Plain, Simple Tom reviews . . . “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” (2019)

Contains Potential Spoilers (you can never be too careful!)

In the concluding chapter of the Star Wars saga, word has reached all corners of the galaxy that the nefarious Emperor Palpatine may, in fact, still be alive and summoning a dreadful army that will spell disaster and doom for all. So in an effort to prevent this, Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and the remainder of the Resistance, all the time followed closely by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), band together and go in search of the evil Emperor in an attempt to stop his dark plan once and for all.

As one of the most highly anticipated films of the year (indeed, we’ve surely all been looking forward to it for several years now), expectations have been extremely high for the ninth chapter of the official Star Wars canon, following on from the popular Force Awakens and the extremely divisive The Last Jedi and for me, this was of course a big event and, in a year that has only brought two five star films (in my opinion), I felt confident that this new adventure would surely and safely land quite comfortably in my top ten of the year. I mean, it’s freaking Star Wars – how could it not?

But alas, it sadly wasn’t to be because The Rise of Skywalker, though not a terrible film by any stretch of the imagination, doesn’t live up to the standards set by its predecessors and because of its lazy, predictable story and lack of surprises, it ends up as a distinctly average instalment – not something you’d want from an exciting franchise that should ideally excite, entertain and stir your emotions.

But where does it all go wrong? Well, the main fault would appear to lie with the story and with the writing in general because the plot that’s presented is unimaginative, generic, and it seems more concerned with presenting us with callbacks to previous instalments than with giving us something fresh and exciting. In all honesty, it’s one of those stories that a ten year old could come up with in the schoolyard and as such, a lot of it is far too predictable, offering very few surprises as The Last Jedi was able to do, and it is filled with plot contrivances, nonsensical story developments, and moments that defy all logic and reason – from the Force now being able to transport items across the galaxy and heal wounds, to animals and people being able to breathe in space and stick to ship hulls, to bad guys switching sides for no good reason at all. It makes sense that one of the writers, Chris Terrio, also penned the troublesome Batman V Superman and the dire Justice League and the end product has a smattering of bad dialogue, and the decision to resurrect a villain from previous films was a fundamental flaw, leading to an end product that was doomed to simply rehash previous entries and to give us something lazy and very predictable – not something a final chapter should be.

It also hurts that the film undoes much of what The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi did and as it retcons a lot of what came before, with changing Rey’s parentage in favour of something more questionable and crowdpleasing (ruining the hopeful message of “the Force belongs to everyone”), it becomes clear that there was no clear vision from the filmmakers, no unity or cooperation as certain individuals apparently had their own seperate ideas that never gelled into a cohesive franchise arc, and that because of the toxic backlash that The Last Jedi received, the powers-that-be clearly got scared and resorted to something far safer and palatable for mass consumption.

That being said, though, Star Wars on a bad day is still better than a lot of the drivel that we sometimes see in cinemas and The Rise of Skywalker is rarely boring and if you can forgive the so-so plot and can simply switch off and enjoy a lot of familiar Star Wars action, then you may end up having a good time seeing this in the cinema. John Williams’ score is as wonderful as it’s ever been (spot the great man himself as he makes a cameo appearance in the film) and the visuals are, of course, as impressive as you’d expect (though Rogue One remains the most technically impressive instalment, in my opinion) because barring a little bit of off-putting de-aging, everything looks perfectly sleek and all the colourful new locations, characters, and the fearsome new star destroyers are fully capable of awe-ing and exciting the audience. Although it doesn’t break any new ground, the film is nonetheless a decent piece of escapism and there are enough space battles, shootouts and force/lightsaber fights that will entertain and provide audiences with a couple of hours of sci-fi action.

Plus, you’ve got the returning cast and they’re still an endearing and talented bunch; Daisy Ridley is confident and powerful in the role of Rey, also showing her inner conflict and compassion at certain moments, John Boyega is commanding as a more proactive and less comedic Finn (though he still gets a humorous line or two), Oscar Isaac gets his greatest amount of screen time as he spends most of his time on the ground, going all Indiana Jones in his role of Poe, showing a greater amount of responsibility as he acclimates to his role of rebel leader, and Adam Driver, though his character isn’t as compelling, interesting or as fully developed as he was in the previous two entries, is still great to watch on screen and continues to lose himself in the popular role. We also see top-billed Carrie Fisher as Leia (with unused footage being used for her scenes, which very admirably fit into the storyline) and Anthony Daniels gets his his biggest role for many years as the plot-essential C-3P0, nabbing the most humorous lines, and regarding the new additions, Richard E. Grant fits in perfectly as the main First Order general Pryde (stealing the limelight from Domhnall Gleeson, who is given criminally little to do as well as some horrible character development), Lady Macbeth‘s Naomi Ackie is kick-ass as ally Jannah, Keri Russell shares some good banter with Oscar Isaac in her role of Zorii Bliss, and the great Billy Dee Williams returns as Lando Calrissian and although he doesn’t have anything particularly interesting to do, he clearly relishes returning to the role and it’s fun to see him in the popular part again. Kelly Marie Tran and Lupita Nyong’o also return, as well as Dominic Monaghan, who plays a Resistance fighter, but these actors are shortchanged and don’t get the chance to add anything important to the film.

And there’s also a scene where we get to hear “The Voices of Jedi Past” and that, admittedly, is really cool.

So, I guess that’s it – hopes were high for the epic concluding chapter but The Rise of Skywalker sadly came up short. There’s enough to enjoy as there are several big setpieces to savour, and any time spent in the Star Wars universe is nearly always worth your time, but overall, the film didn’t excite, amaze or wow me and I found the story to be disappointingly lazy and predictable, with a clear agenda of simply recalling past glories, relying on fan nostalgia, and cowardly backtracking on the new direction taken by The Last Jedi.

As visually sleek and adventurous as you’d expect, with a few good setpieces, a fine score, and a group of wonderful actors, but it’s let down greatly by a lazy, unimaginative story, dodgy dialogue, few surprises, and the retconning of events from The Last Jedi.

★ ★ ★