalker starts to shakily but satisfyingly intertwine space fantasy heroics, personal drama, character growth and nostalgic references. The film also offers a few important revelations as it ties up various story threads.

Daisy Ridley provides her usual mix of lithe physicality and youthful uncertainty and is particularly effective in the action scenes. In the quieter dialogue scenes, though, she occasionally struggles to be convincing. John Boyega offers a similar mix of heroism and self-doubt mixed with a little comedy relief. As in all the films, he delivers a solid but not indelible performance. Oscar Isaac, in what is meant to the surrogate Han Solo role, also seems a little lost in some of the early dialogue scenes but makes an impressive battle commander in the inevitable massed dog fight sequences. Adam Driver once again impresses as Kylo Ren who has been seduced by the dark side of the force to become a brooding, conflicted emo space villain. Ian MacDiarmid, still apparently channelling Ozzy Osbourne, hams it up a treat as Palpatine, his guttural snarl of ‘Sky-war-carrr’ is the series’ comic highlight. There are some contributions from the classic characters such as Chewbacca (now played by Joonas Suatamo), C3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2D2 (Hassan Taj and Lee Towersey) although they’re really just secondary players here.

Despite some attempts at humour and a procession of references to the three original films The Rise of Skywalker never captures the quirky charm that made those early films so beloved. Still, when required, it successfully delivers the Wagnerian space operatics and even some genuinely emotional moments that will have a few fans batting to hold it together.

This is far from a perfect end to the series and will no doubt have some fans seething but given the near-impossibility of delivering a finale that would please everyone, this film provides a reasonably satisfying conclusion.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Action/ adventure/ sci-fi.

Classification: M.

Director(s): J. J Abrams.

Release date: 19th Nov 2019.

Running time: 142 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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