‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ lifts our spirits just enough

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” – When “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (2017) reached theatres two years ago, sharks chewed over the head scratching decisions that found their way on screen.  Well, some sharks anyway, or at a minimum, this one. Director Rian Johnson’s venture into the iconic series took some strange, nonsensical turns.

For instance, why did Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) sacrifice herself by ramming her ship into a First Order Star Destroyer, when about 50 droids onboard could have done the job instead?

Why did Luke (Mark Hamill) promise Rey (Daisy Ridley) three Jedi lessons, when he only delivers two?

Why introduce an insidious new villain Snoke (Andy Serkis) in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015), when the script unceremoniously kills him in “The Last Jedi”?

Why does Luke project himself across the galaxy and his image only seems to stop countless laser blasts?  If he actually traveled to this random Salt Planet and authentically blocked them with his hand, that moment would have garnered spontaneous standing ovations in theatres everywhere.

Did we really need our heroes to ride horse/camel creatures on a Casino Planet?

The list goes on and on, but rather than continue to snipe about past mistakes, let’s look to the film that concludes a 42-year cinematic journey.  Well, an unspecified amount of time has passed, and since Rey and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) are not grey and decrepit, “The Rise of Skywalker” isn’t set light years after “The Last Jedi”.  In separate quadrants of the galaxy, Rey continues her Jedi training, and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) still wields his dastardly light saber with a sociopathic bent.  For reasons that will not be stated in this review, Kylo Ren is now singularly focused to find Rey – yet again – but persists with his mixed messages of killing Rey vs. asking her to join the First Order Team.  Hey, a shiny new black and gray uniform would certainly top her current look, because quite frankly, Jedi outfits never really garnered high fashion acclaim.

Anyway, General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), BB-8, Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), Poe (Oscar Isaac), and Finn (John Boyega) are all back after their two-year break, and director J.J. Abrams’ film really doesn’t take very many pauses, as our heroes travel non-stop to several planets, ones that are brand new trips for casual Star Wars fans.  The narrative mostly carries the audience on a scavenger hunt for one particular artifact, but Kylo Ren is in constant hot pursuit, and his tenacity would make Sheriff Buford T. Justice beam with pride.  Meanwhile, Abrams is dialed in with familiar beats that Star Wars fans enjoy, chock-full of space dog fights, light saber duals, light speed jumps, and a good old fashioned land speeder chase.

Visually, the screen is filled with agreeable, souped up polish, but Abrams also includes a decidedly grimy, gritty edge – that we didn’t see in Episode VII and XIII – in some key villainous spots.  These striking slants are similar to his work in his “Star Trek” (2009) reboot with the Romulan and Klingon technology and the aliens themselves.  Audiences had real reasons to fear the Romulans and Klingons already, so the added spookiness did not help any preexisting anxieties.  Those same distinct touches nicely exist in “The Rise of Skywalker” as well.

Unfortunately, some familiar odd quirks overlap from “The Last Jedi”.  Finn, for example, constantly insists on protecting Rey and harps on standing by her, but she can obviously handle herself just fine and could take him down faster than you can say, “Laugh it up, Fuzzball.”

Picture Jimmy Olsen always asserting that he’ll be there for Superman, and that’s Finn.  He may have yelled, “Rey!” at the top of his lungs about a dozen times, and it gets old after the first.  He does, however, meet a new group of rebels who ride horses of some kind, and at one point, Finn and his new team find themselves charging and fighting on top (not inside) of an undisclosed ship.  This, of course, brings back horrible memories of “The Last Jedi” Casino Planet, and truly, nothing says “jumping the shark” more than a group of horses running into battle on top of a spacecraft.

Yes, this nine-film Skywalker thread has run its course.  At times, it does feel tired and certainly recycled, where “I’ve seen this before” will cross your mind, including a spectacular Rey and Kylo Ren skirmish that looks like a carbon copy duel from two different characters in another movie.

On the other hand, with eight movies behind it, “The Rise of Skywalker” does successfully answer key burning questions and delivers enough aha, moving moments for the fans, both diehard and casual.  The film’s high points, and there are several, are not with panoramic, chaotic clashes or luminous stops from planet to planet, but are through the personal connections between the characters.

These searing memories will sit alongside permanent recollections from the previous eight films, which make the “The Rise of Skywalker” a flawed, must-see picture for anyone who cares about these adventures that occurred a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.  There’s enough here to get you to the Skywalker-finish line, even if you openly wish that Abrams, Johnson and company chose an entirely different path with this trilogy.

⭐⭐ 1/2  out of  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Image credits: Disney Studios, Trailer credits: Star Wars

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