Directed by JJ Abrams
The greatest saga of a lifetime; the story that began in 1977 when I was 4 years old has finally come to its end. And what a satisfying end it is.
JJ Abrams had an unenviable task: fix the mess that Rian Johnson created with 2017’s Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Instead of winding towards a logical conclusion, the Johnson film steered the story into strange new directions poorly suited to the second-last film in a nine movie saga. The death of Carrie Fisher the same year threw a giant wrench into the whole thing. How was JJ to wind up a massive story like this, finishing not only his trilogy but the other two as well?
I’m not going to tell you, except that he managed to do it. It’s not perfect, but no Star Wars movie has been perfect since 1980. Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is the best movie of this final trilogy, and is certainly better than 66% of the prequels. He managed to pick up the ball that Johnson shat out, weave it tighter, and make lemonade from lemons.
The Carrie Fisher scenes are somewhat difficult to watch. You know the actors are not reacting to her, but performing to pre-recorded scenes. Her dialogue is necessarily vague and cloudy. It’s unfortunate because Episode IX was supposed to be her film. Nothing can be done about that. But wisely, JJ recruited Billy Dee Williams back into the fold as the debonair rogue, Lando Calrissian. Lando’s role is larger than expected which will please many fans. The film is also bolstered by cameos from just about every living Star Wars actor (no, not Jake Lloyd) in ways that brought nothing but smiles. Look for Hobbits and late-night talk show hosts too.
The villain this time, as you know from the trailers, is Ian McDiarmid’s Emperor Palpatine. How did he survive the events of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi? It only takes one line of dialogue to sell it.
With the stakes higher than ever before, the Sith and the Jedi meet one last time. If you’re looking for an inkling of the plot, read the old Dark Horse comic series Dark Empire. Not only did that series feature a resurrected Palpatine, but also Luke Skywalker doing Force projections. It’s highly likely that JJ Abrams took inspiration from Dark Empire, though The Rise of Skywalker is far superior to that old book.
Suffice to say, our heroes once again must face incredible odds with little on their side except friendship and heart. The movie stumbles after we are told repeatedly that they must succeed, or all of this – everything – has been for nothing. Then they go on a silly rescue, instead of completing their mission. There are also, perhaps, too many meetings between Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) which blunts their overall effect. At least the heroes, Rey, Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) bond like the classic trio. You’re aware that you are watching a knockoff Luke-Leia-Han trio, but don’t forget, that’s the kind of stuff fans used to say they wanted. “No more wooden crap like the prequels,” they moaned. Now they moan when it’s what they said they wanted before. Sceptics will not be won over by The Rise of Skywalker.
Another possible weakness that fans might resist is a tenuous connection to the Disney+ TV series The Mandalorian. Rey and Kylo Ren can do something that a Mandalorian character can do. Some will accept it as fitting in with classic Star Wars lore. Others will baulk and call it “Disney ruining Star Wars again.”
The cutesy stuff is kept to a minimum (though there is a new droid called D-O introduced for no reason) and emotions run high. Nostalgia is heavy. Action is fast, though JJ unwisely resorted to slow motion techniques again, which breaks visual style from the six Lucas-guided movies. He would have insisted on the movies being consistent. Lens flare, though, is gladly reduced.
Hindsight is always 20/20, and The Rise of Skywalker must stand up to repeated viewings and further analysis. It does drag at various times in the middle, but when it drops bombs, it goes nuclear. Special mention to Keri Russell for a fine performance as spice runner Zorri Bliss, and again to Billy Dee Williams. He never abandoned Star Wars, you know. He returned in the animated series Star Wars: Rebels as suave as ever. And of course, John Williams. His score contained some really cool motifs, like a re-imagined Emperor’s theme that fit like a glove.
The Rise of Skywalker is probably the best ending to a saga we could have expected (and certainly better than what Lucas had planned). If you want to live your life as a person who only has six Star Wars movies in their head-canon, that is absolutely fine. (I know people who to this day consider Star Wars to be three movies.) It can easily be argued that this entire trilogy was just tacked on. But JJ did his best for it not to feel that way; for it to appear like this was always the ending. Did he succeed? That’s up to you.