42 years is an outstanding run for any franchise. While there have been many ups and downs along the way, the story of Skywalker that began in 1977 has been an epic one to say the least. And even though this story seemingly ended twice before (once in 1983 and again in 2005), it has never been done with such unambiguous finality until now.
Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) has returned, and he has amassed a grand army with which to take over the galaxy. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) agrees to hunt down and kill Rey until the time is right for Kylo to kill Palpatine and take his throne. When the Resistance finds out about this, General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) sends a small team consisting of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), Chewie (Joonas Suotamo), and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) to locate The Emperor and end this war once and for all.
The action begins immediately, going from one set-piece to the next, as The Rise of Skywalker wastes little time setting up what the viewer should already know. Every unanswered question is answered here and probably not in the way the viewer expected. The young characters, Rey, Finn, and Poe, lead the charge with Poe getting some added backstory that deepens his character. C-3PO has quite a lot to do by interpreting an ancient language (at a price) on their journey, and he even finally declares R2-D2 his best friend. But the main story is kept on Rey and her incredible force abilities, while also further exploring her complex pseudo-relationship with Kylo Ren/Ben Solo. Both of them teeter on the edge between the light and the dark. They’re equally drawn to/threatened by one another. Considering this Sequel Trilogy’s total lack of planning from the get-go (not to mention all the plot holes that had to be patched up because of it), Rey and Kylo’s “relationship” feels like the only plotline that never lost its balance along the way.
Bringing back Emperor Palpatine was both an appropriate and questionable decision. Appropriate because it successfully ties all nine episodic Star Wars movies into one story, but questionable because it further reduces the ending of Return of the Jedi to being a non-ending while retreading ground already covered decades earlier. His unspoken absence in the previous two entries makes his re-appearance all the more jarring, and it doesn’t help that he spends all of his scenes in one room, fixed in place, saying all the things we’ve heard him say before. On the plus side, Ian McDiarmid falls back into the role like he never left it. He steals the movie whenever he’s onscreen, even when his faces (yes, plural) are kept in the shadows. His connection to Rey is nothing if not surprising and does an admirable job of giving Rey a compelling arc that makes this notoriously-capricious Sequel Trilogy worth the viewer’s time.
Is The Rise of Skywalker a fitting conclusion for the 42-year franchise? Somewhat. It ties up every loose end it can, and the closing moments make it very clear to the viewer that the story of Skywalker is very, very over. There’s lots of fun to be had, plenty of new worlds to be seen, and quite a few chuckles along the way. That being said, fan-service guides this story like training wheels. Palpatine’s resurgence, old ships, old worlds, countless cameos, and the shoe-horned return of Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams). Carrie Fisher’s involvement is minimal considering she passed away in 2016, so most of her actions and dialogue are salvaged from deleted scenes and are therefore unremarkable, forgettable, and could have been said or done by any character. This is nobody’s fault, of course. It’s fantastic that they were able to include Leia at all in this final chapter, but her story ends not with a bang but with an off-camera whimper. As for the rest of it, the story wraps up very neatly and the third act plays things big and loud but very safe. It’s still thoroughly entertaining with plenty of closure in the final moments, but one can’t ignore that this is a story that first concluded in 1983, so it ultimately comes off as more of a re-ending than a grand finale.
3 out of 5