As those of you rushing out to see the latest Star War (hat tip Lucille Bluth) well know, Rise of Skywalker is being billed as the official “end” of a saga that spanned five decades, three trilogies, 11 movies, four spinoff shows (live-action and animated), and one truly bewildering holiday special. And even though, real talk, we all know that no franchise ever actually ends in 2019 — especially not one owned by our Disney corporate overlords — that got us thinking: where does Rise of Skywalker rank in the official Star Wars universe? Is it more Empire Strikes Back or Attack of the Clones? Let’s investigate.
Photos courtesy Lucasfilm Ltd.
The Opening Crawl Department
With the divide over The Last Jedi reaching US election levels of partisanship – not to mention, Disney’s commitment to create a Marvel-style Lucas-verse by releasing a new movie every other year – maybe you’re not as hyped over the prospect of a new Star Wars movie as you once were. But even if you’re not a prequels-defending, Baby Yoda-tattooing obsessive, it’s almost impossible not to experience a rush of dopamine the second that signature John Williams orchestral blare drops and that familiar yellow crawl starts.
We’re not going to go crazy here and attempt to rank the comparative merits of ~30 seconds of scrolling plot exposition, so let’s just say that Rise of the Skywalker hits all the right notes: it teases the return of a major big bad, re-establishes the status of our main heroes and villains, reassures audiences that Carrie Fisher will receive a proper send-off, and then fades into some signature Star Wars action.
The Lightsaber Duel Department
No lightsaber battle in Rise comes close to the truly epic Throne Room Fight from TLJ, or even its final salt flats showdown between Kylo Ren and Luke, but there is one standout: a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-esque clash atop fallen Death Star wreckage in a roiling ocean. (It’s at least leagues more entertaining than watching Daisy Ridley’s Rey and Adam Driver’s Ren play Force tug-of-war while making extremely-concentrating faces.) Let’s slot it in right below Rey and Ren’s climactic battle in the woods from, fittingly enough, The Force Awakens. And wayyy below Phantom Menace’s Darth Maul/Qui-Gon Jinn/Obi-Wan “Duel of the Fates.”
The Epic Space Battle Department
Are there massive, spectacular space battles and X-wing dog fights in Rise of Skywalker? This is a Star Wars movie, isn’t it? Can I recall any of them with even half the clarity of Luke’s womp rat-sized bullseye from Episode IV even though I saw the movie three days ago? Er, not exactly.
Oscar Isaac leans into his vintage Harrison Ford vibes pretty hard here (right down to Ford’s now-signature thinly-veiled veneer of I’m-too-famous-for-this-sh*t weariness), but unfortunately, it’s simply no longer as thrilling to see the Millennium Falcon back in action as it was in 2015. Maybe it’s slightly unfair to compare these new Disney Star Wars to the classics, but where Rogue One’s Battle of Scarif was an instant all-timer, Rise’s climactic battle is surprisingly light on fireworks for what’s (ostensibly) supposed to be the official capper to the entire Skywalker tale.
The Twist Department
You want twists? Oh, Rise of Skywalker’s got twists. Including one right off the hop. (Does something still count as a spoiler if it’s spoiled in the opening crawl?) In today’s spoiler-phobic era, it’s tough to get too deep in the weeds here. But by revisiting a few of the galaxy’s greatest hits, at times Rise of Skywalker feels bizarrely dedicated to undoing every move Rian Johnson made in The Last Jedi, like he and J.J. Abrams were playing chess across franchise sequels.
If TLJ wanted to kill the past, Rise seeks to dredge it all back up. Sometimes that manifests itself in enjoyable ways (see: a very welcome Billy Dee Williams cameo, and a totally predictable, yet totally narratively satisfying third act turn). Sometimes not (re-litigating Rey’s parentage feels like a capitulation to the worst type of fanboyism). That said, this is a franchise that can boast the granddaddy of all cinematic plot twists; we’re not quite at “Luke, I am your father” levels here, but we’re at least in the same general vicinity.
The Adorable Droid/Alien Department
Also known as the “Future Toy Line” department. There’s no one in Rise of Skywalker that’s going to come even close to knocking Baby Yoda off his throne – and porgs are so 2017 – but there is a diminutive and charmingly affable …droid mechanic (I think?) named Babu Frik that feels destined to be a fan favourite. Expect to see Babu Frik memes popping up on your timeline for the foreseeable future. (Or at least until the next ep of The Mandaloriandrops.)
Not as good as the original trilogy, or as bad as the prequels, and definitely not nearly as sacrilegious as some are making it out to be. It’s probably the second-best movie in this new Disney-fied trilogy (whether you loved The Last Jedi or hated it) – a solid if unspectacular end to a decades-long saga. And, well, it’s certainly better than the Holiday Special. That much I can say for sure.