THREE STARS The Resistance is in tatters, the First Order has a new leader. Can Rey save the galaxy, the Jedi and herself?
Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver
SCI-FI ACTION #RISEOFSKYWALKER
In a thunderous race to the end, writer/director J.J. Abrams wraps up the space-saga of the century, some 42 years in the making. A lot has happened since Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) first appeared on a dirt farm in the middle of a nine-movie franchise. For a start, gone is the wondrous, edgy, seat-of-your-pants thrill as the series bloated into a toy-and-merch juggernaut. Still, conscious of its roots and an overwhelming need for a fan-boy finale that doesn’t go full GoT:8, Abrams delivers on a promise set out all those years ago.
There’s a school of thought that suggests Abrams is the Padawan to George Lucas’s Jedi master, if only for his full-throttle approach to story telling. Never mind the detail, the thin plotting or the corny sentiment, what matters is how quickly you can traverse the far reaches of the galaxy throwing out chunks of narrative as you go. Thus SKYWALKER opens not at light speed, but skipping light speed with alacrity and, apart from a few clunky moments, never lets up.
All the favourites return in a film littered with ghosts. Some like Chewbacca and C-3PO get more to do, others like the cut-and-paste digitally regenerated Princess (now General) Leia Organa get too much to do. Reconstituted from old footage and out-takes, the presence of the late Carrie Fisher is a bit weird (though not as weird as digitally raising Peter Cushing from the dead in ROGUE ONE). Then there are the real ghosts, but to say more would be to say too much.
But mostly this is the origin story of Rey (Daisy Ridley), a spookily proficient Jedi master and saviour of the universe, and her determination to rescue conflicted the newly minted Supreme Leader of The First Order of bad guys, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). All this is complicated by the resurrection of Emperor Palpatine, last seen plummeting to his death in Ep5 (don’t ask). He has since developed a massive crush on both Rey and Ren that can’t be good, especially since this panto-villain lives, maniacally and quite literally, under a rock. Everyone has a bad feeling about that. Meanwhile, Poe, Finn et al lead a depleted resistance, leverage galactic distractions and try to take down the First Order.
It’s here that Abrams comes to the fore as he regurgitates the best of STAR WARS past to pay homage, and give his finale a well rounded sense of completion. Does he wrap it up in a nice, shiny bow? Of course! That he does so with indecent haste, skipping at light speed from scene to scene, may well speak to Lucas but Abrams is in such haste, rushing around tying snippets of story together, flying to get to the next plot turn, that there’s barely a moment to register what’s happened, much less relish the emotion (or question the logic, a frequent casualty). It’s a reductive style in which he excels, and is the scourge of the modern blockbuster.
That said, it’s hard to agree with the degree of bad press levelled at THE RISE OF SKYWALKER. Although Abrams has served up a derivative, bloated and largely uninspired experience, it’s worth remembering that STAR WARS has long been thus. He was charged with offending as few as possible; by and large that’s exactly what he’s done with a film that, for all its faults, is still an eye-popping, hyperventilating, entertaining and occasionally thrilling farewell. Sure, it’s no EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, but it’s no PHANTOM MENACE either.