MOVIE REVIEW: “Star Wars : Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker”

Last Updated: December 30, 2019By Tags: , , , ,

The circle is now complete. Forty-two years after George Lucas forever changed Hollywood (and the lives of moviegoers around the world!) with the original “Star Wars,” director J.J. Abrams brings it all home with “Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.”

I was there opening weekend in 1977. When the music blared
and the opening crawl began to roll, I knew I was in for something amazing. As the ships began to pass over the top of the frame and the film was on the move, my eight-year-old mind was completely blown! At that moment I became a lifelong fan and my love for this saga has never wavered. Oh, it has been a bumpy road over the past thirty years, but I have welcomed all new incarnations and chapters in the continuing saga and find merit in each and every one of them. I am one of the few fans who completely embraced the prequels that began in 1999 with the unfairly despised “Episode I: The Phantom Menace.”

To be fair, the prequels were messy and there is much to complain about, but each have their charms and time has been good to all three.

In 2015, J. J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan were hired to direct and write (respectively) “Episode VII: The Force Awakens,” which was to be the first film in the final trilogy. This would be the one to reignite the magic, and fans were anxious in many different ways. This could be a glorious return to the feeling of the original films, or it could be a sour sendoff. Most Star Wars disciples were more than pleased with that film and it did, indeed, bring back the fun and feelings of Lucas’s original trilogy.

Then came Rian Johnson’s “Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.” The one Star Wars film that would polarize the world-wide fan base and cause debates amongst generations of fans. Many claimed it was the best of them all. Many more found it a betrayal. Sadly, I lean more towards the later. While it contains a few moments that are close to a “Saga best”, Johnson’s screenplay did in fact turn its back (almost viciously) on everything Abrams and Kasdan set up in Episode VII. “The Last Jedi” is my least favorite Star Wars film. It’s messy and at times outright dumb. I didn’t like having that feeling about a film in my beloved saga that has brought me so much joy for the last forty years.

John Boyega and Naomi Ackie

Abrams was announced as director and co-writer for the final film with the legacy cast and once again the filmmaker found himself under the microscope of the Star Wars fan base. The expectations were higher than ever. We followers were watching and if Abrams messed up the finale of our beloved saga, there would be no forgiveness.

This film has the herculean task of pleasing everyone and, of course, this is an impossibility. Critics and fans are already divided. Some call it sloppy and too chaotic. Others claim it to be great fun and a proper way to end it. As a lifelong fan of the Star Wars saga, I am here to say that “Rise of Skywalker”
is an absolute blast! Abrams and his cohorts have righted the ship and piloted the “holy” saga to a fitting end!

The story itself is exciting to the nth degree. To those who worry about spoilers, fear not. I shall tread lightly. I would never ruin anything that should be a surprise.

Bloodlines continue to be explored and we still aren’t sure where Rey’s (an infectiously wonderful Daisy Ridley) family tree has its roots but she/we will know by the film’s end for sure.

It’s fun to see Rey come into her own as she becomes strong with The Force and learns how to use it in the ways The Jedi Knights once did. She allows her mind to fully open, as The Force guides her on her continuing path to an ultimate destiny.

Watching Ridley in this film is a delight. The actress gives it her all and we feel the pain of her losses and her emotional and spiritual struggle with a deeply disturbing revelation from her past. The actress gives the best performance of the film, and while the Star Wars saga isn’t known for “Oscar caliber” acting, Ridley digs deep and really delivers.

Screenwriters J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio have injected this entry with a plot that is interesting and fun and easy enough to follow. As we learned from Johnson’s film, you can tweak and try different things but when you destroy the mold and everything around it, you lose the essence of all that came before.

Episode IX finds Rey and the resistance searching for Exogol, the mysterious planet that hides The Sith. It is in this dark land where The Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) has been resurrected and is awaiting the destruction of Rey and her rebels so the Final Order can rise and rule the galaxy.

Again, no spoilers here but everything that happens revolves around the return Palpatine. Kylo Ren (an always great Adam Driver, having even more emotion to work with here) is on a mission to kill Palpatine, as he wants to crush all threats to his leadership.

The heroes of The Resistance Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) are searching for intelligence from a spy who exists within First Order. The news is quite bleak as we learn Palpatine is planning to destroy planets in less than one day and will then fully establish his evil “Final Order” and become the ruler of the entire galaxy.

Everyone gets into the action in this one. R2-D2, C-3PO, and BB-8, Rose, Maz Kanata, Leia (through unused footage from Episode VIII), and even old-scoundrel-turned-hero Lando Callrissian has returned to help wrap up the forty-two year-old saga. Billy Dee Williams returns to the character after thirty-six years and it fits him like a glove. Lando/Billy Dee is as smooth and cool as they ever were, and it is a pleasure to see them return.

John Boyega’s Finn gets some good moments and meets a new character (Jannah, played by Naomi Ackie) with whom he shares an important legacy.

Poe (the great Oscar Isaac!) finally gets his chance to be the “Han Solo” of the final trilogy. In this film he is the wisecracking, dashing–and not quite as suave as he thinks he is–hero that Harrison Ford made iconic in the original films.

As a lifelong disciple of the Star Wars saga, this entry contains many moving moments. The bittersweet warmth of Leia’s presence is beyond touching. Carrie Fisher’s death stunned the fans and watching her help Rey become who she will be moved me. This is the torch being passed, both literally and figuratively. As Leia shares it all with Rey, it is also the youth from my generation passing on the love of “Star Wars” to our own children.

Luke Sywalker returns! His spirit harkens back to what we expected in “The Last Jedi” but didn’t get. Many fans (including Mark Hamill himself!) disagreed with every choice Rian Johnson made for Luke. Abrams and Terrio have restored Luke to his true self and what, one could only assume, George Lucas had planned for his creation. Though he doesn’t have much screen time, Luke’s few moments are warranted and powerful and important to Rey’s destiny. It is a welcome return of the beloved character with a scene that gave me goosebumps.

Cinematographer Dan Mindel and a team of art directors do phenomenal work in creating the worlds of a galaxy far, far, away. The “Return in the Jedi’s” fallen Death Star, now crashed of course, surrounded by crashing waves is a sight to behold. The designs of the new Sith fleet and their upgraded troopers are pure visual stunners!

Mindel makes Art with his camera in the Sith land of Exogol. These scenes of the land where the Emperor hides and plots the destruction of the galaxy are some of the most visually amazing of the entire saga. The land exists as the Sith themselves. Exogol is a dark and grey land that is cold and breathes the aura of death and destruction.

Of course, no “Star Wars” Episode is complete without the music of John Williams. For his self-confessed final film in the saga, the composer does wonderful work as he gives us new bold themes that intertwine with our favorites from the other films. It’s an expert score from one of cinema’s finest composers.

In fairness, “Rise of Skywalker” is not without its issues but they are few and don’t hurt the film.

To address a main criticism that I have been hearing, there is chaos to the film’s execution. Abrams has a lot to wrap up here and, while non-stop, he does do quite skillfully.

I would’ve liked more Jannah. She was an interesting new character and while she has two great moments with Finn, there should’ve been more. Jannah is a great addition to the Star Wars universe!

I also could’ve used a bit more of Luke but this is more of a personal preference and besides, film reviewers should never review the film they wanted to see. However, after Johnson’s betrayal of the character in Episode VIII, Luke deserves a lot more screen time.

My main issue was the throwaway of Rose. In Episode VIII, Rian Johnson created the character of Rose (Kelly Marie Tran). She was a good character that was saddled with a bland storyline. Sadly, there is next to nothing to do for Rose in this film. Tran was great as Rose and she deserved a better send off, but I don’t blame Abrams. The character was completely unnecessary. Still, I’m glad Rose is around. Tran plays her with a sweetness and wonder that immediately endeared her to me, despite her head-scratching story arc.

“The Rise of Skywalker” has everything that makes this saga so special. We have light saber duels, X-Wing fighter battles, creatures, good vs. evil, and most importantly, camaraderie. These characters are true friends who respect and love one another and their emotions bleed off the screen. With every “good luck my friends” and warm embrace between the heroes, the lump in my throat became bigger.

Abrams and company have brought the Star Wars saga to a fun and fitting close. To those who would complain about retreading the themes of the original trilogy I say this…

I smiled the whole time. I teared up more than once. I haven’t had this feeling of pure fun since 1983’s “Return of the Jedi” (which this film basically is, and that is a good, nay, GREAT thing!). Sometimes going old school and retracing your steps is exactly what is needed to make things right.

(featured image: Daisy Ridley as “Rey” in “Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker”)

Film came out in theaters on December 18th.

Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker

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