*There are no spoilers in this review.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, directed by J.J. Abrams who also co-wrote the screenplay, is a fitting end to the 11-film saga (I’m including Rogue One and Solo: A Star Wars Story here), just as much as Avengers: Endgame finished the MCU storyline for the Avengers series that began with Iron Man. Of course, Endgame got great reviews to go with a huge box office, but Rise is not getting as much critical respect and, while this is not merited, fans are going to flock to see this film anyway, and the true ones are going to love it.
Some people may see this film as a rebuke of Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi but, no matter how you felt about Episode VIII, it got us to the point where we needed to be to get this story told in Episode IX. The Resistance, still led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), is trying to regroup after being decimated at the end of Episode VIII. If you were worried about how they were going to incorporate the beloved late actress’s scenes, don’t be. It is achieved in seamless fashion using old takes from The Force Awakens.
At the heart of this story is Rey (Daisy Ridley), who has gone from lonely scavenger to a leader of the Resistance. Ridley is a luminous presence, and she effectively portrays this girl who has been overwhelmed by her abilities and yet is able to harness the Force in a battle against evil. There are several scenes where she seems to be gathering her power, and Abrams allows the camera to linger on her face, capturing that luminosity.
Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac), former stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) are all back on team Resistance, along with droids R2-D2, BB-8, and new droid D-O (voiced by J.J. Abrams). By now the newer (and younger) cast members have transitioned to being the faces of Star Wars, making Poe, Finn, and Rey the new Han, Luke, and Leia. Disney could easily take them into a new trilogy if they wanted to, but for now that doesn’t seem likely.
Of course, there are new faces like Kerri Russell’s mysterious Zorii Bliss, Jannah (Naomi Ackie), and General Pryde (Richard E. Grant). Each plays an important role in furthering the story, but the appearance of old friend Lando Calrissian (the great Billy Dee Williams) in a dangerous situation is one of the best moments in the film, and the way he appears will remind you of a scene in the Return of the Jedi.
The most important character is an old villain – the phenomenal Ian McDiarmid is back as frighteningly evil Emperor Palpatine, and his presence adds something that has been missing in this new trilogy.
The villain has always been a problem in the new trilogy. Kylo Renn (a terrific Adam Driver) is a Darth Vader wannabe, conflicted in his path between the light and dark sides of the Force. He wears a mask to emulate his grandfather, but he cannot rise to the level of gravitas that Vader possessed. It is enough to see Vader at the end of a hallway igniting his light saber in Rogue One to send shivers down one’s spine. Kylo Ren never reaches that place in these films.
The other villain in the new trilogy was Snoke (Andy Serkis), but Snoke got little screen time and no back story, so we knew that he was using Kylo Ren just as Palpatine used any of his “young apprentices” throughout the Original Trilogy and prequel films. With Palpatine back – I will not share the image because it is kind of a spoiler – there is a heft of darkness hanging over the characters, especially Rey.
So, what do you want in a Star Wars film? Light saber battles? Check! Space battles? Check! Weird and outlandish creatures? Check! Favorite characters in constant danger? Check! Everything that most fans want is to be found here, and I don’t believe that Abrams made this film to go against Johnson’s film, but rather tie up the loose ends and bring the saga to a satisfying conclusion.
John Williams’ score is as vibrant and refreshingly supportive of scenes as you would expect it to be. The use of “Leia’s Theme” is particularly touching in Carrie Fisher’s scenes and does bring tears to the eyes. The cinematography by Dan Mindel adds a capital B to breathtaking, capturing desert vistas, crashing oceans, and space scenes vividly.
Ridley’s Rey is the bright light against Palpatine’s encroaching darkness. Despite some fear that she has too much dark side in her – as Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) feared in Episode VIII – Rey’s innate goodness seems as pure as Luke’s was when he went to face Palpatine on the Death Star, but will that be enough to defeat the evil emperor?
The Rise of Skywalker is a great film, and most fans are going to feel as if they got what they wanted. As for me, I am happy that questions were answered, the ending feels right, and the characters all got to be where they needed or had to be. Oh, and after the last scene you will understand the title of this film and what a fitting one it is.
May the Force be with you!