Star Wars: Episode IXThe Rise of Skywalker, 2019, 4 ¼ stars

The Force comes full circle

The Rise of Skywalker brings Star Wars saga to a close

Exclusive to MeierMovies.com, December 19, 2019

Star Wars is my first movie memory. As a 5-year-old boy, I huddled with my mom in a London movie palace in December 1977, transfixed by the images flickering on the huge screen. But then came the Sand People, who, along with the movie’s overwhelming auditory experience, scared me enough that we had to leave early.

Despite that frightening introduction to the franchise, I soon became a devotee. And though I’ve lost much of my original enthusiasm over the years – mostly thanks to the poor quality of The Phantom Menace and the endless parade of non-canon content – I was genuinely curious about the impending conclusion to the saga. Would it take the story in a direction that would satisfy both super fans and casual admirers? And more importantly, would it simply be a good film?

While the jury is still out on that first question, the answer to the second is a resounding yes, at least in the mind of this casual fan, who, surprisingly, found himself tearing up once or twice. The effects are superb and the performances endearing, especially the four main actors from the three sequels (Daisy Ridley as Rey, Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, John Boyega as Finn and Oscar Isaac as Poe). Yes, the film is derivative, repetitive, overstuffed, frenetic and sometimes just plain ridiculous, but it’s also irresistible. Powerful entertainment on an enormous scale, it’s the most emotionally resonant Star Wars movie since Return of the Jedi in 1983.

Directed by J.J. Abrams, from a script by Chris Terrio (Argo, Batman v Superman) and Abrams, The Rise of Skywalker needs no advance plot discussion. One should go in fresh and uninformed, so I recommend avoiding trailers and blogs that might reveal twists. Strangely, though, a major twist – which negates one of the central plot points of the original trilogy – is revealed essentially before the movie begins, by the famous scrolling text. I won’t divulge that here, suffice to say it is a rather jarring rewrite of Star Wars history and one that I was initially uncomfortable with, until I found myself on the same narrative wavelength as Abrams and allowed the spectacle to wash over me.

And that’s what I suggest you do too. Take off your critic’s hat, set aside your fanboy phobias and stop projecting your own desires onto the franchise. Just enjoy the nostalgia. And there’s plenty of it, almost as if Abrams wanted to wipe away some of the less Star Warsy choices made by writer-director Rian Johnson in The Last Jedi. But I don’t embrace this “battle of the writers” theory. On the contrary, I contend that the narrative pivots have served a purpose, despite the new film’s lack of originality. But there I go again, overthinking. Let go, we must. And if we do, we might discover the film’s surprising message of moral duality and ambiguity. Good and evil live in all of us in equal measure, Abrams seems to be saying. Palpatine and Skywalker are two sides of the same Republic Datary.

“Confronting fear is the destiny of the Jedi,” Luke reminds us. Well, we’ve learned a lot about destiny over the last 42 years: the destinies of the characters, the destiny of cinematic entertainment and our own personal paths. It’s been a memorable journey: fun, emotional, exhilarating, frequently disappointing, but ultimately satisfying. The Force has come full circle.

© 2019 MeierMovies, LLC

Note: Also please take a look at my comparison of all the previous Star Wars films. The article compares the movies’ quality and box-office performances.