Review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker — Movies for the Rest of Us with Bill Newcott

The Rise of Skywalker will appeal to Star Wars lovers, especially those who cherish the first movie.

Kylo Ren and Rey fight a lightsaber duel in pouring rain during Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Rating: PG-13

Run Time: 2 hours 11 minutes

Stars: Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, Carrie Fisher

Writers: Chris Terrio, J.J. Abrams, Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow

Director: J.J. Abrams

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

Sitting there waiting for John Williams’ opening fanfare at the start of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, I harbored one apprehension: That despite their assurances that this ninth film in the series would bring the entire 42-year Star Wars saga to a close, the Sith Lords at Disney would nevertheless concoct a cliff-hanger ending, teasing yet another three-part go-round with the Skywalker clan.

Also, I whispered to my companion, “This better not end with a bunch of dancing Ewoks.”

Breathe easy: The Mouse House has admirably resisted going over to the Dark Side. Rise of Skywalker has a fully resolved fade-out, leaving no one in jeopardy and the bad guys vanquished. (Spare me the “spoiler alert” e-mails: What, you thought the Star Wars saga would end like The Hateful Eight?)

Will those who still wear their hair in Princess Leia buns or who argue about whether Han Solo shot first be satisfied with the way director J.J. Abrams and his army of writers have resolved the tale? Who knows? But for the casual observer — albeit one who since 1977 has seen every Star Wars movie during its opening week — this is a pretty satisfactory wrap-up.

The iconic opening text rambles on about rebels and an evil emperor, and then Chapter 9 picks up right where Chapter 8 left off: A ragtag army of rebels is holed up on some distant planet, desperately trying to figure out a way to resist a powerful galactic dictatorship that has developed a super weapon capable of destroying entire planets.

Now, you may ask: Wasn’t that the exact same plot of the original Star Wars? Well yes, yes it was. But back then the chief bad guy was the Emperor Palpatine, and the rebels were led by Princess Leia.

Oh, wait …

Okay, well, yeah, this time the Emperor remains (Ian McDiarmid, still playing the role after 36 years), and so does Leia (Carrie Fisher, still playing the role three years after her passing). But that’s definitely where the similarities end. Except for the hallway shootouts between our heroes and the Storm Troopers (terrible shots as ever) and the climactic dogfight in which mosquito-like space fighters wreak havoc on enemy ships the size of Manhattan (you just need to know where to aim). And of course there’s the brave young heroine in white (Daisy Ridley) who’s got multiple handsome guys hopelessly in love with her.

Hmm. Come to think of it, all that does sound familiar …

Ah! So, here’s an element in Rise of Skywalker that was definitely not in the first Star Wars movie: A repentant villain performs the ultimate act of self-sacrifice to save the life of an innocent. Ha! That didn’t happen … until the end of The Return of the Jedi.

The point here, I guess, is that repetition isn’t a glitch in the Star Wars universe — it’s a feature. Not unlike Medieval passion plays, for which audiences tolerated only the most minor variations on a theme, the Star Wars movies vary primarily in the people speaking the lines and the exact nature of the deus ex machina that will deliver our heroes from the brink of destruction this time.

The chief contribution Abrams has made in producing the last three Star Wars movies has been in assembling an appealing cast (as opposed to George Lucas’ three prequels, which seemed to have held their casting calls at Madame Tussaud’s). Daisy Ridley, beautiful and bad-ass, brings Marvel-caliber energy to the role of Rey, a Jedi. Adam Driver gives the most thoughtful and sympathetic of his three turns as conflicted bad guy Kylo Ren. We still don’t get enough time with Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, and Keri Russell as hotshot fighter pilots — I wouldn’t mind following that trio in some future Star Wars spin-off (but not a sequel).

And, of course, Abrams has had the advantage of recruiting Star Wars veterans whose audience goodwill is automatic. I won’t spill how many of them show up here, but it’s well known that Abrams employed previously unused footage of Fisher to cobble together a supporting role for her here. It’s the most ambitious gamble of the film, and surprisingly successful: Despite the fact that the entire script was reverse engineered to accommodate the snippets of film at hand, Princess Leia’s part in the narrative is not only substantial — it’s central to the plot.

No one is deluding themselves into thinking Disney is flushing the whole Star Wars universe. But it’s clear that the whole Skywalker saga ran its course a few films ago, and now is the time to stop. For one thing, if trends continued, the next installment would have required the return of Jar-Jar Binks.

Spoiler alert: There are Ewoks at the end. Dancing.

Featured image: Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Photo by Lucasfilm/Lucasfilm Ltd. © 2019 and TM Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

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