It's obvious that writer and director J.J. Abrams is a big fan of the Star Wars franchise. His 2015 The Force Awakens resurrected the franchise for a new generation, served as an energetic primer for all things in a galaxy far, far away and introduced a bevy of new characters around which to build future installments. That film and comments made in numerous interviews showed that he treated George Lucas' world with a sense of reference that made him a fanboy favorite. So, it comes as no surprise that The Rise of Skywalker, which Abrams directed and co-wrote with Chris Terio, presents the final chapter of this sprawling story with a serious tone that serves the material well and will surely please the many fans who are not just waiting to see how this thing wraps up, but to also pick it apart for any inconsistencies or oversights it may contain.
I'm certainly not going to put the film under the microscope for a minute deconstruction; however, I will say that Abrams seems to hit all of the sweet spots fans will be eager to embrace – numerous allusions to earlier episodes, major surprises where the fate of its central characters are concerned and some genuine heart-tugging moments. More than anything, Abrams provides a sense of closure – or as much as he can in a sure-to-be-continued franchise – that will satisfy the casual viewer and the rabid fan alike.
From the trademark opening narrative crawl, we learn that the evil Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), long thought dead, is very much alive, ensconced on a remote planet all these years, marshaling a massive armada he now refers to as the Final Order. He intends to deal the Rebellion a decisive blow when he unleashes the might of his forces under the command of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who he dispatches to kill Rey (Daisy Ridley), the last Jedi Knight whom he deems a threat. However, she, along with Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and the droids C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels) and BB-8 have set out to find Palpatine's hideout in order to stop the attack before it begins.
The sense of spectacle the franchise has become known for is front-and-center throughout (Light Speed Skipping? Wow!), as we're introduced to new planets with more than a few intergalactic dogfights, laser gun battles and light saber duels thrown in along the way. Say what you will about these movies, the production values are top-notch, as the best of modern special techniques are on full display. This episode in particular is a visually immersive experience, particularly during one sequence that finds Rey and Ren going toe-to-toe on the wreckage of the original Death Star afloat in a raging sea. Spectacular is a word often overused, but it's apt here, as the movie transports the viewer as only a big budget piece of Hollywood escapism can.
However, as visually impressive as the film is, it's the quiet moments that resonate. Princess Leia's final scene (Carrie Fisher) is the grace note the character deserves, while the revelation of Rey's lineage is a shocker that lands with the proper amount of emotional gravitas. The film wows you, but more importantly, it moves you.
Nostalgia for the original trilogy drives the movie and Abrams brings it all together for a satisfying conclusion by driving home the franchise's main theme with uncommon emotional force. Redemption has been the saga's narrative through-line and Rise's moment of atonement is one of the strongest scenes in the nine-film story. It's been a long time coming, but it proves worth the wait.
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