Note: This review is spoiler-free.
Evil Emperor Palpatine is back and our heroes embark on a big adventure to save the galaxy in Episode IX of the Star Wars Skywalker saga, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
The latest Star Wars film has a big task—not only is it the conclusion of this latest “sequel trilogy” of films (2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens and 2017’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi), but it is also intended to serve as a conclusion to all eight of the episodes that preceded it. A tall order indeed.
As you may recall, the big baddie of the both the original trilogy (Episodes IV-VI) and the prequel trilogy (Episodes I-III) is Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious (played with ghoulish delight by actor Ian McDiarmid). It turns out that Emperor Palpatine followed his own counsel that he gave to a young and conflicted Anakin Skywalker in Episode III, in that the “dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural…” (including cheating death).
So, with Palpatine back in the picture, our new set of heroes—Jedi master-in-training Rey (Daisy Ridley), former stormtrooper turned Resistance fighter Finn (John Boyega), hotshot and hotheaded pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and rolling droid BB-8, joined by long-time favorite Star Wars characters Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels)—set off to find the location of the Emperor, take him out, and restore peace and order to the galaxy. On the darker side of the galaxy, the tempestuous and newly-ordained leader of the First Order Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) isn’t so happy that the Emperor is back in the picture and he sets out to find him, too.
As was explored in the last two episodes, Rey and Kylo Ren have an unique connection through the Force that continues in this story. Their relationship and their respective character arcs are probably the most interesting of the film and are definitely a representation of the key Star Wars themes of good vs. evil, light vs. dark (particularly within one’s self), and finding one’s path in the world.
The film is loaded with returning characters from the Star Wars universe, including General Leia (again played by Carrie Fisher using cut footage from Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), Maz Kanata (voiced by Lupita Nyong’o), General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), and beloved droid R2-D2. We also get to meet a few new characters, including First Order Allegiant General Pryde (Richard E. Grant), Resistance fighter Beaumont Kin (Dominic Monaghan), warrior Jannah (Naomi Ackie), spice runner Zorri Bliss (Keri Russell), and a cute little droid named D-O.
Overall, the film feels like an old-fashioned swashbuckling adventure, not unlike Episodes IV and VI from the original Star Wars trilogy or the classic movies and serials that inspired George Lucas in the first place. It’s a big movie and there’s a lot to digest. I can’t say that I loved every creative decision that was made; however, I was grateful that the big questions posed in the previous two sequel trilogy films were answered to my satisfaction and things eventually all come together in a Star Wars-y kind of way.
Director J.J. Abrams and his signature style are very prevalent in the film which is a good thing. The production looks fantastic and the special effects are, again, second to none. I’m sure this film is going to get heaped upon with criticism, but, truly, the creative team had an impossible task to bring a conclusion to this series, let alone satisfy the large and diverse fan base. And although I’m still not convinced that the current team at Lucasfilm ever had a solid vision or a cohesive three-film strategy about what they wanted to accomplish with this sequel trilogy, it was their task, not mine.
The ending of this film series is bittersweet. I’ve loved spending time with these characters new and old and have been entertained and inspired with the storytelling, artistry, and filmmaking for most of my life. It will be exciting to see what is ahead for new stories and adventures within the expansive Star Wars galaxy. (The Mandalorian TV series on Disney+ is a great start.) I’m full of, dare I say, hope.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association for “sci-fi violence and action.”
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars