At one point in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) asks Finn (John Boyega), “Which way?” To which Finn answers, “No idea. Follow me.” That exchange is a very good encapsulation where the Star Wars franchise was after the controversial “Stars Wars: The Last Jedi” polarized fans hopelessly in 2017. The answer to that dilemma is “Rise of Skywalker” in an age of social media madness, fan cynicism and product saturation (Disney released five “Star Wars”-branded movies in the five years from 2015 to 2019).
It wasn’t always this way. George Lucas hyper-started the iconic Original Trilogy in 1977 with “Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope” and ended it with “Star Wars: Episode III—Return of the Jedi” in 1983. Lucas delivered the back story to mixed reviews with the Prequel Trilogy, which ran from 1999 to 2005. In 2015, after Lucasfilm had been sold to Disney, director JJ Abrams (who had successfully relaunched the “Star Trek” franchise) was hired to revive “Star Wars” with “Star Wars Episode VII—The Force Awakens,” a revival fans embraced even though it introduced new characters because it hewed generally to “Star Wars” tradition. But the sequel, 2017’s “The Last Jedi,” (it had dropped the “episode” tag in the titles so as not to alienate new fans) directed by Rian Johnson, went too far in trying to change things up and outraged “Star Wars” loyalists.
The ninth movie in the Skywalker saga (it was called just “Episode IX” for a parsec) , “Rise of Skywalker,” again directed by Abrams from a script by Abrams and Chris Terrio, is set a year after “The Last Jedi.”
Somehow, Emperor Palpatine (yes, that Emperor Palpatine, played by the original actor Ian McDiarmid) is back, emboldening the First Order, led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) to finally wipe out their enemies. The last remaining members of the Resistance, led by General Organa (the late Carrie Fisher in her last film role) are losing hope as the new threat looms. Kylo and Rey (Daisy Ridley) engage in an endless series of increasingly escalating lightsaber duel that echoes the deep battle between the Sith and the Jedi, the dark side and the light sides of the Force. Dameron and Finn fight against the threat of the First Order in a fraught race against time across the universe.
It is impossible to write about “Rise of Skywalker” without spoiling anything, so suffice to say, there are unexplained developments, weird coincidences and ineffectual gunfire in “Rise of Skywalker.” There are two true twists. There are several scenes that had fans at the screening audibly gasp—but not the scenes you’ll expect.
There are some “Star Wars” cinematic traditions that live on in “Rise of Skywalker.” C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels) and Kylo still engage in hefty exposition, something needed in a movie that drops a lot of new characters and planets into the mix. There’s a cute new droid (D-O, voiced by Abrams). John Williams still provides the music. One gets the feeling that “Rise of Skywalker” changed some of the original plot plans on the fly, echoing how “Jedi” changed plot points from the earlier films. It packs in so much that the film is constantly, relentless busy. It just hurtles from scene to scene. The action scenes, crammed into every possible corner of this galaxy, are well done. The movie is very pretty.
This movie is also full of Ridley and Driver, which is a good thing as they are the best actors in the cast. It’s fascinating to see how far these two have done in the roles that made them household names. It’s poignant seeing Fisher in her last appearance, in the role that made her a household name. McDiarmid and Billy Dee Williams (still killing it as Lando) are welcome returnees to the franchise.
Fans will like “Rise of Skywalker” more than they did “The Last Jedi” but not as much as they did “The Force Awakens.” Fans felt the same way about “Jedi,” though “Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” was, and still is, the better movie.
There are three very significant things that “Rise of Skywalker” is clearly supposed to do.
The first is to erase “The Last Jedi.” This it mostly does. Such was the fan backlash to that film that Lucasfilm had to cancel Johnson’s planned trilogy and then ask Abrams to course-correct the series with “Rise of Skywalker.” To be fair, “The Last Jedi” was not a bad film just because the fans hated it. It just went into very unfamiliar territory; this film is squarely back in the shadow of fandom. There is one bit of important voodoo it keeps.
The second is to tie it more closely to the original trilogy. It echoes most closely “Return of the Jedi.” “Rise of Skywalker” pays such homage to the original trilogy so much that it feels less like an organic new Star Wars movie and more like a celebration of Star Wars itself. This is the thing it did the best as it dropped any pretense of being its own thing and simply became a true continuation of the Original Trilogy.
The last, most significant thing, is that it is supposed to end the Skywalker saga definitively. It is ironic that Lucasfilm has asked Abrams to do this, considering he was the person they asked to restart it with “The Force Awakens.” As long as Lucasfilm keeps its promise, then “Rise of Skywalker” did this as well. That doesn’t mean there won’t be more “Star Wars” movies. There just won’t be any more films featuring the Skywalkers. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The studio will continue to make the one-off “anthology” films each of which is called “a Star Wars Story” such as the excellent “Rogue One” and the so-so “Solo.” And the nascent Disney+ streaming service hosts “The Mandalorian” and “The Clone Wars.” Where will the franchise go?
The Skywalker saga has given fans so much since 1977. That it comes to an end with “Rise of Skywalker” is no small matter. However you may feel about the Prequel Trilogy and this, what is called the Sequel Trilogy, the end of this “Star Wars” era is a cultural milestone as the franchise has taken us from Tatooine to Endor, from Naboo to Coruscant, from Jakku to wherever this movie ends. The Skywalker saga introduced us to Luke and Leia, Han and Chewie, Artoo and Threepio, Yoda and Darth Vader. For that, we thank the Force, always.
Lucasfilm’s “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” will be shown in limited release in the Philippines until today, December 22, 2019. It will be shown in wide release starting January 8, 2020.