Star Wars The Rise of Skywalker (****) pulls out most of the stops

The Rise of Skywalker – 2019

Director J.J. Abrams
Screenplay Abrams and Chris Terrio
Starring Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid, Billy Dee Williams

The return of Palpatine has been known for so long, most people just wonder how it happened. Don’t worry, you won’t read it here, because I am still not sure myself. That is one of the good things about this final chapter of the Skywalker saga. There are more than a few good aspects to the story, to the point that this film gives as much delight as any of the films in this final trilogy.

The story gets off to a decent start. Kylo / Ben is on a quest for a Macguffin that is going to help him track down Palpy. He finds the device and the old withered Sith Lord. After some tough back and forth, Kylo is sent on a mission to find and kill Rey.

Rey is on a planet with her Master, Leia and the rest of the dwindled Resistance. A new mission pops up – a chance to get the other Macguffin. Of course there has to be two. The team is off, finally together on a chase with Kylo and his Knights of Ren in pursuit.

Who are these Knights of Ren? If you have been waiting for the answer, you won’t find it here. You will find them tenacious trackers though. Our heroes have some interesting finds in their path towards answers. They have a limited amount of time, of course. It feels like writers Abrams and Terrio are as surprised as the viewers to find out where they’ll end up from scene to scene, even if what happens there isn’t as big of a guess.

We see one older friend and a few new ones. Most of these are delightful (D-O, Babu Frick and Russell’s Zori Bliss). We also see some new, more effective bad guys outside of the afore-mentioned Knights. Richard E. Grant is Allegiant General Pryde, who looks forward to seeing his old boss return. He and Gleeson’s Hux have a nice delicate balance, even if it feels a little underexplored.

One of the weak spots in the film is the unfortunate loss of Fisher before any new scenes could be filmed with her. She looks out of place in every scene, like the other participants and their dialogue is wedged in with lines designed to counter the only lines she uttered. The shading of her person is always the same and it also doesn’t fit most of the backgrounds in which she is placed.

That said, Abrams does make her final scene a relevant one. It’s as good as one could hope for, given the circumstances. It’s easy to appreciate the difficult position Fisher’s loss presented for everyone.

The film’s biggest weaknesses is everyone who saw the original trilogy understands exactly where this all has to end. The best one can hope for is some great visuals and relevant dialogue. Abrams and company provide plenty of the former, not much of the latter. Isaac’s Poe and Boyega’s Finn add a lot to their thus far underserved characters. Seeing the two of them working with Ridley’s Rey feels like a reward, even if she spends much of her time at each location distracted by the increasing realization of her role as a Jedi.

Rey’s constantly pulled in twain in her desire to accomplish her mission and avoid the draw of her counterpart, the grandson of Skywalker. Then there’s Palpatine…Ridley has come some distance from the intense blank slate of The Force Awakens. The story has allowed us to figure out how good she is, even if we’re never entirely sure why.

Kylo / Ben is driven, too. His motives are his own, as we learned from The Last Jedi. The benefit of having Driver in this insane demonstration is that he is able to resonate so much passion. It makes him interesting, if not entirely worthy of redemption.

Worthy or not, most people know where this all ends. Therein lay the biggest fault of this franchise. The viewer never really understands why the story is worthy of telling. Like Abrams’ first film in the series, he mixes old tropes with new locations. Johnson added the best twist of the series when he even surprised Hamill, making him a ghost after having him admit failure. This film doesn’t do as much with the events of the middle story, but there are a few touching grace notes.

Don’t be mistaken. This is an entertaining ride, however inconsequential. It provides incredible points of interest, answers some questions and leaves others yet to be revealed. Like Poe, wondering what Finn is going to say to Rey, the viewer needs something to ponder after seeing 42 years of wonder.

(**** out of *****)

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