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A long time ago, in a galaxy far,
A popular story began
Of sand-covered planets and creatures bizarre,
And ships that can travel from star unto star,
Of heroes and scoundrels who meet in a bar,
Of princesses, sages, and even Jar Jar,
And rebels who battle the way that things are.
Of such stories, I am a fan.

Yet stories must finish to make room for more.
All tales, great and small, say good-bye.
They thrill us with action and romance and war;
They shock and amaze with sights not seen before;
They spark controversy and trigger uproar;
They grant us new worlds with their mythos and lore
That lovers and haters alike can explore.
Their endings do not mean they die.
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MPAA rating: PG-13

At long last! I had wanted to post this review before the New Year, but instead it gets to be my first review of 2020. Star Wars fans everywhere were eagerly anticipating the final installment in the Skywalker Saga, and the return of J.J. Abrams as director reassured many that it would be ended by a sure hand. Yet I was one of the few who really enjoyed Rian Johnson’s work on The Last Jedi and was hopeful that Abrams wouldn’t retcon it just because some fans were dissatisfied. Thus, I approached The Rise of Skywalker with hopeful but mixed feelings, and I walked away with satisfaction that has yielded somewhat to similarly mixed feelings.

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Since it was no secret in the trailers, posters, or the film’s opening crawl, I don’t mind revealing that Emperor Palpatine has returned. (Collective non-gasp!) With Supreme Leader Snoke dead and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) still wavering in his villainy, they had to bring back the original Big Bad, no matter how unlikely his survival seemed at the end of Return of the Jedi. Faced with an evil armada, Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe (Oscar Isaac) team up for the first time to track down a Sith planet and stop the un-dead Emperor.

The Rise of Skywalker is an unusual beast. I thoroughly enjoyed it in the theater and left satisfied, yet I knew then that I still liked The Last Jedi better. This latest film is an exercise in all things Star Wars – alien critters, good-at-heart criminals, explosive action, the redemption of bloodlines – all things I love, yet it also felt safe in a way The Last Jedi didn’t, with fewer laughs and impactful moments too. Not that I minded any of this while watching it, but as the Internet has since pointed out its flaws to me, somehow they annoy me more here than all the complaints over The Last Jedi did, perhaps because the previous film had the hope of a sequel making sense of things while this bears the weight of being a grand finale.

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I think J.J. Abrams was the right person for this job, but it sometimes felt like he was trying to “redeem” the previous film, for instance sidelining Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) almost completely. It was interesting, though, how it doubled down on the “new” things the Force was capable of; if you didn’t like that aspect of The Last Jedi, watch out. With Abrams at the helm, there’s much to appeal to fans, but every time something unexpected happens, it’s walked back to prevent offending those fans too much, you know, like that last movie. I am one of those fans, so I’m not sure if I should be relieved or bothered at being patronized like this. (However, Lost alert! I did appreciate a certain cameo from my favorite show.)

Boy, I sound like all those whiners over The Last Jedi. Yet unlike them, I can still say it was a great movie, warts and all, and a worthy conclusion to the Skywalker Saga. All the actors are in fine form, with the original cast (Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams, etc.) provided a fitting send-off for their characters, including the late Carrie Fisher. It’s easily the messiest of the new trilogy, raising questions that are never answered and wearing its plot holes on its sleeve, and the storyline is all over the place. At one point, the main characters are searching for an object that has a clue to locate another object that will help them find a planet, yet the brisk pace and chemistry among the actors always sustain the fun of a good space adventure. There’s just something about Star Wars. It’s what made people turn out in droves for this movie despite the public disappointment in the previous one.

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I suppose the main problem with The Rise of Skywalker for me is how it changes the arc of the series as a whole, due to the return of the Emperor. The first two trilogies were about the fall and rise of Anakin Skywalker, but this trilogy makes it all seem more like the rise and fall of Palpatine. Perhaps that’s not so bad, but I doubt it’s what George Lucas had in mind. Even so, The Rise of Skywalker caps off an uneven but still thoroughly entertaining chapter of the Star Wars story, with impressive visuals and rousing action. Despite my gripes, I stand by my assertion that there has never been a Star Wars movie I haven’t enjoyed. Now we just need to wait twenty years or so for a new trilogy with an older Rey training a new generation of Jedi to fight another evil empire. In the meantime, may the Force be with you.

Best line: (Zorii Bliss, played by a masked Keri Russell) “That’s how they win… by making you think you’re alone.”

 

Rank: List-Worthy (joining The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi in my Top 100)

 

© 2019 S.G. Liput
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