“THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” Marks End of Era for “STAR WARS”

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A couple of decades or so ago, a fan of the “Star Wars” space opera franchise might say that despite how many evil forces might rise and be defeated in the Galaxy Far, Far Away, the heroes of that franchise created by George Lucas will never seem to find a peaceful rest. That was during the time when the Expanded Universe of “Star Wars” literature was believed to be the best source of the further adventures of the Jedi, the Rebel Alliance-turned-New Republic, and the heroes who fought for them. Then Disney acquired the property and created its own canon.

At first, the concept of a sequel trilogy of movies for “Star Wars” was enthusiastically accepted by fans that have yearned for more audio-visual stories than more books in the Expanded Universe (now the non-canon “Star Wars Legends” continuity). But the 2015 release of Episode VII (“The Force Awakens) and 2017’s Episode VIII (“The Last Jedi”) have become increasingly conflicted and divisive due to perhaps to a more politically-charged audience. Just about everything in the films came under heavy scrutiny and was prone to criticism. One has to wonder what steps could be taken with the final sequel trilogy installment.

With the premiere of Episode IX: “The Rise of Skywalker” during the Holidays last year, the saga of the Force-using Skywalker family which has dominated the main trilogy movies of the franchise was brought to an end. Whether or not the conclusion to a family saga as depicted in this film here by J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm can be considered “effective” or “appropriate” would likely depend on what sort of “Star Wars” fan a viewer is. For a casual audience who has at least seen the previous two segments, this last chapter can come across as a bit of a course correction or a snap-back.

Rather than the immediate sequel that “The Last Jedi” was to “The Force Awakens,” “The Rise of Skywalker” picks up about a year after the rather bleak denouement of Episode VIII. While the nearly-exterminated Resistance is hiding from the ascendant First Order, a long-believed Evil makes its presence known once again to the Galaxy as Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) broadcasts his return (via “unnatural” means of his powers as a Dark Lord of the Sith). This spurs current First Order Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) to seek Palpatine out, while his nemesis the last Jedi Rey (Daisy Ridley) tries to complete her training under increasingly frail Resistance leader General Leia.

One must recall that Leia’s actress Carrie Fisher died in 2016, and her appearance here was a blend of body doubles and re-editing of unused footage from “The Force Awakens.” At times they work and at times the suspension of disbelief can be sorely tested, but at least the special effects manage to keep the story rolling. Speaking of which, one might think the creative team realized that the temperamental Kylo is no big bad material that the supposedly slain Emperor had to be brought back. Still, McDiarmid’s return is surprisingly workable for this purpose.

With rumors that the returned Emperor has just offered the First Order a massive fleet of Star Destroyers each packing a Death Star-level planet-destroying cannon, the Resistance is hard-pressed to find a way to reach the uncharted Sith planet these ships currently are to destroy them before they are fully deployed. This crisis leads to some surprise new character developments for Rey’s fellow next-generation heroes Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac). Unfortunately it also throws previously-established romantic sub-plots such as Finn and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) out of whack with the introduction of new characters: another First Order deserter in Jannah (Naomie Ackie) and Poe’s ex-girlfriend Zorii (Keri Russell).

Sometimes, a sharp enough viewer might get the impression that J.J. Abrams, who was at the helm for “The Force Awakens,” is directing at the seat of his pants in order to undo the rather dire straits that the heroic Resistances was left at in “The Last Jedi” under Rian Johnson’s direction. At the same time a truly massive threat must also be present at this concluding film to sell the concept of “ending” the saga of the Skywalker line.

There has been some more surprise returning cast here in “The Rise of Skywalker,” from the expected in Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker’s (now a Force ghost after his death in “The Last Jedi”), to the surprising in Harrison Ford reprising as a phantom vision of Han Solo to his son Kylo/Ben Solo (who killed him under the Dark Side’s thrall back in “The Force Awakens”). This grand reunion of those who still remain from the franchise’s original days comes across as very heartwarming, and they are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of returning franchise talent, but we will say no more.

Viewers can expect some more relatively game-changing revelations in the plot (if they managed to avoid internet spoilers until this time), and intense action sequences from one scene to the next, all tied together by the signature “Star Wars” music of John Williams. Trying to be the concluding piece in a franchise trilogy that has not been gently handled by longtime fans will definitely be challenging. But as far as grand endings might go, “The Rise of Skywalker” will fit the bill for finally giving the last word on the Force, the Jedi, and Skywalkers.

Image courtesy of BGR

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