Courtesy of Disney/Lucasfilm
42 years ago, George Lucas created a vast world that was epic in scope with “Star Wars” (which became the highest grossing independent film of all time). I doubt anyone knew the impact it would have on the world at the time but decades later, his epic saga of Luke and Anikan Skywalker and (though not his creation) Rey and Kylo Ren has come to an end with “Episode IX.” An incredibly difficult task that director J.J. Abrams more or less serves up on a big plate of nostalgia. The filmmaker bobs and weaves through a thousand “Star Wars” troupes in an effort to give fans old and new a satisfying close, but it doesn’t nearly reach the heights of what Rian Johnson did with the exceptional, though polarizing, “The Last Jedi” and instead plays it safe at nearly every corner.
And, honestly, that’ll probably be enough for most fans. “The Rise of Skywalker” is a perfectly enjoyable and competent adventure with characters we’ve come to know and appreciate. “Rise” is obviously tailored for those who felt stung by Johnsons’ “The Last Jedi” but at least this entry has some seriousness to it. But you have to scratch your head and wonder why Abrams and screenwriter Chris Terrio (“Argo”) wrongly incorporate a fresh batch of new characters and droids for the last go around. I’m not sure we needed unmemorable characters whose screen-time hardly makes an impression. Did we need to shove a new droid to tag along with BB-8, or an awkward love interest for Poe? Or how about a Sith cult that I’ve literally never heard of? Abrams and company try to do so much with so little when instead the movie is at its best when focused on characters we have grown with: namely the bond between Rey and Kylo. It feels like Abrams was trapped in a corner and had to desperately write his way out while trying to appease everyone. Whether you liked it or not, “The Last Jedi” provoked a reaction and challenged audiences with bold mythologies and narratives that sought to disrupt everything we knew.
As for the plot of this overly complex and clunky adventure, (no spoilers) it’s no secret that Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) has come back like Voldemort himself to add a disruption in the force and Rey (Daisy Ridley) - now a fully trained Jedi Knight - must gather the crew to take down a mass army that plans to, as always, destroy the galaxy. It’s up to Rey and friends Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and trusty sidekick Finn (John Boyega who really seems to exist in this film to yell character names from afar while screaming “nooooo”) to defeat Palpatine for good while still fighting off that pesky supreme leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
Along the way there’s some shocking revelations and convenient lineage moments that are in line with the spirit of the original trilogy. And McDiarmid’s presence is greatly admired and appreciated here as he’s the only villain whose been consistent in all three trilogies. Toss in an iconic John Williams score and vets like Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Billy Dee Willaims, and “The Rise of Skywalker” will slap a giant smile on the face of all “Star Wars” fans, including this critic. C3PO (Anthony Daniels) steals his fair share of comedic one liners, but Driver and Rey are the backbone of this trilogy and “TROS” strategically frames this final journey around their relationship and I have a gut feeling it might trigger online trolls.
Still, you’ve gotta hand it to Abrams who brings the dazzle and spectacle in one giant swoop (including a remarkable and intense lightsaber duel). The closing moments and final climactic battle are handled exceptionally by cinematographer Dan Mindel and the last shot will bring tears to your eyes once you realize this is the end of the line for this swath of characters. Of course, this being the Disney machine that must pump out billions in merchandising and licensing deals annually, this won’t be the last time we step foot in a galaxy far, far, away. But for the time being, “The Rise of Skywalker” puts a tidy bow on the universe and sends us home feeling somewhat at peace with The Force.