Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

“You’re haunted.”

If you’re a die-hard Star Wars fan and you’re about to read this, it should be known that I personally do not feel any which way about this franchise. I like the movies when I think they’re well done. I dislike them when I feel they’re not. It’s really that simple. But even then The Rise of Skywalker, the final entry in this 9 part saga, falls somewhere in between. The film has a weak script full of cheap retcons, seems to be missing entire story beats, and is one of the few blockbuster epics that actually needed to be longer. And yet it’s desperately earnest, so heartfelt, and is both a service to fans and a tribute to what came before. The few big rights are enough to overcome the many small wrongs.

The Rise of Skywalker is the kind of spoiler heavy film with such a dense story that it honestly isn’t worth getting into the more minute details. Many lengthy articles will be written about that, and a few will even be worth reading. So thankfully to counter all of the easter eggs is the film’s very basic plot – similar to every entry in this space opera saga – about the fight for good in the face of insurmountable evil. After the calamitous events of The Last Jedi, the picture picks up right where it left off in a galaxy far, far away, reintroducing the presumed dead Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) and a reinvigorated, indomitable dark side. It’s all built up to this final face off.

While plenty of the intergalactic action gets demoted to indecipherable exposition, persistently driving the story forwards, J.J. Abrams amends these faults by setting up and executing entertaining, character driven set pieces. Whether it’s Rey (Daisy Ridley) doing battle with Kylo (Adam Driver), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) racing away from Stormtroopers in the desert, or Lando Calrissian’s (Billy Dee Williams) moment back inside the Millenium Falcon, The Rise of Skywalker commits to the screen the types of scenes I can only imagine most devout fans might dream up in their wildest imaginations. So while the story disappointed me on a structural level, it’s hard to not be appeased by the grandeur of this cumulative epic. That it’s literally everything you could ask for is both a benefit and a major detractor all at once.

What’s most discouraging about J.J. Abrams’ return to this three part entry in the bigger and broader spectrum of Star Wars is that he chooses to undo so many of the integral creative choices behind other pictures, mostly disregarding the consequences of Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi. He reanimates the ultimate villain, dishes out time to key characters who’ve already passed on, and the script makes a definitive statement about Rey’s family tree that – while admittedly not entirely stripping her of voice or power – pretty much dismantles what I so loved about the individuality of her character early on. But even when the film uses nostalgia like a crutch and continues to drudge up the past while sacrificing the development of the present, this sci-fi swansong still manages to hit the right emotional notes, mostly thanks to the dynamic performance from Daisy Ridley as Rey. These last three blockbusters would be nothing without her unteachable sense of charisma, overwhelming physicality, or her portrayal of defiant morality. Ridley’s just as capable of cutting you down with a swing of Rey’s lightsaber as she is with a swift and vulnerable dart of her eyes, and she alone makes the entire trilogy worth watching.

As the final installment in what’s treated as religion by many, The Rise of Skywalker recites and resounds the memorized prayers and hymns of those in its cross-continental congregation, making for an unsurprising yet ultimately satisfying conclusion to perhaps the most touchstone, iconic piece of pop culture over the last 50 years. It’s an unwieldy film that rests on the laurels of its legacy, brazenly taking the easiest and most familiar route possible at some forks while detouring in new spaces at others. Yet with the weight of the entire world’s expectations on its shoulders, I’m not sure we could have expected anything better. The Rise of Skywalker clocks in, works hard to do its job to the best of its ability, then clocks out before it can be asked to do anything more than to entertain and to charm. Bad story decisions normally sink a movie; the aptly titled The Rise of Skywalker proves to be a rare exception. It’s way too safe and just appealing enough to not be sorry.

“The Force brought me here.”

Rating: 3 out of 5

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