Review by Daniel Blackaby December 20, 2019
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Movie Review)
The Force is With Us Always, But It’s Not As Strong As It Once Was.
About the Film
Star Wars is so much more than just a series of goofy space films. For many people, it is an important part of our childhood and upbringing. The original trilogy were the first non-cartoons I ever saw as a kid (the day my father decided that it was time for boys to become men!). Now, as a father myself, the films are a special bond between me and my two 5-year-old twin boys. Beneath the surface of the lightsabers and dogfighting spacecraft, is the foundational story of Joseph Campbell’s classic hero’s journey and an almost therapeutic experience of childlike wonder. For this reason, reviewing a Star Wars film is difficult. Jumanji or Frozen 2 didn’t mean anything to me—Star Wars does.
I felt “much conflict” within me after I left the theater. To be honest, I felt a little let down and disappointed in the film. Thankfully, I decided to see it a second time before writing my review. In doing so, I was able to look past the trees and see the forest. Although there is much still to process about the film, I think that—despite several narrative flaws—the film is an emotionally satisfying end to the trilogy.
The movie asks a lot of viewers. Even the famous opening crawl introduces major game-changing plot points and there are several huge developments that seemingly come out of left-field (and, given the behind-the-scenes drama and tug-o-war between directors Rian Johnson and JJ Abrams, they clearly are out of left field). The disconnect and lack of continuity between this film and The Last Jedi—the previous entry in the saga—is blatantly evident. Sometimes painfully so. Yet, if you are able to take the leap of faith and accept the film without getting bogged down in narrative details or too many questions, then there is a lot to appreciate and enjoy here. Characters repeatedly say throughout the movie that the Force is an almost indescribable feeling. The same might be said of Star Wars as a whole. The saga has never been overly complicated, intellectual, or even logical—but, when done right, the films capture a certain, almost indescribable Star Wars “feeling.” The Rise of Skywalker is far from a cinematic masterpiece, but it felt like Star Wars, and at least for me, that’s enough.
On the Surface—(Profanity, Sexual content, violence, etc.).
Profanity: A few minor profanities (A—, D—, H—).
Sexuality: The much publicized first LGBTQ moment in Star Wars is a background kiss between two celebrating women. It’s a “blink-and-you-miss-it” moment, but also a likely—and unfortunate—sign of things to come for the series going forward.
Violence: I found this film more violent than a typical Star Wars film. One moment in which a villain melts (ala Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark) is particularly gruesome.
Beneath the Surface— (Themes, philosophical messages, worldview, etc.)
- The Choice Between Lightside and Darkside
Star Wars has always been a balance between Science-Fiction and Fantasy. Whereas The Last Jedi leaned into the Sci-Fi elements, The Rise of Skywalker returns to the more fantastical side. The Force is front and center. While the previous film explored concepts such as the gray area between light/dark and good/evil, this film returns to the simpler duality that good is good. bad is bad, and we must make our choice between the two. That is not to say that characters are without flaws; only that Rise of Skywalker affirms that these flaws are not the end of the story. At one point, a character declares that the Dark Side is in their very nature. Later, the film triumphantly declares that we are not bound to where we came from or our flawed nature. We have a choice. While some Christians have historically found the mysticism of the Force problematic, I believe when taken on a more thematic level, this hopeful message is both welcome, uplifting, and powerful.
2. Restoration and Redemption
Restoration and redemption have always been at the heart of Star Wars. In Rise of Skywalker, these themes are evident on both an individual level and also on a larger generational level. In The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson toyed with the theme that the previous generations were imperfect and left their big mess of failures and baggage as a burden for the younger generations to carry and attempt to clean up. Rise of Skywalker turns this idea on its head. A common theme woven throughout is that the older generations must restore and elevate the younger generations, empowering and blessing them to fight their own fight. During a climatic final pep-talk, Poe declares that the good guys need to confront the evil of their time just as their parents did in their own day. In this way, the film (and the new trilogy as a whole) is able to celebrate—rather than negate—the achievements of Luke, Leia, Han, and the original band of heroes. Whereas Last Jedi had a distinctly cynical and almost nihilistic edge to it, Rise of Skywalker is unabashedly optimistic and hopeful. I, for one, am thankful for this.
Much like Luke Skywalker’s pivotal test in the darkside cave on Dagobah, I think many viewers will find in this movie “only what they bring with them.” People looking for a crisply scripted masterpiece that rekindles all the same feelings and emotions as the original films will undoubtably be disappointed. Viewers hoping for the film to go into bold and uncharted territory—as The Last Jedi did—will likely be let down as well. However, if you go into the film without strong expectations and are able to surrender yourself to the ride, this movie is a fitting and satisfying end to a trilogy that I think ultimately didn’t fully live up to its promised potential. The Force may not be as strong as it once was when a budding filmmaker named George Lucas was making a goofy space flick in the 1970s, but Rise of Skywalker is nevertheless a reminder that the Force is still with us—always.