If you’re one of those who feels director Rian Johnson ruined Star Wars with “The Last Jedi,” just wait until you see what J.J. Abrams did with “The Rise of Skywalker.”
Abrams returned to helm the last chapter in the Skywalker saga after directing 2015’s “The Force Awakens.” In the ninth film in the Star Wars series, Abrams was tasked with bringing the main Skywalker storyline to a conclusion, which he does in grand fashion.
When Disney bought the Star Wars franchise from creator George Lucas in 2012, it announced plans to make a sequel trilogy of films along with the independent anthology films such as “Rogue One” and “Solo.” Abrams was hired to make the first film, “The Force Awakens,” which introduced a new generation of heroes into the storyline of the modern mythology.
The reins of the franchise were turned over to Johnson for “The Last Jedi” which was the eighth film and second in the new trilogy. Johnson has been widely vilified by hardcore Star Wars fans for making a movie with gaping plot holes, making light of the parentage of Rey (Daisy Ridley), the new protagonist, and for significantly altering the character of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the hero of the original series, and then needlessly killing him off at the end.
In an act of what appears to be desperation on behalf of Disney, Abrams returned to the director’s chair and co-wrote “The Rise of Skywalker.”
With this fast-paced thrill ride, Abrams quickly paves over many of Johnson’s failures and makes Rey’s family line central to the plot. The movie incorporates elements from across the franchise and intertwines stunning plot twists to deliver a finale to the 42-year-old fable that most fans will find satisfying.
There are several plot holes, but they don’t detract from the overall storyline. Some things are left unexplained, such as why Luke’s lightsaber, which was destroyed in “The Last Jedi,” is suddenly whole again. There is also the question of something important that resistance fighter Finn (John Boyega) wanted to tell Rey but that plot thread gets abandoned.
The basic story of “The Rise of Skywalker” begins with the discovery that Emperor Palpatine – believed to have been killed at the end of “Return of the Jedi” – lives and is plotting to bring Sith rule to the galaxy under his dictatorship. That sets off a competitive pursuit by both the Resistance, led by Rey, and the First Order, led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), to find him and once and for all determine the fate of the galaxy.
Along the way there are multiple encounters between Rey and Kylo – who was once Ben Solo, the son of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess/General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher). Their love-hate/trust-fear relationship gets deeper character development, as does the friendship between Finn and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac).
One of the more satisfying elements of “The Rise of Skywalker” is seeing the droid C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) have a much more significant role than just cameo window dressing. Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) returns to aid the Resistance. His role is underutilized but critical to the plot. Luke Skywalker makes a gratifying return to help direct Rey at a key juncture in her journey with the Force.
Just as “The Force Awakens” highlighted Han Solo and “The Last Jedi” featured Luke Skywalker, the original intent of “The Rise of Skywalker” was to showcase Leia Organa. Carrie Fisher’s passing in 2016, however, forced changes in that plan. She does appear in the movie via unused footage from “The Force Awakens” and has a significant role along with star billing, but her absence is definitely felt.
If there is one drawback to the 2:22 runtime of the movie it’s that it is so fast-paced and action-packed that there is hardly a moment for the audience to breathe. Abrams crams a lot into the story to wrap up the many loose ends from “The Last Jedi” and to answer key questions from across the previous eight films that it practically requires multiple viewings to catch all the references and to thoroughly enjoy the myriad of character cameos. It is also darker and grittier than all its predecessors.
So for Star Wars fans worried that the franchise was headed to a disastrous end, rejoice in that Abrams has arrived as the White Knight on his noble steed to deliver a fan-pleasing conclusion to the storied franchise.