Review: 'The Rise of Skywalker'

At least the latest installment in the Star Wars franchise is the last
FORCE FIELD: A strong cast helps, but is not enough to save the fractured 'Star Wars' conclusion.

First comes the brassy blast of John Williams' iconic theme—hurtling at you from 42 years in the past and from a galaxy far, far away. Then, the first words in the title crawl of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. "The dead speak!"

And that's your problem right there.

An enervating part of the Star Wars religion is the way the dearly departed keep coming back as blue-tinted ghosts—as in Return of the Jedi, when old Obi Wan joined the teddy bear picnic of Ewoks from the next world. The grave never seems to be able to hold either the characters or the actors who play them, such as Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher. When the filmmakers mean us to feel sorry about an already demised actor dying on screen, it's like that glitch in Facebook's algorithms that reprints a person's obituary on the anniversary of their death. It's sad, and news to some, but it lacks surprise.

Moreover, The Rise of Skywalker violates a sacred law of good filmmaking—that is waiting to show the monster until the end of the movie. From the crawl, we know that Emperor Palpatine (quavery old Ian McDiarmid) has come back to life.

He's resurrected and needs to be snuffed. Thus, we know where this movie will end. Him and the final order (a football stadium full of hooded faceless cheerers-on) hide on a grim, bad planet, punctuated by streaks of blue lightning. It's a Sith stronghold that can only be found with a triangular widget, which in turn can only be found with the help of an inscription on a blade, written in the dread tongue of Mordor (actually Sithese), which C3P0 is forbidden to utter. And we know that the last of the Jedi, the one-named Rey (Daisy Ridley—sometimes beautifully fierce, sometimes blandly intrepid) must be the spearhead.

The Rise of Skywalker has the disadvantage of following The Last Jedi, maybe the best in the series; during lag times in this J.J. Abrams vehicle, one recalls the energy Rian Johnson brought to the lightsaber fight in Snoke's crimson throne room, and the groans of the grizzled Chewbacca, and the closeups of Adam Driver's vaguely teenage face swollen with emotion.

Kylo Ren helps this film. One enjoys the mournfulness of this would-be villain, and how this grandfather-worshipping warrior is like Napoleon III, floundering violently in the shade of his famous uncle, the real Napoleon.

Kylo is now delicately scarfaced, and his shattered helmet has been repaired, kintsugi style, with some veins of crimson metal. The Rise of Skywalker's most compelling motif is the relationship between him and Rey, the woman he loves and hates and can't stop pulling a lightsaber on. The two are so bonded that they're in each other's heads. They share separate spaces at the same time; in one fight, she's on a spaceship and he's in a marketplace; he swings his saber and bursts open a bag of beans, and the beans roll at her feet, many miles away.

Their more or less climactic duel takes place atop the rusting ruins of the Death Star, surrounded by a turbulent sea. But there's plenty of rudderless action as the rest of the characters make a crowded, yet uneventful, chase from one planet to another. The Rise of Skywalker seems to lose track of everyone, particularly the becalmed rebels where a digitally reconstructed Leia (Fisher) waits for news. Kelly Marie Tran's Rose—who refreshed The Last Jedi—is put in the corner. C3P0 risks lobotomy in a scene with no payoff; Chewbacca becomes a hostage for a while, and then he isn't. Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaacs) are given underling dialogue as well as the company of a pair of women warriors (Kerry Russell and Naomi Ackie) with whom they don't spend enough time.

There's constant eye candy: a Kumba Mehla-style celebration in the desert called "The Festival of the Ancestors" (which the movie certainly is), a six-eyed sandworm attack and various growling muppets. Yet nothing much connects: the threats during a final duel, blasted with CGI lightning, sound like the taunts of children on a playground trying to top each other. This was once a series that did things that no other movie franchise could; the best thing you can say about it now is that it's finally wrapped up.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
PG-13; 142 Mins.

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