STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER – Review
Or “Episode IX” for you hardcore completist fan(atics). Yes, it’s finally here, what the “Mouse House” is adamantly proclaiming is the last of the saga, while really the last of the new trilogy that began four years ago with THE FORCE AWAKENS. Still, this is the longest, most successful film franchise since 007, which began 15 years earlier and has, with next year’s entry, 25 official movies. We know there will be lots of stories set in the Star Wars universe for both the big and small screen, but this will probably mark the last mission for the Skywalker line. After the spin-off box office stumble of the young Han Solo prequel and the fan backlash around the previous “episode” can they get back on the horse…er, tauntaun and ride into the multiple sunsets? With a veteran director returning there’s a real flutter in the Force as the line at the multiplex starts to form for STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER.
After that familiar beloved title “burst”, fanfare, and “floating prologue”, we’re right in the thick of battle as Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), almost single-handedly takes down an army on a dark forest world. There he retrieves a Sith artifact that guides his spacecraft to the even darker planet Exegol, home of the still living, but damaged Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). Now before you squawk “spoiler”, he’s in the TV spots and is listed on IMDB, so there, nyah! Anywho, he promises the use of his massive fleet of star cruisers, which he has dubbed the Final Order and each able to take out a planet if Ren will bring him “the girl”. Meanwhile, those “rebel scum” are on a mission aboard the Millenium Falcon. Chewbacca, Finn (John Boyega), and Poe (Oscar Isaac) transfer data to R2-D2, sent via a “mole” in the First Order. After a chase through an ice world, they return to the jungle HQ of the rebellion and report to their leader General Organa (Carrie Fisher). This new info sparks a new mission, but the team needs Rey (Daisy Ridley), who is away from the camp as she continues her Jedi training with the aid of droid BB-8. Sensing (via the Force) Ren’s involvement, she joins them. Their quest leads to a multitude of new worlds where they encounter an old friend, Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) and make a new alliance with Jannah (Naomi Ackie). But they also meet up with an old enemy, General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), and a new one, Kylo’s second in command General Pryde (Richard E. Grant). Before that final showdown, Rey will try and free Kylo of the “dark side” and bring back Ben, while she deals with her own internal conflict as memories flash in her mind that finally shine a light on her own hidden family history. But will she learn her “truth” before Palpatine captures her and ends the rebellion, once and for all?
While the last flick split up the “trio”, this time they work together through most of the story and really have chemistry for their last go-round. But the focus, once again, is Rey, who is given ferocity and compassion by the superb Ridley. She’s got a steely determination, always testing the boundaries of her new Jedi abilities (a new one is introduced here). But as she’s leaping over speeding vehicles, Ridley makes sure that she retains her humanity, as when a child gives her a gift during a brief lull between the action set pieces. But we also see her in conflict as she must fend off the dark forces that try to consume her. It’s a great finale for her character’s “arc”. And she has a great rapport with “the lads”. Poe is more of the wise guy scoundrel rather than the reckless jerk from the last flick (thankfully no face-slapping now). And there’s a hint at his “bad boy’ past giving him more of an edge, and Isaac has the charm to pull this off. Plus he still has that “bromance” with Finn, who Boyega imbues with a hardened grit as he tries to bury his own dirty past while beginning his future as a great battle leader. This doesn’t deter his snarky sense of humor, making Finn and Poe another classic action movie “buddy” duo (they’re deserving of a spin-off franchise). On the flip side of Rey is Kylo Ren, who Driver makes an often conflicted nemesis and not the titan of temper tantrums of previous films. He’s eager to serve his new master, but can’t quite set aside all of his sins. But he must put on a stern face, and a repaired mask/helmet in front of his aides. As for them, Gleeson and Grant compete for the most ruthless and cruel sneer (I give it to Grant).
As for the true vets, going back to ’77, Fisher gives a real somber gravitas to her scenes, whether embracing Rey or laying out a strategy to the rebel forces. It’s amazing that they had the foresight to shoot so much of her before the actress’s untimely passing. McDiarmid still brings a slithery reptilian evil to the cloaked, raspy Palpatine. On the other side, Williams still has that smooth swagger as the saga’s ” mac daddy”, maybe gran-daddy, as Lando. And Anthony Daniels gets the right balance of whimsy and affection (yes, this droid’s got a heart bigger than the Tinman’s) as C-3PO, interacting with R2-D2 as though they were a sweet old married couple. And yes, Mark Hamill is back, with a blue shimmer as he arrives in time for a needed lesson and a pep talk from the great beyond.
As I mentioned earlier, series vet J.J. Abrams does indeed return to direct (and contribute to the script with three other writers), making this a smoother space flight than his first time at the controls. Rather than seeming to remake A NEW HOPE, as many accused him of doing with AWAKENS, Abrams tries to build on the best elements of episodes five and six, but thankfully minus the cuddly critters of the last. Much of it whizzes by at neat light speed, but the story often gets bogged down by the Jedi “mystical mush”, with a watery showdown that feels unneeded and illogical. Some of these new “abilities” feel like plot devices and too many questions are brushed aside. Still, there’s lots of life left on these worlds, with thrilling battles and new BEMs (bug-eyed monsters). Yes, there are bits of CGI wizardry, but there are some great “practical” on set effects like the puppetry of a great new droid D-O and his mechanic Maz Kanata. And all the script misfires are forgiven by the nostalgia-packed final moments. Some may call it “fan service”, but it feels more like affectionate fan appreciation, much like the Marvel movies’ bonus bits and post-credits scenes. This makes for a very fond farewell, but we know there’s a chance we’ll run into some of these new “old” pals well after STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, becuse like the Force, they’ll be with us…always.
3 Out of 4