Audiences have been decidedly split on the quality of the Star Wars movies ever since Disney bought the franchise from George Lucas in 2012. First came 2015’s Episode VII: The Force Awakens, criticized for being too derivative of the original trilogy, steeping itself in nostalgia to please long-time fans. It was generally very well-received. Then came 2017’s Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, which went in the opposite direction, forging its own path. That provoked intensely passionate reactions, with some loving the way it subverted franchise tropes and others feeling betrayed by its seeming disregard for the expectations of diehards whose theories about where things were going were largely ignored. I appreciated The Last Jedi more, precisely because it felt different.
Regardless, the series has taken a bit of a hit at the box-office, with Episode VIII not doing as well as VII and last year’s spin-off Solo making the least amount of money of any live-action Star Wars theatrical release. Maybe that was due to angry fans or maybe Disney has overexposed the property, detracting from its specialness (after all, there were six in 35 years pre-Disney and five in the seven years since they got the rights to it). Either way, hype for the saga’s conclusion was shockingly muted. Though it has its issues, I expect fans to be happier with Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. It plays it much safer, not retconning the previous entry, but paying things off in a way that is far more faithful to the feel of the original trilogy. I was intrigued to see where that new approach would take things, thus I was mildly disappointed by the return to nostalgia. However, this is still enjoyable and should appease many of those pissed off by its predecessor.
Rey, Finn, Poe and the rest of the rebels remain embroiled in a war with the evil First Order, now being led by Kylo Ren. When another threat emerges, our heroes must figure out how to protect the galaxy.
In terms of action and visuals, this is definitely a Star Wars movie. You will find the usual array of spaceship battles, chase scenes and lightsaber duels, in addition to strange planets and adorable new creatures. Mix in some light, character-based, humor and big stakes and we are in familiar territory here. I am growing a little tired of the formula, but the lightsaber fights still excite, the comic relief is amusing enough and the drama of Rey’s story engaged me. Actually, once the narrative got going, basically everything involving Rey was good. Her relationship with Kylo Ren has been the most interesting aspect of this trilogy. That gets paid off in a satisfying way here. While their dialogue scenes are not as compelling as they have been, they have a duel on the water that makes up for it with pure energy and emotion. Everything they are dealing with comes out in that clash. The shootouts and chases are skillfully done, though they lack the intimacy of that fight because, there, the motivations are truly personal. Again, if you like how the franchise has handled these things in the past, it is all here one more time.
I say one more time because I have no idea where they go from here. The plot has been wrapped up in a way where it would be pointless to continue it. They have introduced a few elements that could be explored in spin-offs. Yet this main story feels complete. Despite some smaller stuff not being followed up on (much to my irritation, that includes things brought up during this one), Rey’s journey is over. That sense of finality is very welcome, even if The Rise of Skywalker (132 minutes, plus the end credits) jams a lot into its runtime, causing it to lose a little of its wonder. Do not get me wrong; it captures the imagination fine. It just occasionally feels like big moments are sped past to get to the next big moment. There is enough material here for at least two movies, serving to blunt the impact of several of the revelations. However, this is how they chose to close things out. While the thematic approach changed throughout these three episodes, the overall package is successful.
Being only a casual Star Wars fan, I would be okay if they refrain from making another until they come up with a fresh idea. Of course, it is one of the most beloved properties in film history, so Disney will probably churn out a new trilogy as soon as they possibly can. For now, we have episodes I-IX, which they have, to their credit, somehow found a way to turn into a single large story. Not all of them are good, and pieces of the narrative are a little rough. Still, this is an epic tale.
I am sure many of us have a preferred way we would have wanted this latest entry to finish. That meant J.J. Abrams and his team had an especially tough task and they made their way through it. The Rise of Skywalker is far from perfect, but it is a fun trip to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. In the end, that is all we can reasonably ask for.
3½ out of 5
Daisy Ridley as Rey
Adam Driver as Kylo Ren
John Boyega as Finn
Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron
Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca
Anthony Daniels as C-3PO
Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa
Keri Russell as Zorii Bliss
Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux
Richard E. Grant as General Pryde
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Screenplay by Chris Terrio and J.J. Abrams