Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

written by Chris Terrio and J.J. Abrams

from a story by Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow, J.J. Abrams, and Chris Terrio

based on Star Wars characters by George Lucas

directed by J.J. Abrams

Yes. The “final” chapter of the Star Wars saga is here. And now we can see how all the pieces of the last trilogy fit, impeccable and precise. This, my friends, is the way to end one of the most beloved series of all time.

Well… not so much.

If there’s one thing that’s clear from watching Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – indeed, the three latest sequels – is that Disney was making the story arc up as they went along. No one will ever know just how much had been mapped out by creator George Lucas when he made his first iconic space opera of Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Return of the Jedi (1983). Judging from the inconsistencies, probably not a lot. But no one can argue those first three movies hold up much better as a whole, since they were all supervised by him. In contrast, Disney gave writer/director J.J. Abrams the reins for The Force Awakens and then hired other filmmakers to continue the narrative as they saw fit (Rian Johnson for The Last Jedi and Colin Trevorrow for The Rise of Skywalker). Not a good idea.

After thousands of fans complained about Johnson’s decision to play with audience expectations in The Last Jedi, Disney fired Trevorrow and brought back Abrams to course correct the franchise. Was it the right decision? Who knows. Perhaps Trevorrow would’ve delivered a fantastic ending (although judging from 2015’s Jurassic World, I doubt it). What we did get was a cluttered adventure in which Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is alive and kicking (with little explanation as to how) and plotting to rule the galaxy by transferring his spirit to Rey (Daisy Ridley), his long-lost granddaughter (so that’s why she’s so powerful).

From wondering how the hell Palpatine survived the end of Return of the Jedi – thus robbing that whole climax of its stength – to getting whiplash as Rey, Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), and BB-8 run from planet to planet trying to find a clue that will lead them to an artifact that will lead them to a wayfinder that will lead them to Palpatine (!), it’s enough to make you wish Abrams would enroll in Robert McKee’s STORY seminar. But I can’t help but appreciate the effort. Trying to tie all the loose ends left behind by The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, orchestrating a satisfactory denouement to eight preceding films, and on top of that coming up with a creative way to incorporate footage of Carrie Fisher – who passed away before production started – as General Leia? It must’ve been a gargantuan task.

The Rise of Skywalker may be lacking in terms of plot, but the same can be said about the previous two installments (remember the ridiculous Canto Bight sequence in The Last Jedi?). Overall, though, there’s a lot to like: It’s more visually exciting than anything Abrams has ever directed before; the cast seems to click effortlessly for the first time; and the character arcs of Rey and Kylo (Adam Driver) pay off nicely – Rey fights off grandpa Palpatine in an echo of Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) struggle with his father Darth Vader (David Prowse/James Earl Jones), while Kylo finds redemption with help from Leia and Han Solo (Harrison Ford in a small but touching cameo), paralleling his own grandfather Vader’s return to the light. There are also plenty of other callbacks – such as Han telling his son the same words he once told Leia, or the return of Luke’s X-wing fighter, this time piloted by Rey – lovingly brought back and giving The Rise of Skywalker the emotional heft I was longing for ever since the new trilogy was first announced. And that coda in which Rey decides who she is (not a Palpatine, but a Skywalker) and she gazes at the Tatooine sunset in a reflection of Luke’s hero’s journey? Pure cinematic joy. It’s a powerful and stirring finale, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cry (just a little).

If only Disney had done their job right, these “final” three chapters of the Skywalker myth could’ve been as unforgettable as the originals (and the less said about the Lucas-helmed prequels of The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002), and Revenge of the Sith (2005), the better). But The Rise of Skywalker is still a fun and thrilling conclusion to a galaxy far, far away. Maybe Abrams has finally realized that the pop spectacles he’s fond of replicating – from Star Trek to Star Wars – need to stay closer to their source material. In the end, heart will always be more powerful than lens flares.

Click here to read Rogelio Rodríguez’ review on my sister site Cinesthesia.

Rating: ***

Carlos I. Cuevas

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