MPAA Rating: PG-13
USCCB Rating: A -III
Reel Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers.
The best thing that can be said about The Rise of Skywalker is that it isn’t The Last Jedi. It plays to the strengths of the franchise and eschews any attempt to be edgy or unfamiliar. It is endlessly entertaining and fully embraces the nature of space opera. However, it is constantly confusing and requires an extraordinary suspension of disbelief, which is saying a lot for a movie about magical space monks, intergalactic cowboys, and adorable baby Muppets.
So ends one of the greatest film series of all time, going out with not so much a whimper as with a goofy smile and a shrug.
Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is inexplicably alive and, even more inexplicably, has a massive fleet of personal Star Destroyers on the hidden Sith planet of Exegol, each equipped with their own planet-obliterating Death Star cannons. From this reveal seconds into the film, all subtly goes the window and the viewer must either submit to his inner eight-year old or spend the rest of the film barely tolerating its silliness. Through a series of McGuffins, Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe (Oscar Isaac) must find a tracking device that will lead to Exegol. Once there, the plot divides between a climatic space war that will finally settle control of the galaxy and Rey’s climatic emotional battle with Kylo over who has deeper daddy issues. (As noted, spoilers ahead!)
Fortunately, The Rise of Skywalker succeeds at the one thing it absolutely had to get right: large scale visual entertainment. There are dozens of interstellar battles, lightsaber duels, and aliens with bizarre anatomical features. It also contains the best dialogue of the sequel trilogy, especially the quippy one liners between Poe and Finn. I also enjoyed the romantic subplot between Poe and Zorii (Keri Russel), a former flame and sometime smuggler. The ending is so large and grandiose that only John Williams (or perhaps Wagner) could have scored it. It is popcorn cinema of the highest caliber, worthy of its 20th-century predecessors.
The best action films, however, are not only a treat for the senses but become deeper and richer upon multiple viewings, offering something true and beautiful to the human soul. Upon even the slightest analysis, the execution of the Rise falls apart. Its plot is a haphazard Frankenstein creation of McGuffins, false leads, and leaps of reality. Many revelations are uncovered without adequate explanation, and the audience is immediately distracted by another development before it can question anything.
The most egregious example occurs toward the end. Palpatine has become so powerful that he can send his force lightning into space and short circuit a whole battalion of Resistance fighters. Yet, Rey was able to stop his lightning with only her lightsaber and intensity of her grimace moments later. Rise demands unquestioning loyalty from its public and might turn off those who aren’t die hard fans. The quibbles don’t matter much in this genre, but it does lessen the overall quality from excellent to pretty good.
Like Return of the Jedi, Rise ends with the redemption of a key character and, despite enormous temptation, the refusal to cooperate with evil by another. I have always believed that the Star Wars franchise was pantheistic in its philosophy but Christian in its content. The conclusion demonstrates that this principle is still true although the Christian character is far more muted than previous entries.
I was happy to see Rise of Skywalker, but I was also happy it was over. I spent the week before seeing the film watching its spin-off The Mandalorian on Disney+, a series that is, in its minimalistic style, better in nearly every way. The future for Star Wars lies in these smaller explorations of the universe rather than controversial, big budget film. Baby Yoda, you’re our only hope.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!