The key to Star Wars has always been the joy in its simplicity. While other works in the franchise like “The Mandalorian” or “The Last Jedi” often challenge this notion, the core of Star Wars has revolved around the battle between good and evil, both external in the conflict between the Jedi and the Sith and internal between characters like Anakin, Luke and Rey fighting their own battle between the dark and the light. And yet the series always feels so massive and elegant in its fantasy, taking that conflict and making it universal. Star Wars is the ultimate entertainment fantasy because of how primal and fierce these conflicts become.
It is because of this overpowering joy that the final entry in the Skywalker saga, “The Rise of Skywalker” feels so satisfying. There is never a dull moment in this movie, as it basks in the same basic feelings as the first film, with the shrinking rebel forces fighting a losing battle against the imposing and all encompassing First Order with no hope in sight. For the first time since watching “A New Hope,” that feeling of dread and futility on a universal scale is overpowering. Yet there’s a sinister atmosphere that makes the First Order exciting and it’s all thanks to the return of the Emperor, who continues to manipulate everyone like they’re nothing more than his pets, especially Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley). The way the Emperor is reintroduced is bone-chilling while still carrying the maniacal evil the Emperor has always had in spades, and it’s made even more terrifying when we see what he’s been up to since we last saw him “Return of the Jedi.”
More than any previous Star Wars film, “The Rise of Skywalker” feels like the pulp sci-fi serials that it was based on, especially “Flash Gordon.” Many scenes have our heroes desperately going around the universe, searching for clues and people that’ll get them closer to finding the location of the Emperor while the First Order and Kylo Ren are hot on their trail. Each segment often feels like its own little movie, with vibrant locations such as an iceberg floating in space and a desert planet celebrating its big festival (think “Midsommar” without the drugs and only slightly less murder) as well as unique characters who create some wonderful character moments for Poe (Oscar Issac) and Finn (John Boyega). Each of these scenes offers something of value, whether great visuals, some stunning non-CGI effects, captivating action sequences or some touching character moments, including the best moments ever for C3PO. It has been quite a while since Star Wars has felt as grand or suspenseful as this, with each piece contributing to the overall adventure without ever taking itself too seriously.
The only thing holding “Rise of Skywalker” back is that the movie and J.J. Abrams have to “fix” the problems of “The Last Jedi,” taking a lot of time to set fans minds at ease before creating its own identity. Looking back on “The Last Jedi,” there are some things that I wish had been done differently, specifically the fates of Luke and Leia, but the film certainly had an idea in mind about developing Rey, Poe and Finn into more three-dimensional characters while building up its themes of handling failure and living up legends. It is not a perfect movie by any stretch, nor is it close to the best Star Wars, but it was the most complex. Yet these filmmakers feel like most of “The Last Jedi” was a mistake that has to be erased or forgotten, even down to some characters like Rose getting cast aside or characters like Poe unlearning what he found about leading in the last film. The film spends so little time addressing what happened in “The Last Jedi” that almost hates the film and wants the audience to feel the same way. These revisions and quick hand-waving of important development in “The Last Jedi” does lessen the impact of the overall trilogy, though not enough to ruin this movie.
As a sci-fi, fantasy epic, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is everything I wanted it to be – non-stop entertaining, emotional, grand and the most visually rich film in the series. As an end to this nine film saga, it completes everything a story of this size set out to do while never straying too far from its core values in the inner and outer battles between good and evil. It encapsulates everything fun about the franchise and reminded me why Star Wars is one of the best movie series of all time.
Final Grade: B+