Release Date(s)2019 (March 31, 2020)
Studio(s)Lucasfilm/Bad Robot (Walt Disney Studios)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B
[Editor’s Note: This review contains major spoilers. Proceed with caution.]
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the ninth and final episode in the Skywalker Saga, which began a long time ago, in a year far away—1977. At the helm this time is J.J. Abrams, who also directed the first film in this final trilogy, The Force Awakens, released in 2015. Tasked with crafting a conclusion to a decades-long franchise that would satisfy the fan base and stand on its own merits, Abrams and four co-writers developed two major storylines and tied up assorted loose ends.
Rey (Daisy Ridley) has been taken under the wing of Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) to continue the Resistance but is fighting conflicting urges involving her blood legacy and her allegiances. She learns that she is the granddaughter of a feared enemy of the Resistance, who is using his power to draw her to the dark side.
Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) has turned to the dark side and killed his father, Han Solo. Now he is offered the opportunity to replace Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) and continue the reign of the Sith.
Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), and the droids C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and BB-8 take center stage as they help Rey to spearhead the Resistance despite many obstacles and detours.
The opening crawl tells us, without explanation, that the long-dead Emperor Palpatine is back. He’s not the only dead character to appear in cameos, but better to discover for yourself who they are. Fisher is integral to this episode. Her death in 2016 necessitated combining previously shot bits with pieces of new footage.
Of all the actors, Driver, Ridley, and Daniels come off best. Driver’s expression throughout suggests that he is wrestling with competing internal emotions. Ridley, on the other hand, displays a range of emotion. We know what she’s thinking at any given moment. Daniels’ quips and wisecracks supply virtually the only comic relief in an otherwise serious film that aspires to grandeur, yet never achieves it. Meanwhile, Boyega’s Finn is underwritten.
The prime difficulty with The Rise of Skywalker is that the narrative is predictable. Viewers easily anticipate developments before they occur. In addition, the film offers up a series of greatest moments that inspire little emotional involvement. A sense of “been there, seen that” pervades the film, and it feels overstuffed. In previous Star Wars episodes, story was more straightforward and was served by special effects. In this film, dazzling special effects often overshadow characterization.
There’s a great light saber fight between Kylo Ren and Rey that takes place as monstrous waves swell below them. The obligatory climactic space battle is bigger and flashier than ever before, with a new planet-smashing cannon mounted on star destroyers; characters pitting the power of the Force and the Dark Side against each other as white lightning shoots forth from their very beings; and greatly outnumbered and out-weaponed Resistance fighters launching a heroic attack on an enemy. But the balance is off. There’s so much CGI eye candy that characterization suffers. Yes, we know them from previous films, but what are intended to be dramatic changes in key characters are foregone conclusions.
Rated PG-13, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker still offers a fun ride and its 2 hours and 20 minutes fly by. But by playing it safe, it concludes a dramatic arc 42 years in the making with little spark or cleverness. It looks great, but we’ve come to take that for granted in these days of computer enhancements. The previous episode, The Last Jedi, directed by Rian Johnson, was far more daring in trying new things. This time around, director Abrams reverted to the tried-and-true Star Wars playbook.
The Blu-ray release, featuring 1080p resolution, is presented in the widescreen format of 2.39:1. The movie was shot on film and the visual quality is dazzling. Facial pores, beads of sweat, bloody wounds, and individual strands of hair are clearly delineated. In this special effects-heavy film, the blend of live actors with effects is truly breathtaking. The speeder chase and the light saber fight between Kylo Ren and Rey are visual highlights. The chase is one of the best in the entire series, as it features flying storm troopers who are catapulted from speeders to attack from above. The saber fight is especially dramatic, with the red and blue sabers glowing against the grey background of dull metal and raging waves. The desert locations are vast and the vistas often extend to the horizon line with nothing visible but sand and rock formations.
The English 7.1 DTS-High Definition Master Audio soundtrack provides almost theater-quality sound. Rockets, speeders, and other objects move across the screen as the roar of their engines moves from right to left or left to right. Dialogue mostly emanates from the front central channel. John Williams’ rousing score is given a truly splendid showcase here as it heightens excitement and drama. Palpatine’s voice is deep, cold, and sinister, sending chills. Overall, there is a solid bass line that suits the images nicely, adding gravitas. A ritual dance in the desert is an otherworldly musical interlude. During the light saber fight between Kylo and Rey on water-soaked metal wreckage, we hear booming, crashing waves. Whooshing speeders race across the desert. The space battle is a sound highlight with laser blasts, fighters zooming in and around obstacles, and explosions beautifully balanced to create a dizzying dogfight sequence.
Bonus materials on the 2-Disc Blu-ray release include the documentary The Skywalker Legacy and 5 behind-the-scenes making-of featurettes. A Digital code is included on a paper insert within the package.
The Skywalker Legacy – This feature-length documentary is packed full of behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, candid shots of the cast on various sets and, best of all, early interviews with the original cast of Star Wars. Director J.J. Abrams, co-writer Chris Terrio, and crew members comment on the planning and production of The Rise of Skywalker. In archival footage, fans are shown at Buttercup Valley, USA in 1982 at the location of Return of the Jedi. Cast members Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Billy Dee Williams comment on the importance of winding up a 9-film saga in a way to honor it and its millions of fans. Because Carrie Fisher died before filming was complete, storyboards were drawn and a script was re-written to make use of existing footage of Leia. Ridley speaks about how she trained for the role. Stunt coordinator Eunice Huthart is seen choreographing a stunt in which Ridley makes a huge jump with the help of wires. The Jordanian desert was chosen as a major location because of its unusual, otherworldly rock formations. Anthony Daniels (C3PO), who has appeared in all nine films in the main series, discusses his character and its significance. The film’s choreographer/movement coordinator is seen rehearsing members of the Jordanian army and citizens for a key sequence. A team of puppeteers is shown manipulating both large and small puppets, some of which will be enhanced with computer imagery. The fight between Kylo Ren and Rey was carefully choreographed and Adam Driver insisted on doing all of his physical stunts. The production design involved massive structures built in the desert. Composer John Williams is shown conducting a large studio orchestra. Star Wars mastermind George Lucas notes that “for something as large as Star Wars, you need a lot of people working together to make it happen.”
Pasaana Pursuit: Creating the Speeder Chase – There’s a speeder chase in all of the Star Wars film. In The Rise of Skywalker, the speeders are supposed to be derelict “pieces of junk” and had to be designed that way. A special rig was built to be used in conjunction with the green screen technique to simulate the chase. Storyboards were created to show each aspect of the chase. Two sets of tracks were built, one for the speeder, one for the camera. A green-screen stage was built in the desert, unusual since the technique is typically used on an indoor stage, to allow natural sunlight to add realism. “The speeder chase is the Star Wars version of the ultimate car chase.” Helicopter, drone, and ground cameras were used. Pyrotechnics were planted in the sand. Stunts, actors, and special effects combined to create the sequence.
Aliens in the Desert – This featurette focuses on the Jordan location. A small town had to be constructed in the desert for the filmmakers. This involved arranging for water, plumbing, food, offices, shipping containers, and 500 tons of equipment. The film company received assistance from the Jordanian army. Various roads to different locations were color-coded so no one got lost. This area became a “one stop shop for filmmaking.” Several units shot simultaneously—first unit, second unit, special effects, and stunt coordination.
D-O: Key to the Past – Rey discovers family secrets and a little droid named D-O. Technicians are shown experimenting with D-O to test its functions. Other mechanical props, some full-size, were created. These involved robots and the Millennium Falcon.
Warwick & Son – Warwick Davis played one of the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi. He once again took on the role of an Ewok in The Rise of Skywalker. His son also plays an Ewok. Davis played several different short characters. He acknowledges that the Star Wars films gave him a career in movies. Some early behind-the-scenes archival footage of Davis is shown.
Cast of Creatures – Odd creatures pervade the series. Various alien creatures from the current and earlier films are shown. Actors sit patiently as their make-up is applied. We also see them on the set during filming. The process of realizing these aliens involves the collaboration of many departments. Often, illustrations and models are created as guidelines. Many creatures involve a combination of a human actor and a series of expressions made through audio-animatronics. A record 584 creatures and droids were created for the film.
– Dennis Seuling