Flying stormtroopers, lightsaber duels and a resurrected evil lord … the hugely entertaining final episode in the nine-film saga brims with euphoric energy
So the ninth and last (we think) movie in the Star Wars saga arrives, and there’s only one thing on our minds. When will Darth Vader’s disturbing grandson, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and Rey (Daisy Ridley) do something about their outrageously obvious telepathic sexual tension and just get a room already? When will they do something about the symbolism of these lightsaber duels of theirs, secure a furtive daytime booking at some intergalactic Premier Inn and give us the most rock’n’roll sex scene – come to think of it, the only sex scene – in Star Wars history? Surely the suits at Disney would be OK with it? Well, oddly, the symbolism of Romeo and Juliet (as well as Dunkirk) might just occur to you in the course of this crazily but very entertainingly grandiloquent adventure.
Now, The Rise of Skywalker has been rather coolly received in some quarters, and I certainly think it isn’t quite as strong as The Last Jedi, around which critical consensus has gathered. (In this trilogy of trilogies, incidentally, it is the second film in each trio – The Empire Strikes Back, Attack of the Clones and The Last Jedi – that has been the strongest episode, though Clones did not have much competition.) There is, I admit, some excessive MacGuffinism (the use of arbitrary objects to drive the story), especially when everyone conceives a great desire to get hold of a supernaturally potent glass tetrahedron, which is then smashed before someone miraculously comes across another mystically significant glass tetrahedron, murmuring: “Oh, there were two!”
Which brings us to the second flaw in episode nine: a habit of nullifying jeopardy by perpetually bringing dead people or things back to life. People are forever dying and then returning to the screen, either as poignant memories, or quasi-ghosts, or horribly unnatural resurrections. Partly, I think this is an over-writing flaw, with director JJ Abrams (having taken over from Colin Trevorrow over “creative differences”) working with co-writer Chris Terrio and perhaps over-zealously trying to correct what fans saw as the fault with The Last Jedi and to cover as much ground and as many alternative realities as possible, in the service of a resounding finality. In fact, the ending is no cop-out. There is real sacrifice.
And, to some degree, the dying-not-dying motif was forced on Abrams and Terrio by the fact that Carrie Fisher, who plays General Leia Organa died after the last film, and her marginal presence here has been fabricated with a piece of unused footage in which Fisher is making general-purpose observations that have been ingeniously sewn into dialogue scenes.
The situation now is that Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) has returned, after we all thought we’d heard the last of him. He has been resurrected in an almost satanic procedure as the artificially galvanised undead Sith lord, wired up to some source of daemonic Sith energy. From here, Palpatine plans to embark on a new insurgency of evil from the First Order, in which General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and Allegiant General Pryde (Richard E Grant) will be complicit and which involves the agonised, almost tragic figure of Kylo Ren, the Order’s leader. And Driver’s performance is genuinely excellent – he brings an absolute commitment to the role, distinguishing it from the tongue-in-cheek black comedy of Gleeson, and, however absurd it sounds, there is subtlety and even delicacy in his vocal range.
What this means is a gallant fightback from the Resistance and the old gang springing into action: Rey, Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac), Chewie (Joonas Suotamo) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels). There is great chemistry and ésprit de corps between them all as they helter-skelter anarchically and almost plotlessly from exotic planet location to exotic planet location, going into full Indiana Jones mode as they barrel about – incidentally discovering, to their enormous chagrin, that stormtroopers can fly these days.
Of course, just as with The Last Jedi and The Force Awakens, very familiar tropes and plotlines are being revived, and maybe the distinctive theme of this trilogy is this fan-fiction-style tribute to the first films. But, however preposterous, The Rise of Skywalker is socked over with such energy, such euphoric certainty. And it’s such fun: full of the rackety exuberance of the now forgotten Saturday morning movie serials that were an influence on George Lucas. Comedy was, incidentally, the keynote of Ron Howard’s excellent and very underrated non-Skywalker-saga Solo: A Star Wars Story. It’s right now for the saga to end, or at any rate to lie fallow, and to leave us with such an exhilarating flourish.
- Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is released in the UK and Australia on 19 December and in the US on 20 December.