No matter how big the audience for Star Trek: The Next Generation, it was always the guest stars from the original series – Kirk, Spock, Sulu and the gang that made certain Next Generation episodes more fun. It was also the original Star Wars that made memories for generations of filmgoers and will continue to do so. The Rise of Skywalker is chock full of the original cast and that is the biggest reason why it will be welcomed into the Star Wars canon.
The Rise of Skywalker – to this viewer’s eyes and ears – is the best of the new trilogy, superior to the middle three prequels which – oh you know the story – were designed to be Episodes 1, 2, and 3, were actually 4, 5 and 6, but will forever be -3, -2 and -1 they were just so poorly scripted yet visually stunning. As stated, the Rise of Skywalker is chock full of the original cast and that is the biggest reason why it will be welcomed into the Star Wars canon.
Lucas, and Disney, didn’t learn from that exercise in self-aggrandizing, thus 2018 brought us Solo: A Star Wars Story. Though certainly entertaining enough, it failed at the box office, but may still obtain permission for sequels after The Rise of Skywalker has its moment in the sun.
So how to articulate this motion picture’s grand moments without giving any plot away? Breathtakingly huge places – be they the Wicked Witch’s castle or the Wizard of Oz’s smoky cathedral draw audiences in. Star Wars has done this Fritz Lang Metropolis thing better than most. Metropolis was filmed in 1927, almost one hundred years ago. J.J. Abrams gives us this depth and awe with the old Death Star, the remnants of which apparently have fallen onto some planet. It’s a great moment and is not here as a “spoiler” but as something to look forward to. As are the violent waves surrounding it. Pure science fiction and worth the price of admission. It is also reminiscent of Rogue One which I feel is one of the best of the Star Wars films, surpassing the three prequels to 1977’s original Star Wars – just drop the “A New Hope” and start the entire series there. That is the real intro to Star Wars – and – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the best “prequel” one could hope for. Why? Because it ties up the loose ends from the 1977 masterpiece in a terrific way with great acting, great suspense, and the ties that bind.
In my review of The Force Awakens, I noted “Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, R2-D2, cp30 Chewbacca and Mark Hamill all make the most of their appearances. That they aren’t given a higher profile (except for Ford,) is to the film’s detriment.” So go back to the first paragraph in this review and understand – Kirk, Spock, Sulu, Uhura, Scotty, Chekov …you get the picture. For, you see, Ray Davies and the Kinks’ 1981 epic lp Give the People What They Want rings true in all aspects of entertainment.
The people want Chewbacca, the people want R2-D2, so the return of Billy Dee Williams and Ian McDiarmid level out the Star Trek: The Next Generation feel of the new characters. It brings the saga right to where those who love these films want it to be.
Along with tugging at Star Wars fans’ heartstrings with Carrie Fisher’s outtake footage, which appears to be made precisely for this film, Mark Hammill, and the Emperor brings us back to the future. Hammill and Palpatine now fight a mind game from afar without interacting at all. Of course ol’ Palpatine always looked like a 74 – 75-year-old man, and the actor actually is nowadays, McDiarmid having been born in August of 1944. So the crunchy old electrically powered curmudgeon is now the real deal. Good!
How many times can you blow up planets and death stars and battleships over 11 films? The Ron Howard Solo: A Star Wars project was decent enough, one of its main problems was that it didn’t fit into the original Star Wars story as Rogue One did. Oh the filmmakers thought the back-story on Han Solo integrated well, but as I’ve mentioned, people want what they want, and they want Harrison Ford, not someone else playing the part.
The Rise of Skywalker starts off with a raging battle, which is the new science fiction formula. From the Avengers to the Matrix, start off with a bang is what this new generation wants. The Force Awakens began the same way, only in an extremely violent fashion. But rather than color by the numbers, which director Abrams did with Force Awakens, Rise of Skywalker is about closing the book while not insulting the original three films. In that regard, it succeeds.
From this fan’s perspective, play Rogue One, Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Force Awakens and Rise of Skywalker in order…you don’t need The Last Jedi, nor do you need the Solo: A Star Wars Story. Force Awakens is almost an afterthought, but necessary to introduce the new characters. J.J. Abrams, however, does utilize the Matrix formula of pulling scenes from other films – dusted off, of course, into the new cake mix, different enough to give you your money’s worth. Moments from Avatar become so obvious…hey, if James Cameron’s going to take his sweet time with the barrel full of sequels, “give the people what they want.” Matrix moments also infiltrate as an undercurrent. The “feel” of other blockbusters (back to 1927’s Metropolis) is the order of the day. It will go right over viewer’s heads, and that’s what Disney/Lucas is counting on.
The two elements so necessary for a perennial favorite – what made The Wizard of Oz and Star Trek – and the Beatles and …(you get the picture) – so endearing are what the Beach Boys sing about – “Heroes and Villains.” Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader are two of the greatest villains in motion picture history, right up there with the Wicked Witch of the West. And that other element is the Tin Woodsman, Aunty Em, the Wizard, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion. Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Lando Calrissian, Obe Won Kenobi – all part of the fabric of your memories of this film series.
J.J. Abrams got it right bringing Max Von Sydow onboard for The Force Awakens. Killing him off so quickly was Disney’s fall into “the dark side.” Sydow was perfect as an Alec Guinness character this series so desperately needed. The contrast that Guinness brought to Vader – well, they had it and they punted. Resurrect Senator Lloyd Bentsen from the grave like Emperor Palpatine and he will say to Andy Serkis and Adam Driver “I knew Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader. They were friends of mine. And You Ain’t No Darth Vader!” Snopes and Kylo Ren merely watered-down emperor, watered-down Vader. Is this Rise of Skywalker or Rise of the Planet of the Apes? So much crossover from Serkis to Abrams one gets dizzy connecting all the dots.
It’s the great villain that makes a great motion picture, and counterpoint – the beloved team: the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, Luke, Princess Leia, Lando Calrissian, Han Solo…that old axiom “the original is still the greatest” rings true. The Rise of Skywalker goes back to the future to end this part of the saga. And all it really needed was Darth Vader to bring it full circle. That was so obvious.
In 2009 when Abrams rebooted Star Trek he put Mr. Spock smack dab in the middle of it. He took a talented actor like Eric Bana and gave him a substandard villain role to play. That is what damaged the Star Trek reboot so severely. So Abrams put his mark on both Star Trek and Star Wars and as my old aunty would say “Could’ve done better….could have done worse.” Which is why the similarities appear and are so blatant. And Abrams played it too cute with both franchises. It is the introducing of Star Trek: The Next Generation into the Star Wars legacy which warps the concept – almost at warp speed.
All that being said am I satisfied with this film? Well, I will watch it again…and again…and that’s something I’m not doing with Solo: A Star Wars Film, or even the rebooted Star Trek. Bringing the original characters back and having enough dynamic moments that are new, different and exciting is what makes Rise of Skywalker work.
The question now is: can they make a new Star Wars film that surpasses the original trilogy? Given that the good-looking new cast relies more on their youthful appearances than any qualities that endear them to us, some serious character development is in order. Remember how awful decent actors like Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen looked? The Scarlet Letter on them both for wooden, terrible performances in one of the greatest film franchises of all time! Lucas overlooked personalities the audience could relate to in order to play with all his dazzling special effects. Turn the audio off and just watch those three “prequels” to see the visuals!
With the past still haunting these continuing episodes of this serial saga, character development for the newbies is going to be an uphill battle. Dailey Ridley and Oscar Isaac (who is now 40) play their parts well. But you don’t get that Luke, Leia, Han, Lando, R2-D2, Chewbacca magic, do you? The presence of the original cast is what makes The Rise of Skywalker a winner. Emperor Palpatine’s return is the magic missing from the previous two films. Darth Vader would be the frosting on the cake. Guess J.J. left him out in the pasture with Max Von Sydow. That’s too bad, but the Rise of Skywalker is still good enough to be in the top tier of Star Wars films as in, it makes a good bookend to the saga. Three stars.
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com, Gatehouse Media, Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, and a variety of other media outlets. Joe also produces and hosts Visual Radio, a seventeen-year-old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed Jodie Foster, director/screenwriter David Koepp, Michael Moore, John Cena, comics/actors Margaret Cho, Gilbert Gottfried, Gallagher, musicians Mark Farner and Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad, Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals, political commentator Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.