Let’s get straight to the point, shall we? Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is perhaps the best possible conclusion to the latest trilogy we could have hoped for. It’s big, beautiful, gritty, funny and it brings a saga that spans the length and breadth of the universe to a close without farcical CGI, or mind-numbing trade embargoes. But even JJ Abrams was never going to be able to keep everyone happy, tying off three trilogies and 42 years’ worth of story-telling all at once. So here’s the bad news: It’s a bit messy.
The first third flits around attempting to mop up the spills caused by Rian Johnson’s divisive second installment, The Last Jedi, at a breakneck pace, not allowing the viewer to settle in. Finally slowing down for the middle hour, taking the time to appease the hardcore fans before ramping up for a big finish, it’s efficiently told by Abrams but even so, it’s busy.
In between there are magnetic performances from Daisy Ridley and the compelling Adam Driver, as well as a CGI Carrie Fisher and several old and new faces, too. Comic relief is provided by the fast-talking camaraderie shared by John Boyega’s Finn, Oscar Isaac’s Poe and Ridley’s Rae. There’s even some laughs courtesy of a CGI alien with a strange voice which was, frankly, a bold choice given the legacy of Jar Jar Binks, but it works.
However, new and casual Star Wars observers who have enjoyed this franchise reboot may be left non-plussed by this conclusion. For all its plot holes, The Last Jedi was in many ways a visually superior and more stirring film (that hokey casino planet interlude aside) and despite an impressive set piece staged on the broiling waves of a forgotten planet, The Rise of Skywalker lacked a fight scene with the elan of TLJ’s beautiful Praetorian Guard sequence or The Battle of Crait. Say what you want about playing fast and loose with the narrative, Johnson knows about spectacle. But that’s the opinion of a casual observer.
The die-hard fan sat next to us in the screening was grinning from ear to ear as the credits rolled. And that, perhaps, is the trade-off here.
In making a movie that ties off a galaxy full of loose ends and brings a decades-old story to a coherent conclusion, Abrams has played to the fans. And who can blame him?