Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Palpatine
This is the tenth in a series of reviews I am writing for each of the live-action theatrical Star Wars films. I’ll be reviewing the films in release order to give the proper historical context for each film. I’ll also be grading and ranking each film as I go. This review will NOT contain spoilers.
Discussing The Rise of Skywalker without spoilers is not an easy task. That being said, if you’ve seen every trailer and every clip, you’ve not seen much of the film at all. Rest assured you won’t expect everything that’s coming or how it comes, and as a whole that’s a good thing because The Rise of Skywalker is good. Although there are things I’m uncertain about, it’s an entertaining, emotional, and above all fun ride. Think a mix of the energy and excitement of The Force Awakens with the galaxy-spanning scope of Revenge of the Sith.
As a film, The Rise of Skywalker looks and sounds incredible. This is a big film and it certainly feels like it. The score is grand and impressive, the visuals are striking, and the effects are as good as ever. The acting is also excellent: there’s not a single bad performance among the group. The banter between the main characters is also excellent and feels earned, and it’s an absolute delight to see all of them together – especially with C-3PO, who plays a major role in the film. Kylo Ren is also a standout – he’s tough, intimidating, but also complex. The new characters of Jannah and Zori Bliss are also fun additions that add depth to the main cast and the broader saga, while Lando is as suave and cool as ever. There’s also some really awesome cameos that you’ll want to keep an eye out for, some being more obvious than others. There’s one particular cameo that I did not expect that’s an absolute highlight of the film for me. As a whole, the cast clearly gave it their all.
Of course, the elephant in the room in terms of character is the usage of Leia. The unfortunate passing of the late Carrie Fisher meant that J.J. Abrams had to use footage from The Force Awakens here, and for the most part it works. It’s absolutely necessary for the film and really does add emotional weight. You can tell in some way that her usage wasn’t planned ahead of time, but this was a bang-up effort to give a beloved character the sendoff she deserved.
In terms of plot, it’s also good – but I have some reservations about a few elements that I’m still grappling with. I absolutely love the scope and scale of this film, crossing the universe through many new planets and worlds. This is the biggest film since Revenge of the Sith and I love it for that. The action – and there’s a lot of it – is visceral, intense, and in a lot of ways unseen before in the series. It’s thrilling and works really well. The film has a fast pace, like The Force Awakens, but doesn’t quite hit the same character beats that worked so well there – there are a few elements that felt a bit rushed, and maybe another 5-10 minutes might have made them work a bit more. But what works here – and it’s a lot of stuff that works – works incredibly well. There are so many character moments and plot lines that I felt emotionally connected to, even if I wasn’t entirely sold on a couple of plot elements.
I’ll go more into what exact specifics did and did not work for me in my spoiler review. I will reveal one element I am a bit unsure on now, however. The Emperor’s return is cool and does generally work for me, mainly due to a committed and deliciously evil performance from the great Ian McDiarmid. That being said, the way he is introduced is so ballsy that it just barely works for me, and it might not work for everyone. There are two other somewhat important plot points I’m also grappling with, but neither were enough to dampen my enjoyment of the film. I also absolutely loved the ending.
As a whole, The Rise of Skywalker is a good end to a good trilogy. Although there are some issues that I have with both the film and the trilogy as a whole, it’s a worthy conclusion to the Skywalker Saga and an exciting sendoff to some of my favorite characters. On my list it ranks between the two other saga conclusions, Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith, but is probably closer to the latter than the former.
Star Wars saga rankings: