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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

As the final chapter of both the sequel trilogy of Star Wars and the Skywalker saga in general, The Rise of Skywalker comes with quite a burden. It is a burden that is inevitable with any final chapter in a trilogy, but George Lucas' space saga which began over 40 years ago especially has it tough, particularly when it comes to both the original and prequel trilogies. For the latter, Revenge of the Sith was the best of of an otherwise underwhelming set of prequels, and even then that can sound somewhat backhanded, as it did still contain a lot of the faults of its predecessors. Still, it was at the very essence, the least flawed of the prequels and certainly servicable, which is more than could be said about the likes of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Return of the Jedi meanwhile, was something of a (minor) step down from the fantastic duo of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, respectively. That said, Return of the Jedi was no slouch, and only marginally inferior. It still delivered lots of memorable sequences and was a fitting closure to the original trilogy.

Which brings us to The Rise of Skywalker, where J.J. Abrams once again returns to the director's chair, having helmed the fantastic The Force Awakens. (Actually, the final chapter was supposed to be directed by Colin Trevorrow, but honestly, I don't mind Abrams taking the reins for this last one.) There are oodles of questions to be answered in the film to be sure, but to this viewer, the major question is, where does this latest finale rank? Critics were rather mixed on the film, with many finding it "uninspired" and less daring than Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi, which, while critically lauded, divided audiences bitterly. But opinions are always going to be subjective no matter what, but as far as I am concerned, The Rise of Skywalker, for me, ranks somewhere in-between Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith. Admittingly, I did like The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi a tad more, but while The Rise of Skywalker is probably among the lower end of the spectrum, that isn't to say that it isn't any good, much less entertaining. On the contrary.

However, I do have some quibbles. The film gets off to a rather frantic start, filled with action scene after action scene and random jumping to different planets. Although it's not by any means bad, the first act is the least compelling part of The Rise of Skywalker, coming across as overstuffed, with little time to breathe. New characters portrayed by Keri Russell and Naomi Ackie are, at best, underdeveloped. One moment around the 30-minute mark or so struck me as very odd and off-putting. Viewers who may have appreciated some of the more ambiguous edge that The Last Jedi provided will probably be disappointed to discover that this film disregards much of it in favor of a "faster, more intense" (to borrow a phrase from Lucas) adventure. In that aspect, The Rise of Skywalker is probably a bit guilty of playing it safe. Rose is also criminally underused, perhaps on account of the hideous backlash her character undeservedly received, and some might see her smaller role as a way of catering to those people who disliked her so much.

Despite all this, The Rise of Skywalker still manages to offer a lot of positives. The film settles into groove after this hectic first half and offers a second half full of emotion, action, suspense, and genuine heart. The final 30 minutes in particular will evoke tears. Throughout, the film maintains the same standards as the previous entries. The performances from everyone involved are absolutely fantastic, especially Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver as Rey and Kylo Ren, respectively. Again, the dynamic between these two characters remains the most compelling part of the film, and it is the commitment both give to their roles that sells it. Oscar Isaac and John Boyega are also in fine form as Poe Dameron and Finn, and Anthony Daniels' C-3PO, who finally gets a lot more to do in this film than in the previous entries, is, as always, a delight. Even better, Billy Dee Williams gets to return as Lando Calrissian, and while his screentime is limited, he nonetheless shows he's still got it.

Carrie Fisher died before work on The Rise of Skywalker could be completed, and so any footage involving her are actually deleted scenes from The Last Jedi. One can only wonder what could have been had she lived. As it is, Adrams still manages to do an excellent job of making use of her. It's bittersweet seeing her in this movie knowing that she's no longer with us, but Fisher still provides enough warmth with every minute of her screentime.

At the risk of providing a spoiler, I was at first a bit uncertain of having Emperor Palpatine brought back as the villain for this movie, as he was meant to have been killed off for good in Return of the Jedi. Having said that, though, watching Ian McDiarmid exude gleeful nastiness and chewing the scenery as this ruthless character is always a delight, and this is no exception here.

The special effects and production design are no less great; the cinematography, while perhaps not as vibrant as in The Last Jedi, is no slouch in this film. Each set is rich with detail and exudes a sense of realism. It helps that the film achieves a nice balance between practical effects and digital ones. John Williams, as usual, contributes another fantastic score; easily one of the best for the whole saga. Considering that his music has consistently been the strongest asset of each Star Wars saga, good or bad, that's saying a lot.

As mentioned earlier, The Rise of Skywalker is tasked with answering oodles of questions that viewers might have from the previous two entries. There are plenty of answers to be given, sometimes to the detriment of the pacing, and not everyone will be satisfied with them. However, whatever faults lie with this picture are not on account of lack of trying. Abrams and company clearly gave their all. (The director admits that endings aren't his specialty, but to be fair, he does a fairly good job with what he has to do here.) However you respond to this final chapter will depend on whether you've been on board with the whole sequel trilogy or not.

Personally speaking, though, in spite of my quibbles, I found The Rise of Skywalker to be an uproariously entertaining work. It is a bit of a step down from its predecessors, to be sure, but it's still good fun overall. And that's exactly as it should be.

In the end, we can argue again and again over the merits or deficits of each of these movies, and whether it was a necessity or not. For me, however, the sequel trilogy comes very, very close to capturing the magic of the original trilogy, which was something that the prequels never could. While Episodes I-III had some reason to exist and offered what we may call “different” experiences from this one, all three were very problematic on account of lackluster execution. This new trilogy has faults of its own; occasionally underdeveloped new characters and at times delving a little too much into nostalgia as well as some controversial character choices that may or may not sit well with viewers. Having said all that, the direction, visual effects, performances, character dynamics have all been consistently excellent across the board. For all that, I would gladly visit this sequel trilogy again any time. It ranks just a notch below the original trilogy and above the prequels. Only time will tell if it ages well, but at present, these three movies are great fun, overall.

The Rise of Skywalker is the final goodbye for the legendary heroes we've all come to love from a saga that began way back in 1977. While there have been some occasional missteps on the way, we are very fortunate to have endured such a long journey with these movies at all.