STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (2019)
Starring Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Ian McDiarmid, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Billie Lourd, Keri Russell, Kelly Marie Tran, Lupita Nyong’o, Richard E. Grant, Domhnall Gleeson, Billy Dee Williams, Joonas Suotamo, Anthony Edwards, Dominic Monaghan, Naomi Ackie, Greg Grunberg, John Williams, Harrison Ford and the voice of Andy Serkis.
Screenplay by Chris Terrio & JJ Abrams.
Directed by JJ Abrams.
Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. 141 minutes. Rated PG-13.
And so, the saga ends.
Now by saga, I mean the ambitious nine-film series of films George Lucas envisioned in the early 1980s after the original 1977 Star Wars film (now referred to as Star Wars: Chapter Four – A New Hope) became the most popular film in history at the time. This will not be the end of Star Wars movies and stories – they’ll never stop making them if they can squeeze even one more penny out of them. However, the original series – as optimistically imagined by Lucas – has finally reached the end of the line, over 42 years after it debuted.
Of course, Lucas somewhat underestimated the scope of the whole project. When he originally rolled out the idea, he was hoping to make the nine films – the original trilogy, a prequel trilogy, and finally a sequel trilogy – straight through, a new film about every three years. By that timetable, this film would have come out around 2001.
However, things ended up being much more complicated than that. By the end of the original trilogy with The Return of the Jedi in 1983 – between the difficulty of making these films, dealing with their success and realizing them in a pre-CGI special effects world, Lucas put the series on indefinite hold.
As computerized special effects finally caught up with Lucas’ vision, he ended the long sabbatical, finally starting the prequel series with The Phantom Menace opening in 1999. Again, the trilogy was finished in three-year increments, but the lukewarm reception of the films (they did well enough in the box office but were generally derided as dull and bombastic) again dimmed Lucas’ enthusiasm for the saga. So, instead, he delved into other nooks and crannies of the Star Wars universe. (He seemed particularly fascinated by The Clone Wars, which led to two TV series, a stand-alone animated film and a graphic novel series.)
The original film saga was on hold again.
That may have been it, but then earlier this decade the Walt Disney Company purchased Star Wars parent company Lucasfilm Ltd. and promised to fast-track the final three films of the series. Much to Lucas’ dismay, Disney pretty much ignored his original ideas for the final trilogy (which may be just as well after the spotty quality of the prequel films) and instead decided to reboot the whole thing with JJ Abrams at the helm.
Abrams’ The Force Awakens was a rebirth of the series after the dull prequels (they were about spice treaties, for goodness sake) – however it was honestly just a slick, fan-friendly update of the first two episodes. It was a triumph of style over substance – a film as a theme park ride. Abrams handed over the second of this trilogy to Rian Johnson with the pretty bad – overly dour, violent, no fun – The Last Jedi. Johnson is currently doing penance with the wonderful mystery Knives Out, but word is there may be another trilogy which he will helm.
Abrams took the reins back for The Rise of Skywalker, which returns the series to Force Awakens mode, though this film is not as good as Abrams’ first Star Wars film. It is loud and boisterous and busy, but somehow it feels like it’s all been done before.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that The Rise of Skywalker is that this is the first film that has to ride almost completely on the backs of the new characters, and they are just not as interesting and fun as the original trio of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo. Sadly, Luke and Han were killed off previous episodes of this trilogy (though both show up for brief cameos as spirit versions of their characters to offer guidance to their young counterparts) and Carrie Fisher, the actress who played Princess Leia, died of a heart attack at about the time that Last Jedi came out. It is a pleasant surprise that there are several scenes of Fisher as Leia here – they must have started filming before her death – and she is welcome in all of them, even if she doesn’t have much to add to the plot.
Other old favorites who pop up are Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams returns to the universe for the first time since 1983!), C3PO, R2-D2 and Chewbacca (although there is a different actor playing Chewy than the original films). And one of the earlier villains – General Palpatine – comes back from years of apparently being dead to activate the latest threat to the rebellion.
Sadly, the new characters do not connect as solidly as the older ones. Heroine Rey (Daisy Ridley) is rather inscrutable, Finn (John Boyega) is unmemorable and Poe (Oscar Isaac) is just there to do the Han Solo jokes. Bad guy Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) feels like Vader lite.
The fight scenes are often well done, though, and there are enough Easter eggs to keep the hardcore fans happy. There is a certain nice symmetry that The Rise of Skywalker ends looking at the twin suns of Tatooine, going full circle from the opening of the first Star Wars. This kind of reverence to the saga keeps The Rise of Skywalker somewhat enjoyable. It’s certainly not the best film of the series – in fact, I wish they had gone out on a higher level – but it’s far from the worst either. However, The Rise of Skywalker will mostly keep the fans happy, at least until the next, inevitable spinoff.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2019 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: December 20, 2019.