Monday, December 23, 2019

Movie Review: Star Wars - The Rise of Skywalker

And with that, the Skywalker Saga has come to a bittersweet end.  Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the ninth episode in the series and the eleventh live-action Star Wars film overall, has garnered pretty shockingly tepid reviews, but not from this guy.  I liked it.  A lot.

JJ Abrams is back to close the trilogy he opened, given the unenviable task of reconciling the story threads in his safe crowdpleaser The Force Awakens with Rian Johnson's subversive, divisive (but pretty excellent) The Last Jedi.  Given the divergent approaches of the two directors - one offers total deference to the original trilogy, the other trolls fanboys somewhat - it's kind of miraculous that Abrams was able to weave it all together in a satisfying way.  This film ties up not only this trilogy, but the nine overall episodes, lending meaning and explanation to elements of TFA and TLJ, and striking a through-line of sorts all the way back to the events of the prequels.  Several reviewers have complained of JJ retconning some of Rian's narrative choices, but there's really only one element that could even be called retconning, and only, as Obi-Wan once put it "from a certain point of view."  JJ provides answers to all the important questions raised in the first two films and resolves the dramatic tension pretty beautifully overall.

As always I won't go into spoilers, and to that end I won't even reveal many plot details; to describe the main story arc would be saying too much (Few blockbusters can be described that way, so kudos to Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio for such ingenuity).  A more fitting way to discuss the story is to talk about the characters.  Rey and Kylo, the heart of this trilogy and two of the most compelling Star Wars characters ever created, confront their destinies, their choices, and each other, with stirring emotional results (Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver once again deliver wonderful, show stealing performances).  Poe Dameron further grows into his role as a natural leader and we learn more about his past.  Finn the former Stormtrooper finally embraces his latent heroism and becomes an inspiration to others.  We get a few new characters, one of which I found an adorable throwback to some of the creatures in the original trilogy.  There are some major story turns, some expected, some not.  And of course we get the obligatory Star Wars action set pieces, though this film is surprisingly driven more by characters than by action, which I appreciated; characters and emotion.  I found myself legitimately choked up four or five times during this movie, and that's another testament to Abrams, Johnson and the various screenwriters for creating characters that are easily invested in.

Was the movie perfect?  No, but let's be honest, none of them are.  TROS, like every Star Wars film, has clunky expository dialogue, some scenes that aren't given enough time to breathe, and a few plot contrivances.  But none of these minor gripes were enough to take me out of the mood.  Like the original trilogy, the characters are so relatable and compelling, and the pure filmmaking so visually stunning and immersive, they carried me through whatever storytelling flaws were present.  I daresay TROS was a stronger third act for this trilogy than Return of the Jedi was for that one. 

Whatever the fanbase's complaints, and they always have plenty, The Rise of Skywalker is another very strong entry in the Star Wars mythos, lovingly crafted by an obviously devoted fan aiming to guide the series to safe and satisfying landing.  Could Abrams have taken more risks?  Yes.  Would I be interested in seeing how Johnson would've handled this chapter?  Absolutely.  But for the most part TROS does a very admirable job of bringing it all home and answering our myriad questions.  All in all, this trilogy has been a breath of fresh Star Wars air after the disastrous prequels, and I can't wait to watch them back-to-back-to-back (If I ever find seven consecutive free hours to do so).  The Rise of Skywalker is a fitting, affecting conclusion to this 40-plus-year-old saga.

I give the film ***1/2 out of ****.

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