How do you end a Skywalker saga born 42 years ago? While also drawing to a close the timeline of a new set of characters born five years ago? This is a challenge that Star Wars Episode XI: The Rise of Skywalker never quite manages to circumnavigate. Ultimately creating a frenetic and somewhat muddled and disappointing end to the Skywalker legacy. One that while fun and emotional in places, lacks the spark of ingenuity and creativity that the previous instalments promised. While equally feeling rushed and ‘fan’ driven after the criticism of The Last Jedi.
As stated above this is a spoiler free review, therefore I will not indulge in major plot points. However, one that many will have anticipated as being a spoiler is in fact announced as already having happened in the opening credits. With Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) back to ensure the galaxy in once more engulfed in a new empire.
This rushed return speaks of to an overarching problem in the films narrative. Where characters are both brushed to one side or brought back with little build up or explanation. And while the main focus of the film lays with Rey (Daisy Ridley) Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac), Chewie (Joonas Suotamo), Kylo (Adam Driver) and C3-PO (Anthony Daniels). Other characters of interest built throughout the past two instalments feel undeniably let down in the final chapter. As does the story arc that should have linked the prequels, original trilogy and sequels together.
This is not to say that Star Wars Episode XI: The Rise of Skywalker isn’t a beautifully shot film. With cinematography, puppetry and effects that are truly stunning from the first scene to the last. Coupled with the pure magic and power of John Williams score. There are also moments of pure emotional wonder, that will bring a tear to the eye of any viewer. Equally the core messages of the film are strong, with hope, freedom and diversity triumphing over hate and oppression.
Performances are equally engaging, with all actors indulging in their final portrayal of the characters they gave birth to back in 2015. While returning actors from the saga’s past have some limited space to explore their characters one final time. With the digitally enhanced footage of Carrie Fisher’s final performance as Leia full of tenderness and love.
However, despite these positives, some of the structural problems inherent in Star Wars Episode XI are problems that have existed throughout the sequels. With Disney introducing new characters while equally seeming to be unsure of their story or position in the wider Star Wars universe. A problem exacerbated by some lifelong Star Wars Fans. Who long for nostalgia over strong characters and creativity. Criticising the strongest of the sequels The Last Jedi for being too different to The Force Awakens. A criticism that obviously echoed in the ears of Disney executives as they opted to return to safe fan territory with Episode XI. Providing what is in essence a carbon copy of Return of the Jedi.
This is not to say that the sequels haven’t broke new ground with strong female leads, black leads and even the first (if short) gay kiss in Star Wars history. But these are characters who should have achieved even more given the time and space to grow over three films.
And to this end, maybe what has truly been missing in the sequels is the imagination and creativity of the creator. George Lucas never made Star Wars films for the fans, instead challenging his audience with a universe of possibilities and themes. However, over time the fans who grew up watching George’s magical world, fell out of love with the man who created their fantasy. In turn deciding that they knew what was best for the Star Wars universe. While equally forgetting the importance of storytelling and mythology over childhood memory. And it’s here that all of the sequels have undoubtedly failed to leave an indelible mark. By offering potentially strong characters limited by a lack of mythology or journey.
Sometimes for stories to live on, they must push through the boundaries of fan expectations. Driving towards a new generation instead of dwelling on the past. And while it has been a fun five years of sequels, Star Wars in the hands of the Disney empire has often felt lost, lacking the freedom of a galaxy far, far away.
Director: J.J. Abrams
Adam Driver also appears in Marriage Story
Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher also appear in Coming of Age – The Essential Collection
Mark Hamill also appears in Child’s Play
Lupita Nyong’o also appears in Little Monsters