One year from the events of ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi‘, things have moved on and yet oddly stayed the same. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is running the evil First Order (aka ‘The Empire’). Rey (Daisy Ridley) is learning to be a better Jedi under the teachings of Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Poe (Oscar Issacs) and Finn (John Boyega) are still fighting on behalf of the Rebel Alliance. However, looming over the entire proceedings is the reemergence of The Emperor (Ian McDiarmid), who now offers Kylo a deadly opportunity by which to rule the galaxy…
… J.J. Abrams delivers both what we expect and what we dread – the same but different.
A closing chapter that also serves as a service patch for director Rian Johnson’s divisive ‘The Last Jedi‘, J.J. Abram’s antidote takes advantage of Johnson’s innovations, whilst also amputating many of his introductions. Oscar Isaacs becomes the series’s de facto space pirate, Finn’s romance with Rose is parked without so much as a glancing nod and courtesy of some sketchy CGI, Carrie Fisher gets to start and finish some sentences. Sadly, there’s no’s reprieve for R2-D2 as Disney brings in even more small-n’-cute sidekicks to lobby for your affections in the plush toy market.
So, whilst you might have a bad feeling about all this, there are a few welcome additions.
Having rightfully elevated both his visibility and his stock with ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me‘, Richard E. Grant becomes the “Grand Moff Tarkin” the series has been so badly missing. Also, Adam Driver elevates Kylo Ren into the type of consumed Anakin Skywalker that Hayden Christensen could never give us. However, the franchise’s biggest concession is Daisy Ridley’s permission to actually act. Whilst weighed down with nondescript “feelings” that cause her to abandon her friends at almost every juncture, Ridley still manages to deliver emotion through each piece of scenery she’s afforded as a sentence. Saddled with the thankless task of glueing the yawning holes between expectation and logic, she becomes the similarly ignored linchpin that was Elijah Wood in ‘The Lord of The Rings‘.
That all said and thankfully avoiding Rian Johnson’s Mexican stand-off in space (which became exactly that), J.J. Abrams’s ‘Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker’ has a climatic sense of vision and scale aplenty. The star destroyers look epic, the vistas look operatic and whilst the whole ensemble may not distract you for its full hour and fifty minutes, the force of its explosions will regularly awaken you.
However, for a franchise so smitten with generational affection, repetition will be both its weakness and its requirement. In trying to revisit all of its favourite characters, ‘Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker’ sadly buckles under the weight of heavy expectation. Returning to the series’s central premise of children trying to shake off the fates of their parents, expect to find yourself in a familiar stand-off with almost identical stakes. Hanging in the balance between of surrender or sacrifice, an intergalactic battle will rage outside as J.J. Abrams delivers both what we expect and what we dread – the same but different.
Pivoting on a smorgasbord of references that include ‘Romeo and Juliet‘, ‘Raiders of The Lost Ark‘, ‘Tomb Raider‘ and Wagner’s ‘Ring Cycle‘, J.J. Abram’s latest is a climatic antidote that wears off surprisingly quickly. In attempting to finish off a story that is obliged to end well, any lingering significance is automatically thrown away.
Much like its blink-and-miss-it inclusion of a gay kiss at the end, the Star Wars saga finally becomes all about rewarding your memories rather than taking you forward.
“This day has seen the end of Kenobi and it will soon see the end of Skywalker…” – Darth Vader (Star Wars: A New Hope)
May the force be with you.