“Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to.”
The worst-kept secret is out! Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is back, and he’s making ultimatums to all rebel (sorry, “resistance”) scum: surrender unconditionally or die screaming. General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) orders her top-billed list of single-syllable heroes to save the galaxy before the clock runs out: Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), and Rey (Daisy Ridley); Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) has “other things to do” in the script off-camera. Meanwhile, Darth Tantrum aka Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo (Adam Driver) is commanded to destroy Rey once and for all, but when has Ben ever done as he’s told? Plus General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) is off doing… well, Hux things.
You know what you signed up for. Lightsaber duels, starfighter dogfights, dark side vs. light side, and all things destiny and inevitable. At least Syfy’s reboot of “Battlestar Galactica” got this right: “this has all happened before, and it will all happen again,” so pretending this is less about money than art is a given — cha-ching. While few would dispute that director J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens cribbed the best parts of the original Star Wars and re-packaged it for new audiences, director Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi dared to pull the curtain back on greater themes and story arcs that polarized the rebel fan base. As J.J. takes the reins again for the supposed end of the Skywalker saga and capping nine films over 42 years, can audiences really expect to get everything they wanted, or is this another Superman Returns in the making?
It’s as good as one might hope… but also as bad. Desperate to immediately “do something,” the first hour is a jumble of run-jump-info-dumps before taking a minute for someone to explain the final quests and who’s doing what where and with/to whom. It’s big, it’s epic, and it really doesn’t make sense from anything resembling science, but it does establish the rules we’re going to end big on… and then it does. Appropriately giving Carrie Fisher top billing, the big Skywalker finale isn’t the best film of the series but does manage closure of every current character arc, topping it off with a perfect coda before the credits.
First, the bad. Apparently, heroes can get anywhere in the galaxy in under an hour, which is necessary considering they have less than a day to save the day (not even kidding). We never hear any “broadcast,” which would have made for a chilling teaser trailer instead of just Palpatine’s laugh and a media confirmation that it was McDiarmid. The decision to push Kelly Tran’s Rose into the background while forcing Keri Russell’s new character Zorii Bliss upon fans is a borderline criminal offense that feels obvious. J.J. Abrams seems to be of the mind that, if a set piece, setting, or plot point makes no sense, make it as big and spectacular as possible and maybe no one will point out how ridiculous it is… just as long as it looks cool. Heck, The Fast and the Furious franchise has gotten away with that forever.
Now the good. This is the best Daisy Ridley performance of Rey since she first appeared, with both she and Adam Driver willing their characters into more than just a description on a page… and yes, they manage to find a sensible (read: acceptable) way to resolve “Reylo” without rewarding Darth Tantrum for a decade of wholesale slaughter. While the reasons behind all the craziness are highly questionable, when did Star Wars EVER champion science over fiction? When the good guys win, they win big, and even the most jaded fans can find solace in the finality of the main arc once and for all. Are you listening, Disney? Let it go.
“The Mandalorian” on Disney Plus is proof that the right idea can be done well using the same setting. Truth be told, Rogue One is probably the best Star Wars story to date, and arguably the best of all the films — yes, including The Empire Strikes Back. If nothing else, we’ve finally put the Skywalker saga into the ground so Disney can at last move onto all-new cinematic stories to be told. Is it too early to start campaigning for a Star Wars What-If: The Reign of Darth Rey?
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence, action, and just going with it.
Three skull recommendation out of four
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