This is it. The end of the Skywalker Saga. Not the end of Star Wars – there’s plenty more of that to come. But this is it for the story that began with a princess sending a plea for help across the stars. This is the final outing for new trilogy leads Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac), as the three of them band together in one last bid to stop both the First Order, led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and the resurgent Sith, rallying around returning franchise villain Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid).
Where The Last Jedi saw the core three separated across different adventures, The Rise Of Skywalker is firmly – overtly – about teamwork. Those three, plus Chewie, C-3PO, BB-8 and the whole crew, all have their part to play in this film’s galaxy-hopping quest. The various team-ups, with old friends as well as new faces bring some bounce and humour to proceedings, with Isaac in particular proving himself once again to be one of the most charismatic and under-used action heroes in Hollywood. His chemistry with Boyega is a highlight of the film.
Ridley’s Rey fits in nicely with the team, and there’s an energy between them all that’s been missing since the original trilogy. This is Ridley’s strongest film to date. Rey might not be 100% sure of who she is yet, but Ridley has her sussed, and turns in a compassionate, emotional, and physically impressive performance, holding her own against Driver both in dramatic scenes and their painful knock-down fights.
The rest of the cast all turn in good – if small – performances. Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose has been unfairly demoted to little more than a background Rebel, while Keri Russell does sassy work from behind a very cool mask, and Naomi Ackie’s Jannah is little more than a foil for Finn. Richard E Grant has fun as a paint-by-numbers baddie, and Billy Dee Williams’ returning Lando has minimal impact on the plot. Carrie Fisher’s scenes are touchingly clumsy, but Abrams and co find a way to do her justice.
As the previous paragraph indicates, this is a crowded film, eager to give us all the new planets fans love while also throwing dozens of characters at the screen. Many are left underserved, including Finn, who has no motivation beyond being worried about Rey. The only thing the film spends any real time on is continuing to develop the light vs dark struggle between Rey and Kylo, with both of their souls hanging in the balance.
The Last Jedi made some bold choices, and divided fans as a result. This instalment clearly aims to wrap the trilogy up on a crowd-pleasing note, and certainly delivers some cheers and gasps. However, in aiming to please everyone it ends up surprising no-one. Twists are heavily signposted, and some panicked course-correction makes it feel at times as though it’s going backwards rather than forwards. It also feels a bit disjointed, with some story strands getting lost along the way, and others being rushed through.
The action sequences are thrilling, but there’s nothing to match the visual spectacle of The Last Jedi’s red-splashed battle on Crait. That said, The Rise Of Skywalker does some truly delightful work with puppets and prosthetics in bringing its aliens to life, rather than relying too much on CGI. This world feels touchable, and is all the better for it.
This isn’t a flawless finale to the Skywalker Saga, but it’s one that will probably give the broadest cross-section of Star Wars fans what they want – which is both a strength and a weakness.