MOVIE REVIEW: STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER [No Plot Spoilers]
When George Lukas originally discussed Star Wars, he intended it to be a series of three trilogies. He started with the middle trilogy, beginning with Star Wars (my history on it here,) later called Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. He followed that trilogy with the prequel trilogy, Episodes I-III, featuring the earlier life of Anakin Skywalker, aka Darth Vader. Lukas sold the franchise to Disney, who began the sequel, the third trilogy. Now, we have the conclusion to the final trilogy: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker. Lukas’ idea was that this nine-episode saga would be told from the perspective of two droids: C-3PO and R2D2. And there are in every movie, the only characters across all nine moves.
It’s been two years since the last installment of Star Wars, with The Last Jedi, reviewed here, and fans have been waiting expectantly — notwithstanding the non-saga movie Solo: A Star Wars Story.
TLDR; Let me say at the outset that I found this film deeply gratifying. As I said in my review for the previous movie, I hadn’t cared for it as much as the others — though it was a great popcorn movie.
J.J. Abrams is a better director and (co)writer than the previous director, Rian Johnson, who took some unfortunate and disappointing turns in the previous film. Abrams did a surprisingly fair treatment in his 2009 Star Trek franchise reboot — which I affectionately compare to Star Wars here. In this movie, Abrams’ return is welcomed. This is the only movie of the final trilogy that made me feel the grandeur, the awe, the celebration since the original Star Wars trilogy.
- Fight scenes are fabulous with more martial arts than previously. There was a visceral feel as if these were not just theatrical fencing scenes, but real life-or-death contests.
- Spectacular battle scenes
- Fabulous flying scenes with cool new ships
- Stunning space scenes, unlike you’ve seen before, very inventive
From the first “Star Wars” fanfare and title scroll — the music is different in each one — to the final titles John Williams‘ music is stirring and nostalgic. Indeed, the end titles are lovingly extended for even more dramatic effect. Music themes as far back as the first movie are recalled, touching the emotional heartstrings.
I saw something in the lobby I don’t usually see: a sign at the ticket pedestal warning of potential epilepsy-triggering stroboscopic lights.
It succeeds better than the movie Avengers: Endgame, which suffered from bloat, having to stuff in scenes for almost every Marvel movie character for the last 11 years back to the original Iron Man. Rise of Skywalker does have a bevy of plot lines to tie up, old friends to feature, and cameos from some expected and unexpected characters, some going back 42 years. But we know that the central plot line is inexorably connected to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the son of Han and Leia, who wants to lure Rey (Daisy Ridley) to the Dark Side as much as she wants to turn him back.
Abrams in this movie nicely fixed some of the short-sided decisions of The Last Jedi. Many reviewers, including yours faithfully, had dismissed the first movie of this trilogy, The Force Awakens, as fan service. What I mean is that it played to the desires of the original fans, rather than breaking new ground. This is not a great sin; indeed, it guaranteed that a large section of the adult population returned after decades to see the movie. That movie took a safer, and in retrospect, better road than the second film of this trilogy, The Last Jedi, which took some subversive detours.
- You’ll see a tie-in to The Mandalorian, the new Disney+ Star Wars series that is currently the top-rated show on television.
- There are cameos aplenty, some very touching indeed. There are even touching returns to some of the old locations, which served the movie well and resolved some of the storylines.
- Despite the many subplots and side stories, there is a real sense of energy in this movie.
- There are several scenes of deep pathos, which worked on me.
- Look for a long-overlooked omission from the end of the first film is finally addressed at the end of this one.
- Look for not a few nods to Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings.
The movie was not without flaws and some curious plot holes, but I won’t go into them here.
In conclusion, this is a fitting ending to a 42-year saga that spans, or exceeds, the lifetime of most of its viewers. Some of these characters we’ll never see again. Others, I suspect we will.
These are the droids you’re looking for.
You’ll like it if: you enjoy space battles, cool creatures, explosions, spaceships, return to interesting locales, and lots of action.
You won’t like it if: you don’t like jumping through hyperspace.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian