Millions upon millions of dollars have been poured into a series of Flash Gordon-esque movies about the unseen “Force” around us for the better part of a half-century.
Many millions more have been poured into the bank accounts of Disney execs by casual and ardent fans of the acclaimed “Star Wars” franchise that reached its summation this weekend with director JJ Abrams’ second turn at the helm of the series, “The Rise of Skywalker.”
Equally fulfilling and frustrating, the ninth entry of the Skywalker Saga gives audiences a dynamic and exciting experience to keep family members occupied this holiday season.
Set well after the events of the eighth episode “The Last Jedi,” “Skywalker” follows Resistance fighters Rey, Poe Dameron and Finn as they seek to destroy the reborn Emperor Palpatine and escape the clutches of Kylo Ren’s First Order.
As “Star Wars” films go, “Skywalker” is better than the forgettable prequel trilogy from the early 2000s, but lesser than the first two films of this new trilogy and all of the classic original set of films from the 70s and 80s.
Young fans to the series won’t know the difference in this tale, which provides a satisfying conclusion to a lengthy tale of good vs. evil, the Force against the Dark Side. It just won’t hold up against the upper echelon of films in the “Star Wars” canon and could be forgotten once the inevitable spinoffs hit theaters.
For the third straight episode, future Oscar nominee Adam Driver continues to be the best thing about this “Star Wars” trilogy with a layered, considered turn in a franchise that puts character development on the back burner for pomp and circumstance.
His conflicted villain, Kylo Ren, is a perfect blend of petulant and saddened and Driver takes a role ripe for caricature and breathes depth and life into a one-note emo baddie.
He’s matched well opposite Daisy Ridley’s most versatile turn in the role of Rey, the last hope of the Resistance seeking her identity while fighting for the lives of her friends. Ridley shows conflict within her own character and the inner turmoil she experiences resonates with audiences and feels as authentic as it can in a nine-film space odyssey.
Talented actors like Oscar Isaac, Keri Russell and John Boyega are given plenty of screen time, but take a relative back seat to the Rey-Kylo Ren saga and sacrifice for nostalgia’s sake.
Carrie Fisher, who passed away prior to filming, is in far more of “Skywalker” than expected as Abrams utilizes unused footage from prior films in this trilogy to shape the beginning of the film.
While admirable, it’s still evident that Fisher’s performance is CGI-ed on top of new footage and there’s a disconnect between characters in scenes opposite her Princess Leia that’s hard to overlook.
“Skywalker” stumbles most when it forces in plot elements for the sake of fan service or toy marketing.
One of the best things about Rian Johnson’s superior entry into the Star Wars canon, 2017’s “The Last Jedi,” was the director’s clear vision to make a film on his own terms regardless of fan expectations. “Last Jedi” is largely successful with its bold, audacious subversion of expectations.
Abrams blatantly walks back Johnson’s film — sidelining characters and tossing aside plot points — in an effort to counteract perceived disappointment to end the trilogy, but this actually has the opposite effect, sacrificing quality for mass appeal.
The film has some truly remarkable action sequences, though “Skywalker” is far more visually dynamic and inventive fighting on the ground than blowing things up in the air.
Abrams and cinematographer Dan Mindel put Ridley and Driver through the paces in a whirlwind of lightsaber flares and giving “Skywalker” must-see moments that will stick with audiences far longer than Rey’s ret-conned origin story.
A potential awards nominee, “Skywalker” probably isn’t on the level it needs to be to receive a Best Picture nomination. John Williams, however, is a strong contender for a Best Original Score nod.
There’s a little something for everyone in “The Rise of Skywalker” that should drive audiences to theaters in droves and though it’s worth the experience on a big screen, something feels incomplete that keeps Abrams’ film from matching the dazzling heights a “Star Wars” movie is capable of.