Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

 

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The final chapter is nothing if not impressive but is unlikely to engage the casual filmgoer on an emotional level.

 

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

A rock and a hard place: John Boyega and Oscar Isaac

  

It’s all over. Perhaps. The final episode in the nine-part space opera that changed the face of sci-fi 42 years ago has finally arrived. And we do owe an awful lot to George Lucas’s Star Wars (1977). Yet, like any success story, it has inspired plagiaristic repetition as well as creative purpose. With his Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), writer-director-wunderkind J.J. Abrams brought fresh vitality to the franchise, banishing the bad taste left by the mid-section trilogy of 1999-2005. Abrams is something of a fix-it guy, having revived the Star Trek brand in 2009 and injected the awe factor into Mission: Impossible III (2006) – few can forget Tom Cruise swinging from one skyscraper to another in Shanghai, or striding up the outer wall of the Vatican. Then, in the director’s capable hands, The Force Awakens became the highest-grossing film of all time at the UK box-office, a record still unchallenged. Then Abrams handed the directorial reins of Episode VIII to Rian Johnson and a certain sparkle left the pageant.

 

The Rise of Skywalker is an improvement on The Last Jedi, but is still encumbered by various setbacks, not least the death of its leading lady, Carrie Fisher, in December of 2016. And so ten months of intricate planning went out the window. Furthermore, its anointed director, Colin Trevorrow, departed the project over “creative differences” and Abrams was flown in to whip up a new screenplay and plonk himself back in the director’s chair. It was not an easy ask for any filmmaker and the insistence that Carrie Fisher be resurrected for the role of Princess Leia – now General Organa – was not a sensible one. With her scenes scraped off the cutting room floor from previous forays, it is not a convincing fit. Sadly, there are moments when Fisher’s materialization is almost laughable. She will say, “Never underestimate a droid,” characters will nod approvingly, and then the film will get on with its business.

 

The overriding strength of the new film is the maturation of Daisy Ridley as an actress. As the last Jedi, Rey, she really owns her scenes, and as she is the beating, racing heart of the film, this is a significant blessing. Hers is perhaps the best central performance in a popcorn movie in recent memory. The much-fêted Adam Driver has little to grasp onto as the egomaniacal Kylo Ren, and many of his scenes are played behind a mask (amusingly mocked by Oscar Isaac in The Force Awakens). There are strong supporting turns from Isaac, John Boyega and, as the unimaginably evil Darth Sidious, Ian McDiarmid, although this is not so much a platform for the cast of Method actors as a stage for the special effects guys. And the CGI does not disappoint. However, with so many narrative boxes to be ticked, the film remains impressive rather than emotionally riveting. No doubt the films’ hard-core followers will find the final passages moving, and there are some genuine surprises. But to the casual filmgoer, the attendance of The Rise of Skywalker might feel more like an obligation than an urgent necessity.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong'o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid, Billy Dee Williams, Greg Grunberg, Shirley Henderson, Billie Lourd, Dominic Monaghan, Vinette Robinson, Denis Lawson, Warwick Davis, Andy Serkis, Jodie Comer, Billy Howle, Harrison Ford.

 

Dir J.J. Abrams, Pro Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams and Michelle Rejwan, Screenplay J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio, Ph Dan Mindel, Pro Des Rick Carter and Kevin Jenkins, Ed Maryann Brandon and Stefan Grube, Music John Williams, Costumes Michael Kaplan.

 

Lucasfilm Ltd/Bad Robot Productions-Walt Disney.

141 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 19 December 2019. Cert. 12A.