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The Rise of Skywalker Spoiler Free Movie Review
There’s a moment in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker where a character—I won’t say who or when to avoid spoilers, which I assure you this is not—says: “What our mothers and fathers fought for we will not let die.” This to me worked on a number of levels when considering the decades-spanning Star Wars franchise as a whole. The sheer existence of this new series is predicated on the fact that our collective pop culture consciousness will not let the passions of our parents die. In fact, the first words of the opening crawl—again, not a spoiler, folks—are: “The Dead Speak!” That in itself seems like a succinct indication that death of the main characters and even our own real-world mortality is not enough to stop this Star Wars story from ever truly ending.
After concluding twice before, Star Wars returned once again out of nowhere when we didn’t think we cared about it any longer, much like Palpatine’s voice in early Rise of Skywalker trailers. Star Wars, and every other tentpole reboot or sequel or remake, exists because of our (or the studios in power) fear or unwillingness to try anything new—a distrust and blind hatred of the unknown.
That’s exactly what made Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi so polarizing. Though critics approved of the movie’s bold departure from the tired themes of every other Star Wars movie—fans were furious that things were different. They were angry that characters changed. They were mad the film tried to embrace more complex themes, that it gave a voice to those whom have been voiceless thus far in the most popular sci-fi franchise of all time. Where Rian Johnson fought to “kill the past,” to look ahead at what a Star Wars movie could be or do, J.J. Abrams’s The Rise of Skywalker seems to be trying to have it both ways. The finale of the Skywalker Saga works desperately to win back the fans who have been alienated, while also attempting to deliver a satisfying and unexpected conclusion.
In the end, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is fine, it is mostly satisfying—but unexpected or bold it is not.
These ideas of killing the past and preserving it feel to be at constant odds in The Rise of Skywalker. At times, Abrams fully reverses, or ignores the more drastic departures Johnson made in The Last Jedi. Where Johnson found nuance, Abrams returns to classic Star Wars simplicity—both thematically and in terms of general plot.
Like the quote above, TROS picks up the battle of the characters’ ancestors. The heroes and villains are wrestling with their past, the sins, the mistakes, and decisions of their forebears while trying to write their own future. This is the struggle—that urge to follow in the footsteps of titans and the fear of deviating from that path. Such is the struggle of the Disney Star Wars as a whole.
The actors do a tremendous job at viscerally bringing these conflicts to life—the pain of uncertainty feels real as this story reaches its climax. Scenes with Leia—patched together using old footage after the tragic passing of Carrie Fisher—are respectful and beautiful, giving our princess, our general, a grand, meaningful departure. Throughout, the film will give fans no shortage of action. There’s a shit-load packed into these two and a half hours—perhaps at the expense of actual character and plot development. Much of it hinges on “go get this McGuffin at point A and bring to point B.” The new characters in this movie—what we got from them, at least—are delightful, but could have been given a little more space to breathe. Surely, there will be spinoffs, which Disney already seems to be setting up.
But, the main question remains: In the end, did these three movies justify the return of the Skywalker Saga? Why did we need this story to have yet another ending? What was the point of not letting the past just be? That’s something I can’t answer right away. I’ll need time and distance to really know for sure, but I will say—overall—like this final movie, it was fun and it was satisfying. At least parts of it were. Already, just an hour removed from my screening, I’m already finding holes in the Big Bad’s plot, I’m already thinking back on how both heroes and villains could have been more developed in the 7-plus hours we’ve been given with them. There are major prophecies and driving narratives in the saga as a whole that are either ignored or simply abandoned in the end. I don’t envy the challenge Abrams was given in finding a fitting ending for everything—the nine movies and auxiliary, canon content. But, honestly, the guy did his best to please everyone.
And that might not have been, exactly, what Star Wars needed. Look, I understand the complexity of the situation—not even fans really know what they want with a continued Skywalker Saga. That much is clear. Disney has proved to be relentless in keeping control of its properties and fearful of fan backlash. Thankfully, Abrams did not reverse some of the more progressive aspects of this new era. Empowering, emotional moments are given to the female characters and people of color are largely prominent in this story. The LGBTQ relationship that Abrams teased is there, though deeply disappointing. But in terms of the movie itself, Abrams sadly returned to the formula of The Force Awakens. This is in many ways a retreading of old territory. This is the ending fans wanted, and maybe even predicted—but in terms of art and filmmaking, that’s not always the best thing.
Just seeing these characters on screen is an emotional experience. And in many moments I did have real sentimental reactions to the stories that were concluded. It’s hard to say if that’s Disney cashing in on my nostalgia—on my childhood—or if it is the tangible, new experiences they created on screen. I will say, though, I’m glad to have seen it through to the end. At many times it was worth the ride. Certainly it wasn’t worth all the hatred and anger spewed online by vile fans, but from a purely cinematic experience, the Disney Star Wars trilogy has wrung out every drop of entertainment it can from a singular, 42-year-old story. I truly hope it actually is the end now. It’s time to really let the past die. But, as The Rise of Skywalker makes very clear: “The Dead Speak!” So, who knows what this long-dead franchise might say next.
Matt is the Culture Editor at Esquire where he covers music, movies, books, and TV—with an emphasis on all things Star Wars, Marvel, and Game of Thrones.