“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” Movie Review


     In the world of fandom we now live in, you have to really appreciate the position director J.J. Abrams found himself in when he took the reigns of the final installment of what for over 40 years now we have known as the Skywalker Saga.  With the backlash that unjustly followed Rian Johnson’s “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” still fresh in everyone’s minds, the pressure to create a film that would both satisfy long time fans, but also bring forth a conclusion befitting of what is likely the most iconic film franchise of all time, had to be felt amongst everyone involved.  And while “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” will likely create an all new round of debate within the fan base, the resulting film brings the Skywalker story, as well as the events of the Sequel Trilogy, to a rousing and thrilling close. 

     Long before social media began applying its grip on our society in similar fashion to Darth Vader’s cruel and fearsome Force choke, Star Wars fans famously and loudly rejected the first film in George Lucas’ Prequel Trilogy, 1999’s “Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace”.  Those self appointed critics, who grew from their Original Trilogy roots into self absorbed man children, had this idea that Lucas had made the film for them, when in reality, just like the Original Trilogy, he was creating a Star Wars experience for a new generation of children.  Well, many of those now in their thirties took offense to that notion and proceeded to tear “The Phantom Menace” down until it practically didn’t exist anymore.  For the record, Lucas was right.  “The Phantom Menace” went on to gross over a billion dollars world wide.

     A good friend of mine, who loves Star Wars as much as I do, recently explained his displeasure with both of the Sequel Trilogy installments, “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi”.  That’s where I challenged him to watch both again, but this time view the films from the perspective of the 12 year old boy I had hoped he could still find somewhere inside of him.  And you know what?  He got back to me a couple of weeks later, realizing Disney is simply doing what Lucas had done twice before, creating a Star Wars trilogy for today’s kids.  Giving them heroes to cheer for and look up to as they negotiate the obstacles of their formative years.  That’s what Star Wars was always about.  Nothing more and nothing less.

     Which brings me to “The Rise of Skywalker”.  Just as he had done with the “Star Trek” franchise, Abrams revived “Star Wars” with 2015’s “The Force Awakens” with near universal praise and financial success.  Critics lauded the film, while fans adored the nostalgic beats along with a swath of new and engaging characters.  To put it simply, “The Force Awakens” felt like a Star Wars movie.  And that’s exactly what Abrams set out to accomplish with “The Rise of Skywalker” with mostly positive results.  There are questions and loose ends to be answered from both of the Sequel Trilogy films, but also lingering plot threads still missing key details from the other six films as well.  

     Given the enormous command of the Force possessed by Rey (Daisy Ridley), is she really a nobody whose parents left her on Jakku with no explanation?  What will the First Order look like now that Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) has assumed the position of Supreme Leader and continues his quest to turn Rey to the dark side?  What’s left of the Resistance after we last saw the remaining members, including General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), fitting comfortably on the Millennium Falcon?  And of course the biggest question of all is what role does Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) play after it was revealed in the film’s marketing he has somehow returned from the dead?  All of this and then a satisfying conclusion to the entire Skywalker story?  A tall order indeed.

     Given the tremendous and impossible expectations, “The Rise of Skywalker” delivers a classic Star Wars story with practically every desire of fandom directly addressed in some manner.  Abrams manages this while also bringing forth an adventure that can also stand on its own, as the characters join together in an effort to find a mysterious Sith device which can provide the road map to the Emperor’s secret location.  Meanwhile, Kylo Ren seeks to continue his obsession with following in the footsteps of his grandfather and leading the First Order in their ongoing efforts to crush the Resistance.  Leia, who is brought to life courtesy of some nifty effects and editing work utilizing unused footage of Carrie Fisher from the two previous films, continues to struggle with finding support for the Resistance while also attempting to decipher the validity of the Palpatine rumors.  Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) mention the fact no one answered the call when they and the remaining Resistance fighters were trapped on Crait during the climax of “The Last Jedi”, making all involved wonder if there is anyone left in the galaxy who is willing to take a stand and fight the First Order.

    Billy Dee Williams makes a welcome return as Lando Calrissian with a performance that brings an extra helping of the nostalgia many fans seem to crave over the continuing story arcs of the Sequel Trilogy’s secondary characters like Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) or Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran).  But even with his presence, “The Rise of Skywalker” never feels overstuffed, as every character is given several moments to shine and that includes new characters like Keri Russell’s Zorii Bliss and Naomi Ackie’s Jannah.  It is these new supporting players that give “The Rise of Skywalker” a sheen of fresh material to play against the obligatory call backs to the other films.

     The craft behind the “The Rise of Skywalker" is nothing short of exceptional, which is to be expected given Abrams’ pedigree and the production having some of the best people in the world working in every department.  But what stands out in particular are the fiery performances by Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver, who carry the story, written by Abrams and Chris Terrio, to its dramatic and eye popping conclusion.  And with the “Star Wars” saga not exactly known for strong acting performances, their work is easily the best since Alec Guinness’ turn as Obi Wan Kenobi in the 1977 original.  John Boyega and Oscar Isaac often provide the comic relief with both playing off C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) in much the same way we saw Han Solo and Luke Skywalker do the same so many years ago.

     Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and I’m sure there will be no shortage of varying takes on whether Abrams was successful in bringing this beloved story to a satisfying close.  The toxic culture we now exist within will find ways to criticize the film for everything from race inclusion to the retconning of events in “The Last Jedi” in order to muzzle the keyboard warriors who slather their Twitter feeds with unjustified vitriol from the comfort of their parent’s basement.  It’s really ashame these things even need to be addressed in the first place.  Do people still go to the movies to have a good time?  Or have we replaced the entertainment experience with an uncontrollable desire to rip a film apart or criticize it because the story is not the one you would have told?  Lucas himself retired from filmmaking because of the backlash against his Prequel Trilogy.  Can you imagine if those films were made today?  Actually we can.  Remember Kelly Marie Tran was forced to leave social media because of the incessent trolls who thought it prudent to bash her character in the “The Last Jedi”.  It’s all so unnecessary.  When was the last time a social media post changed anyone’s opinion anyway?

     For me, a life long Star Wars fan, I don’t view these films through the same lens as I would the latest Oscar contender, though “The Rise of Skywalker” certainly holds its own in the traditional areas of narrative, acting, editing, score, and direction.  Instead my viewing experience rockets me back to that of the young boy who long ago was searching for inspiration and hope during some tough times and found it in a galaxy far far away.  Its how Star Wars was meant to be. GRADE: A