‘Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker’ is a soft reboot of ‘Return of the Jedi.’ But is it a worthy finale?
For the most part, ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ is all the excitement and spectacle you’d hope for, but like Kylo Ren’s reconstituted Darth Vader helmet, there are a few obvious cracks
“STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” — 31⁄2 stars — Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Carrie Fisher, Ian McDiarmid; PG-13 (sci-fi violence and action); running time: 141 minutes; in general release
SALT LAKE CITY — So this is it, right?
The long, strange outer space trip has finally come to a close. After 40-plus years and eight (primary) films worth of sci-fi action, adventure and increasingly contested drama, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” has arrived to bring the core “Star Wars” saga in for a landing. For the most part, it’s all the excitement and spectacle you’d hope for, but like Kylo Ren’s reconstituted Darth Vader helmet, there are a few obvious cracks.
When we last left our heroes, 2017’s polarizing “The Last Jedi” left Jedi Knight prodigy Rey (Daisy Ridley) and erstwhile rebel leader General Leia (Carrie Fisher) at the head of a stripped-down band of resistance fighters, trying to keep up the fight against Leia’s estranged son Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the fascist First Order bad guys, aka Galactic Empire 2.0.
Things were looking bleak, and as “Rise of Skywalker” opens, not much has changed. Rey is continuing her Jedi training while fellow Resistance fighters Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) help General Leia to rebuild the cause. But across the galaxy, trouble is brewing.
Kylo Ren has followed a mysterious transmission to a hidden world of Sith Lords (the yang to the Jedi yin) and made a terrifying discovery that won’t be a surprise to anyone who has been watching the film’s trailers: Emperor Palpatine (an always-brilliant Ian McDiarmid), long thought dead, has somehow been running the whole Sith show all along.
There’s more. Palpatine has constructed a new and improved fleet of warships, poised to retake the galaxy as the rebranded Final Order, and he wants Kylo Ren to succeed him as the new Emperor … once he kills Rey and vanquishes the Jedi once and for all.
With a little sleuthing, Rey and Co. get wind of the new plan and set out to locate the hidden Sith planet and take the fight to the bad guys directly. But along the way, they’ll need the help of some new and old friends and, ultimately, Rey is going to have to face the temptation to turn to the Dark Side of the Force.
What follows is packed with enough “Star War” staples — mind-blowing visual effects, exotic set pieces and high-octane action sequences built around layers of character drama — to keep hard-core and casual fans happy. It doesn’t quite have the “money moments” of “Last Jedi” — think of the Rey-Ren team-up vs. the red guards, or the “Holdo Maneuver” jump to light speed through a Star Destroyer — but there are enough twists and surprises and payoffs to make “Rise of Skywalker” a worthy finale for the new trilogy, and the film is a thoughtful send-off to Fisher, who died in 2016.
As a finale to the whole saga, though, you have to be a little more critical, and that’s when the behind-the-scenes drama starts to seep through. For “Rise of Skywalker,” “The Force Awakens” director J.J. Abrams returns to the helm, and it feels like a lot of the film is an attempt to appease the complaints vocal fans made about Rian Johnson’s “Last Jedi.” There’s also a bit too much fan service (I’ll withhold specific examples for spoiler’s sake), and the last half of the film is pretty predictable.
Overall, the Disney-era trilogy did a lot of things right, perhaps in no more important way than by restoring the feel of George Lucas’ original trilogy. Like “Force Awakens” and “Last Jedi,” “Rise of Skywalker” captures a sense of gritty outer space fantasy and fun that the plastic prequel films from the early 2000s could never achieve. But in the same way “Force Awakens” was really a soft reboot of 1977’s “A New Hope,” key elements of “Rise of Skywalker” ultimately feel like a mirror of 1983’s “Return of the Jedi,” and the final trilogy feels a little too dependent where it could have stood on its own.
Writing as a lifelong “Star Wars” fan, for most audiences, the cracks won’t be a problem; “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is a lot of fun, a genuine achievement and a great way to spend a couple of hours at the theater. There’s certainly nothing wrong with a kick of nostalgia from time to time, and it’s always nice to take a trip to a galaxy far, far away. But once the stardust settles, we’ll probably still admit that the original trilogy is just never going to be matched.
Rating explained: “The Rise of Skywalker” is rated PG-13 for considerable sci-fi action violence and some frightening imagery that could be too intense for younger “Star Wars” fans.