Attack of the Return of the Revenge of the Last Empire Phantom Hope that Awakens – Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

I’ve intentionally held off on this review for a week. For one thing, it’s not like anything I say here will encourage or prevent anyone from seeing this movie. Star Wars is an international institution, and has been for almost 45 years. Even with franchise fatigue thanks to Disney not leaving well enough alone, there’s no way anyone who wants to see this is missing it. For another, it’s really hard to talk about this film without at least quasi-spoiling some plot details. I’m not giving away anything that isn’t in promotional materials, or that can be tied directly to them. But still, I don’t want to hamstring myself. So consider this your SPOILER ALERT, in case you don’t want to read any further until after you see the film and/or stop caring.

So now, The Rise of Skywalker. The film is advertised with the tag line that “The Saga Will End.” I certainly hope that’s the case, because as I mentioned, Disney has yet to see an artistic or intellectual property that they can’t wring for billions of dollars before we all get sick of it. So I sincerely want this to be the end, because honestly, the film makes for an appropriate ending, not just for this modern trilogy, but for the entire series. J.J. Abrams’ conclusion is far from a masterwork, and I doubt it’ll go down as an all-time classic, but it is a satisfying ending, and if this is it, the franchise goes out on a good note. That said, Disney’s already tried to get the next trilogy going, temporarily hiring the writers of Game of Thrones, though they have since backed out. Suffice to say, my hopes are not high that the saga is actually over.

After The Last Jedi, the polarizing middle entry by Rian Johnson, Abrams has retaken the reins and walked back just about everything that Johnson did in his subversive chapter, both the bad (no Benicio del Toro, and Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose is almost completely shunted to the sidelines) and the good (refuting nostalgia as the primary story source and the hint of other Force-sensitives undiscovered in the galaxy). About the only element that remains from the previous film is the psychokinetic link and rapport between Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), now the Supreme Leader of the First Order.

The major plot point that I’ll “spoil” here is what sets the story into motion. As seen – or rather heard – in the trailer, somehow Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is alive, resurrected from his demise aboard the second Death Star. Using an ancient Sith “waypoint” artifact, Kylo travels to the Sith homeworld of Exegol, where he strikes a deal with Palpatine to create the Final Order, preparing to launch a fleet of Super Star Destroyers, all armed with planet-killing cannons. Seriously, Dark Side, get a different idea than blowing up planets. What’s the point in ruling the galaxy if you destroy all your subjects?

Meanwhile, Rey continues her Jedi training with Leia (the late Carrie Fisher, repurposing unused footage from The Force Awakens) as the remnants of The Resistance try to regroup. Upon learning of Ren’s plan, Rey decides to seek out another waypoint using Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) research from his days in exile. On board the Millennium Falcon, she’s joined by Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), C3PO (Anthony Daniels), and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo, replacing the late Peter Mayhew). In an applause moment for the ages, Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) also becomes part of the crew.

That’s the main consideration for pretty much the entire film, fan service. A significant portion of the movie is devoted to references and callbacks, as well as answering some of the lingering questions from this trilogy. We also get the core trio of these films finally adventuring and being friends together, something a lot of us have wanted since they first met. In a weird way, a lot of the action plays like it would make more sense in a Part 2 rather than a Part 3. Between romantic tension in the group, learning about Poe’s backstory and his former smuggling partner (Keri Russell), and all the 3PO quips, it seems like we should have had all these moments in the last film to let them breathe and feel organic, rather than rushed character development before the denouement. We even get to see the Knights of Ren at long last, and a hero finally gets the due he should have gotten back in the original movie. It just feels like a token acknowledgement done too late for any purpose other than rewarding us for paying attention. Not that there’s anything truly wrong with that, but Abrams should be a little more transparent about it.

Putting that aside, though, the culmination of so many of these stories into the final moments of this film was just about all any of us could ask for. This movie plays it safe, very safe, and there are some fairly serious questions left unanswered (though, to be fair, as J.J. Abrams projects go, this is movie is practically a Reddit AMA), but I can’t deny that I was on the edge of my seat and cheering more than a few times. There are some disappointing moments in the final act, particularly with regards to Kylo Ren’s redemption (not a spoiler, he’s modeled almost entirely after Vader; you knew it had to happen in some way, which I will not spoil), but in the moment, I didn’t care. With more time and further viewings, I may grow to hate these issues with a fervor normally reserved for Jar-Jar Binks, midi-chlorians, and CGI Yoda, but for now, they barely register.

In addition to the straightforward but satisfactory story, the visual and sound effects here are about as good as I’ve ever seen in this franchise. Whether it’s small moments like yet another new cute droid available at your local toy store (voice of Abrams himself) or the epic nature of the battles, both in the sky with fighters or on the ground with lightsabers, the visuals are just top notch. The film is shortlisted for the Visual Effects Oscar, and it certainly deserves a nomination.

So yeah, sorry if this is a bit anticlimactic. I made you all wait to week to basically say, “Yeah, I liked it. Cool.” Some critics despise this film, and of course fans love it unconditionally (there are two cameos that literally had me WOO-ing when they happened). But honestly, that’s pretty much how it goes. This is a perfectly adequate film that can’t stand on its own like a few other Star Wars films can (A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, and The Force Awakens), but it gives the faithful an ending that can make them feel good after nearly half a century of fandom, even if they end up hating it years from now.

Grade: B+

Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? Do you want the franchise to continue after this? Be honest, how many times have you seen this already? Let me know!

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