When I was a kid in the ’80s growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs, it seemed that my
parents always had a Star Trek television show or movie on the TV. Star Trek: The Next
Generation, in particular, seemed to be the background of the memories of my youth. Picard, Kirk,
Data – these were the fictional characters that filled my days. You could say we weren’t quite a
Star Wars family.
Now, don’t get me wrong – as a family, we watched all of the original Star Wars films – I
even recall my Mom going on and on about how much darker the second entry in the series was. To
this day, The Empire Strikes Back is also my favorite film in the entire trifecta of trilogies. Of
course, after the original trilogy, the second trilogy of films was released from 1999 to 2005. Although
most Star Wars fans will tell you in the present day that they were universally panned – they
weren’t. In my opinion, each film was stronger than the previous culminating in the strong
Revenge of the Sith which completed Anakin Skywalker’s transition from Jedi to Darth Vader.
In Our Last Episode…
In 2012 The Walt Disney Company acquired Lucasfilm and announced a new sequel
trilogy of Star Wars films. Notably, Star Wars creator George Lucas would not be involved in
this film series. The Force Awakens directed and written by JJ Abrams was released in 2015 to
positive reviews and an outstanding box office, though it left me wanting for more.
The story followed an orphan named Rey who seems to be learning the ways of the Force. It felt and still
feels like a rewrite of the 1 st Star Wars film to me – nostalgia for Generation X. The Last Jedi
followed in 2017 to an upset fan base and positive critical reviews. Writer and director Rian Johnson had the audacity to play with the feel-good formula of previous installments. It was an interesting approach and one that I appreciated in doses. In particular, I found the scenes with Carrier Fisher as General Leia Organa to be the most impactful. It was a sobering thought to realize she had passed away a year before the film’s release. Late 2019 sees the latest and final installment of the trilogy released.
The Rise of Skywalker is polarizing viewers and gaining infamy for a low score on the website Rotten Tomatoes. Though I’ve found the current trilogy somewhat underwhelming, I had to see what happened. I booked myself a ticket on opening night at the local theater and settled into my comfortable seat as the show began. Here’s my honest, spoiler-free review.
The Rise of the Skywalker
Let’s get this out of the way – The Rise of Skywalker is by far my favorite film of this trilogy. The film opens with the familiar scroll of words catching us up with where we are in the Star Wars universe. A familiar name pops up in this introduction, leaving me wondering how on Earth this would fit into the story. As the film begins, it is immediately dealt with in a way that makes sense – it adds context, depth, and a connection to the original series. Director JJ Abrams deserves a ton of credit for pulling off what he does in this film.
One of my biggest complaints concerning the first two films in this series was the character, Snoke. It felt like a puppet that didn’t belong to the Star Wars franchise – out of place and kind of pointless. This is somewhat explained in the new film, which was appreciated. The film uses a “MacGuffin” plot tool – the
use of a tracking device called the Wayfinder. No one has mentioned this device in the previous
either films (ten if you include the non-trilogy entries Solo and Rogue One) – but it doesn’t really
matter that much. It moves the plot forward as our heroes are off to find the Wayfinder to track
down the mysterious character that hasn’t appeared in this trilogy until now.
Carrie Fisher appears in The Rise of Skywalker by way of outtakes from the previous
films. Her appearances are bittersweet, her acting is top-notch, and it is a fitting conclusion to her
Daisy Ridley is wonderful as Rey. She seems stronger, bolder, and more assured of
her direction in this film. There is a scene in the film that she just owns – a look back at the past
and way to move forward that brought tears to my eyes. I loved it.
Adam Driver again appears as the conflicted Ben Solo / Kylo Ren. He redeems his temper tantrums of previous films and provides an emotional depth to his character that I appreciated.
John Boyega’s Finn and Oscar Isaac’s Poe give the film the buddy/buddy dynamic that belies the film series roots as pulp fiction in Space. It works and this was their best film together. Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose – given
such a big part in The Last Jedi – is here given a smaller role. It works, but I would have liked to
see her more involved. Billy Dee Williams appears as Lando Calrissian – not seen since 1983’s
The Return of the Jedi. He provides some positive new age philosophy, charisma, and is a
JJ Abrams has an impossible feat with this film – tie up all the loose ends, connect the 9
films, and somehow make the fan base happy. Two out of three ain’t bad – but for me, he hits all three
points perfectly. Everything is connected, character arcs are resolved, and he truly taps into the
viewer’s emotions. Good vs. Evil is an age-old debate – in the film as well as real life. For 2 ½
hours, I was transported into the fictional Star Wars universe and was able to firmly lock into
one side of this debate. This film isn’t going to go where you think it will – and for that, it is a
better film. Highly recommended.
The Rise of the Skywalker is currently out in all major theaters. Check your local listings for movie times.