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Review – Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – “A futile, uninspired & pussyfooted climax to the Saga”

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First things first: I love Star Wars. The very last thing this author wants to do is report negatively about a new addition to the globally-beloved, universally-celebrated franchise. But alas, nothing is, or ever deserves to be, critic-proof.

Director J.J. Abrams returns to the fold in a studio move that can only be described as “damage limitation”. His appointment suggested it, then the backlash from cast and crew members further amplified it. Disney and Lucasfilm were quite simply petrified of the wretched, shattered fanbase which took to forums and comment sections to declare their hatred of Rian Johnson’s sequel, The Last Jedi. Ironically, when watching The Rise of Skywalker, the most evident thing you’re reminded of is just how great Johnson’s film is; how unique his vision was, how audacious and vocal he was to challenge the medium; to innovate and create. Like all artists should.

Abrams is not a particularly good filmmaker. Throughout his filmography, he has heavily lent on fan culture, nostalgia and genre tropes in order to succeed. The reliance on the past rung heavily throughout The Force Awakens, but it at least felt honest and dignified. His first film was a love letter to Star Wars as a franchise and its history; not its quaking, self-righteous fans. This third – and supposedly final – instalment in the “Skywalker Saga” is the very opposite. The very definition of bowing to those who demand you shut up and play the hits. The Rise of Skywalker is the artless, empty, and downright dreadful byproduct of a studio and filmmaker so desperate to appease a fractured viewership that they actively avoid making a proper picture.

There is virtually no point giving an overview of the narrative, because the film doesn’t really have one. Rather a warped, Frankenstein parade of scenes tacked together in the bid to screen  something moderately coherent. The opening scroll immediately sets alarms bells ringing, as a LOT has apparently happened in an incredibly short space of time (the first of many attempts to not just deviate from The Last Jedi, but actively bury it – corpse and all).

Rey (Daisy Ridley) has rapidly transformed from humble grassroots Jedi-in-training to staggeringly overpowered Super Saiyan, meanwhile, Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) are tasked with joining her on plentiful (and dull) side-quests as they attempt to locate MacGuffins before the inevitable showdown with will-he, won’t-he baddie, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and the newly resurrected Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid).

Now, this is probably going to annoy a lot of people, but this author does not believe, for a single second, that Palpatine’s return was ever originally in the pipeline. His involvement here absolutely reeks of unfiltered fan service; it sticks out like the sorest of thumbs. Yet another glaringly obvious attempt to calmly coo those who threw their toys out of the pram when Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) shockingly met his maker. The thing is though, that was actually great filmmaking, and even better storytelling.

It provided a stunning, stirring surprise, and ignited powerful character growth and motive. His death upped the stakes tenfold, and ushered in a new sense of progression in this Saga – the old make way for the new. But yeah, Abrams isn’t having any of that. He wants you to go right back to the past, where it’s safe and warm and cosy. To reminisce and forget what you previously saw like the Men in Black do with that funny laser pen thingie. Abrams wants to force-feed you the sweetest, most saccharine serving of Member Berry pie you’ll ever consume, and he wants it wolfed down time and time again.

The Rise of Skywalker is so wrapped up in its own monotonous victory lap that it does something not a single Star Wars films – good or bad – has ever managed before: to be boring. It has no voice whatsoever; a film totally lacking any sense of identity or authority. It sacrifices vision, and instead favours a muted, whimpering approach. Consequently, it evokes no emotion, no sense of peril or danger, and worst of all, no weight. The climax to arguably cinema’s most celebrated Saga serves up nothing more than a cavalcade of overcooked nostalgia, fumbled Easter eggs, and vacuous reach-around arcs.

No one could forgive the film for being poor, but its intolerable level of risk aversion is quite simply unacceptable. Never, ever, do the stakes feel high. Never does the impending doom actually evoke terror. The entire tone is so dismally flat and one dimensional, that you rapidly stop caring. It’s unimaginably disappointing; particularly when you think back on how far we’ve journeyed with these characters – how we’ve learned with them, loved with them. To see it all boil down to this soulless ruin.

Sure, the film looks gorgeous – the sound design is exceptional as always, as are the robust, sprawling visual effect; both practical and digital. Plus, John Williams delivers yet another rousing and stirring score – a crying shame then, that nothing in the narrative can capture the imagination and spirit in the same way. Aesthetically, The Rise of Skywalker is a glowing success, but thematically, it is without even the faintest of merits. Because “looking good” is just not enough; not for any film – let alone a Star Wars entry.

With the heaviest of hearts, J.J. Abrams has concluded one of film’s longest-serving series with its most forgettable and hollow entry. The Rise of Skywalker is the dampest of squibs. A futile, uninspired & pussyfooted climax to the Saga; one made solely to appease crybabies on forums and threads. It is gutless, mechanical filmmaking.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is out now in UK cinemas courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures. It arrives in US theatres on 20th December.

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