So I’m a little late with this review, it’s been really hard to find the time, but with copious amounts of notes from the night I watched it combined with a couple of weeks to let everything settle means this will probably be a bit more calm and gathered than my immediately post-cinema review of Episode VIII from two years ago. Episode IX was, well, exactly what I feared: more JJ Abrams sticking far too rigidly to the original trilogy. It wasn’t without good moments, but it wasn’t a great follow up to the interesting ground work done beforehand… let’s take a closer look!
Following a threat of revenge by the revived Emperor Palpatine, Kylo Ren obtains a Sith wayfinder, leading him to the uncharted planet Exegol. There he finds Palpatine, who unveils a secret armada of Star Destroyers and tells Kylo to find and kill Rey, who is continuing her Jedi training under Resistance leader Leia Organa…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
“Rrrrrahhhhh!” “Yes Chewie, another desert planet. Yes I’m sure you’re hot, it can’t be helped!”
The core trio of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) are now a fully-fledged friend group, and all play off of each other well. An exchange where Poe is outed as a former Spice Runner, only for him to point out that he’s talking to a former Storm Trooper and an ex-scavenger made me laugh, and generally they have great chemistry, which is good because they’re joined at the hip for most of the film.
C3P0 (Anthony Daniels) is also with them for a lot of this, and for the first time since Empire, is actually really funny, with everyone generally ignoring him and treating him like crap. Sounds harsh, but it works! Then C3P0 has his memory wiped in order for everyone to access information to the Emperor’s whereabouts and that also leads to a lot of funny lines. He gets his memory restored later in the film, which is a bit of a cop out, but fine. Nothing major.
The other standout is once again Adam Driver’s Supreme Leader Kylo Ren / Ben Solo. Ignoring that all his character development of becoming his own man and freeing himself of the past being abandoned by having him immediately serve under the Emperor and reforge his Darth Vader-like helmet, he has some great scenes. In particular the big fight with Rey, where he is wounded but healed by the young Jedi after he was distracted by hearing his mother’s voice, leading to a hallucination conversation with his father, revealing that he never quite got over killing him. Kylo Ren finally discards his dark self and becomes Ben Solo, and at the end even has some light-hearted moments as he takes out his former allies and helps Rey.
That right there is a dramatic lightsaber duel! Shame it wasn’t the climax, really…
While I didn’t like the idea of bringing him back, and it certainly seems like it was solely because Mr. Abrams didn’t know how to finish a Star Wars story without a dark overlord character, Ian McDiarmid was undeniably still great fun as the over-the-top scenery-chewing Emperor. The utter over-evilness of some of his scenes did put a smile on my face, even if in the back of my mind I was wondering if they’d ever actually bother to explain how he came back to life (they didn’t…) Other characters, like Poe’s old friend in a cool helmet Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell) and the returning Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) fill out a really fun cast.
As for moments? Well, there are some good teases here and there. On Tatooine-like-planet #400, Rey and Kylo both try and pull an escaping ship, which ends up with Rey exhibiting Force Lightning, which was a good moment, and the aforementioned final fight between Rey and Ren on the ruins of the Death Star II was also good. During the final fight between Rey and Kylo against the Emperor there is a moment where all hope seems lost before Lando arrives with a large armada of rebel vessels, which was a very cool moment and well scored to make it feel like a real triumphant moment.
Then during the final fight with the Emperor, Rey is slowly getting to her feet and hearing the voices of many Jedi who had fallen in the past, including several who only existed in the cartoon shows. It was a really great moment, I’ll give it that. It was the kind of fanwank I can get behind, one that is a big pay-off if you’re a long-time fan, but is still good even if you’re not. Speaking of bad fanwank…
So close to release there were no good shots of the Emperor, so this’ll have to do. He’s sitting in the chair to the left, honest!
Remember how Episode VII was criticised for being pretty much a copy and paste of the original film? Well, JJ Abrams did it again! Let me describe a scene to you:
The rebels are assaulting a group of weapons that can destroy planets, but need to wait for a ground team to destroy a radar before they can destroy them. During this time our lead protagonist is facing off with the Emperor, but is losing and is being told to join the Dark Side as the only way to save her allies in the space battle. Soon the ground team is successful and the rebels begin taking down the weapons as the Emperor is eventually killed thanks to the help of our protagonist’s former enemy, who although he ends up dead, is redeemed for his evil deeds in death. The weapons destroyed and the Emperor defeated, loads of planets around the galaxy celebrate.
Replace “weapons” with “weapon” and “her allies” with “his allies” and that’s a description of the end to Return of the Jedi. I mean bringing back the Emperor and undoing Kylo’s character development was one thing, but JJ really couldn’t come up with something even slightly new for an ending?
Speaking of undoing development, it’s revealed that Rey is actually, somehow, Emperor Palpatine’s granddaughter, and Kylo’s revelation of Rey being a nobody from Episode VIII was still true because “her parent’s pretended to be nobodies to protect her”. So the refreshing “you don’t have to come from one of the previous families to be special” message was erased and replaced with “things tied to the original trilogy are cool.” Great. At the last moments of the film Rey adopts the surname Skywalker, so even that name isn’t gone, the “end of the Skywalker saga” could well still result in Skywalkers in future films (even if they won’t be related by blood to Luke, Anakin et al.)
Speaking of repeating mistakes, and this is a mistake that both Abrams and Johnson were guilty of, how about we introduce some villains in really cool armour and holding some interesting weapons, hype them up to the release of the film, and then do nothing with them other than get them killed in swift and unimpressive fashion? Sounds good right? Yeah, the long-awaited Knights of Ren got Captain Phasma’d, they loom ominously throuhout the film, then are all cut down by the recently redeemed Ben Solo in a matter of minutes, without ever saying a word. Brilliant. I guess that was an homage to Boba Fett’s appearance in Jedi…
A whole bunch of rebels ready to do some warring in the stars.
Scenes with Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) were awkward as hell. They used previously unused footage to have her interact with people, but it just didn’t work, she was often speaking in such a tone and manor that didn’t make any sense to the gravity or light-heartedness of the situation, and the dialogue was often really clunky because they tried to write lines around the existing footage. They really shouldn’t have bothered. The flashback of her and Luke doing Jedi training together had a really convincingly de-aged Luke and a really badly CGI’d Leia in it, which took away from what was otherwise a very cool moment. Basically the only well done thing was, sadly, her death, which hit with an emotional punch, especially Chewbacca’s reaction to it. Still, it was otherwise badly handled…
Speaking of Chewbacca, the final scene included him receiving a medal like the one he infamously didn’t receive at the end of the first movie, and while that got a chuckle out of me, it also immediately pulled me out of the film. Why would Leia wait until she was dead to give it to him? She wouldn’t, and in fact in the expanded media she didn’t. It was written to pop long-time fans without a single thought as to whether it would make sense or not, which is the wrong way to do “fanwank”… much like most of this film.
Lastly, The Emperor reveals a massive armada of Star Destroyers, all manned with people loyal to him and the ways of the Sith, multiplying the First Order by thousands-fold, and still JJ Abrams had to add in that the new fleet are armed with planet-destroying super-weapons. Come on! The massive new fleet of ships and hundreds and thousands of new troops was threat enough, there was no need to add in a scene where one of these new Star Destroyers wipe out a planet.
Let’s end on a high note, that being a new “cool masked character” people can cosplay as for years to come…
Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker was a good, explosion and spaceship-filled time at the cinema, but as the minutes away from the screen turned to hours, I realised how much it annoyed me that Mr. Abrams threw out an interesting new status quo and replaced it with a carbon copy of what we’ve seen before. Instead of a brave new direction, it was the same old. Ah well, I’d still rank IX above I and II at least, the Sequel Trilogy is still miles better than the Prequel one, though at least the prequels had one vision and a plan for all three films, rather than the frankly bizarre idea to give each film in a trilogy to three different people and then not have them communicate with each other…