Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker review – “JJ Abrams races through scenes like an Ewok on a speeder bike”

Adam Driver as Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Adam Driver as Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
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After 42 years, eight core films, a handful of spin-off movies, various TV shows, numerous novels and comics, and much contentious tinkering with the mythology, the Star Wars saga begun by George Lucas in 1977 finally draws to a close with lots of hugs and a few shrugs. The hugs are mostly on screen, the shrugs are likely to come from those who got hooked on the saga first time round and have stuck with it ever since. Which is to say, no ongoing film series could really withstand the kind of protracted build-up Star Wars has had and if you’re of an age to remember the first films taking shape around you, you’ll be familiar with the way nostalgia can exert a powerful, if frustrating, hold — one amplified by the most recent films cannily remixing the plots of the first three and bringing back Luke, Han and Leia.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (12A) ***

This one, of course, also brings back The Force Awakens director JJ Abrams. He’s now the closest thing the saga has to a safe pair of hands, someone who might be able to stick the landing, especially after Rian Johnson’s efforts to shake things up with The Last Jedi enraged all the fanboys. Abrams doesn’t waste any time either, adopting George Lucas’s infamous “faster, more intense” directorial style as a kind of creative mantra and finding ways to playfully admonish Johnson for disrespecting the saga’s iconography after he went to all the trouble of setting things up for him with the first of these sequels. Following the traditional opening scroll, The Rise of Skywalker sees him racing through scenes like an Ewok on a speeder bike, catching us up on the intertwined fates of Jedi-in-training Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Sith-Lord-in-waiting Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and cross-cutting their storylines with Resistance heroes Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) as they embark on a dangerous mission with Chewbacca to make contact with a First Order spy believed to have crucial intel about the resurgence of Ian McDiarmid’s thought-to-be-dead Emperor Palpatine.

That’s about as much plot info as can be divulged in a review, but suffice to say that by the movie’s end, all the big questions — especially about Rey’s parentage and her special bond with Kylo Ren — will be answered, with the late Carrie Fisher’s Leia also playing a crucial part in proceedings thanks to clever use of outtakes from the previous instalment. It’s certainly nice to see the real Fisher here rather than some ghoulish CG approximation. That said, the sheer number of callbacks to earlier films in the series — some of them admittedly delightful (and one a pure grin-inducing joy) — does reveal something telling about Abrams’ inability to craft iconic moments of his own. The pleasingly weird inter-dimensional confrontations between Rey and Ren aside, there’s a frustrating absence of dramatic tension through out and that lack of genuine engagement in the story can’t simply be offset with the heavily hyped reintroduction of legacy characters such as Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams).

At it’s best, though, there are flashes of the old magic and even if the prolonged celebratory climax doesn’t inspire a similar sense of jubilation, that’s fine. For those whose cinema-going life has been defined by Star Wars, this film makes it okay to shrug it off, move on and leave it for a new generation of fans to embrace, enjoy and obsess over. Alistair Harkness