‘The Rise of Skywalker’ is an Epic Finale to ‘Star Wars’ Saga [Review]
The circle is complete, as the epic Star Wars saga comes to an awesome close in the 11th live action feature film (12th if you include the animated The Clone Wars theatrical feature), The Rise of Skywalker.
The new film is Episode IX of the Skywalker family story that started with George Lucas’ groundbreaking 1977 classic Star Wars (aka Episode IV: A New Hope) and chronologically began with 1999’s Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
And it’s that same Menace from the first episode that returns to close out the tale of young Rey and her arch rival Kylo Ren, tying their fates to that of the entire galaxy, with the light side of The Force and the dark side doing battle yet again.
As with the original trilogy (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi) it is once again a story of redemption and of a new generation rising above the sins and mistakes of their parents.
Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver are back as Rey and Ren, respectively, and they are both phenomenal in their performances, completely owning these already iconic characters and injecting them with more humanity and vulnerability than is usually seen in fantasy blockbusters like this. Their relationship is a unique one within the Star Wars canon, and those weird mind meld moments where they communicated through space with each other in Episode VIII: The Last Jedi are rewarded during the satisfying climax of Rise.
As the sequel opens, Ren, who was once known as Ben Solo before he turned to the dark side, has learned that The Emperor, the mastermind of evil from the first two trilogies, is somehow still alive, even after Darth Vader threw him down a reactor shaft in Return of the Jedi. The Emperor has secretly constructed a massive new Sith fleet of planet destroying ships and built up a new legion of loyalists he calls the Final Order.
And he wants Kylo to bring the orphaned scavenger Rey to him, as she has been training to be a Jedi and to better control her Force powers under the guidance of General Leia Organa, Luke Skywalker’s sister and leader of the Resistance. The Emperor of course wants to wipe out the last remnants of the Jedi, so the Sith can rule the galaxy again.
Ren is full of rage, impatient and deadly, as he repairs his damaged helmet and reassembles his old gang of dark assassins, the Knights of Ren, with the sole mission of hunting the scavenger down.
Ridley’s Rey is so likeable that when she sets off in the Millennium Falcon to find where The Emperor’s hideout planet is and her loyal pals Finn and Poe refuse to be left behind, we are right there in the cockpit with her, ready for another adventure. The film is carried firmly on her shoulders for its nearly two and half-hour runtime.
John Boyega’s former stormtrooper Finn and Oscar Isaac’s ace pilot Poe Dameron remain dashing heroes of the Resistance, with lots of fun bromance banter reminiscent of Luke and Han 40 years ago, and one of them may be more powerful with The Force than anyone previously gave him credit for.
“Legacy characters” like Chewbacca (played by Joonas Suotamo) and C3PO (played, as in every single Star Wars movie, again by Anthony Daniels) are also back, with Mark Hamill returning once more as Luke Skywalker and the late Carrie Fisher playing Leia again, thanks to digital technology and unused clips that were originally filmed for 2015’s The Force Awakens. Billy Dee Williams gets to join in the fun this time too, reprising his role as Lando Calrissian, and there are a few other surprise cameos I won’t spoil here.
New characters, like Naomi Ackie’s Jannah and Keri Russell’s Zorii Bliss are introduced, while Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico, who was a vital member of the main cast in The Last Jedi, and Lupita Nyong’o’s Maz Kanata are pretty much sidelined from the action for no apparent reason.
But while it’s meant to bring the overarching story of the Skywalker saga to its conclusion, this chapter is ultimately all about Rey and Kylo, their deep connection to each other, and how they overcome their complicated pasts to face their true destinies.
There are countless callbacks to the earlier films, series, and video games, and plenty of eye-popping spectacle to behold, with the swelling score and unforgettable themes by John Williams propelling us to an inevitable end.
The small but vocal “fans” who have hated all of the Star Wars films that Disney has produced since purchasing Lucasfilm should honestly not even watch this one, but for the rest of us actual fans who are just happy to visit this galaxy far, far away again, it will make you smile and warm your heart to know that those first lessons that Obi-Wan and Yoda taught young Luke all those years ago are still at the heart of it all.
A fitting finale to a legendary story of good and evil, faith and forgiveness, revenge and redemption, Episode IX of the Star Wars saga is about learning the lessons of the past in order to blaze a new, better path to the future, and more than anything, believing in yourself and that you can in fact choose your own destiny, regardless of where you come from. It’s a powerful idea, and an inspiration to young viewers that their Rise will not be easy, but just as no one is ever really gone, nothing is ever truly impossible.
Reviewed by: Matt Artz
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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (rated PG13) is playing locally at RC Theatres in Kill Devil Hills.
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