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The saga concludes - ‘Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker’

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This isn’t going to be my usual movie review.

As you undoubtedly know, “Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker” has landed in theaters, purporting to mark the end of the saga begun over 40 years ago. A saga that has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.

Seriously - the first movie I ever saw (or at least, the first movie of which I have any memory of seeing) is “The Empires Strikes Back.” We were at the drive-in on outer Hammond Street; I was four years old, curled up under the rear windshield, half-dozing due to the lateness of the hour, yet unwilling to allow my eyes to remain closed as this marvelous thing unfolded before my eyes.

In the decades since, I have devoted considerable energies to the consumption of “Star Wars.” I watched the films of the original trilogy countless times on VHS. I paid multiple visits to theaters when the remastered versions returned to the big screen. I saw the prequels and convinced myself they were good even when in my heart I knew. And I’ve experienced with delight the recent reintroduction of new films.

Years of my life, shared with these people and places. And I’m hardly alone – there are millions of us out there, each with our own very specific connection to the Star Wars saga. So many people, all with a deep-seated devotion to the story; our feelings might be similar, but all are unique.

The uniqueness of those individual connections are a big part of why the response to “The Rise of Skywalker” – and really, to all the post-prequel films to some extent – has been so scattered. The truth is that we all bring our own feelings to the table when it comes to “Star Wars.” There’s no way for a piece of popular art to elicit the desired response from all those who seek it – it’s simply impossible.

For what it’s worth, I quite liked “TROS” myself. It was a return visit to a universe that was still largely the same as the one with which I initially fell in love. I’ll also admit to some complicated feelings about what I saw. Can I understand the misgivings of those who take issue with it? Of course – this is far from a flawless movie, with plenty of questionable choices made along the way.

And that’s the problem, isn’t it? There was simply no way for this film to be all things to all people; the fan base is simply too divided, too granular. What I want is different from what you want which is different from what someone else wants, and with just 140 minutes or so to wrap up a generational cinematic story, well … some things are going to fall by the wayside.

In some ways, this film serves almost as a response to “The Last Jedi.” There are quite a few instances where “TROS” appears to be in direct conversation with that film, for good or ill. That reactionary vibe probably hurts the film more than helps it; there’s an odd energy to the various retcons.

I’m feeling particularly strongly about spoilers for this one, so we’ll keep the synopsis brief.

The opening crawl reveals that the Emperor Palpatine – long presumed dead – has reentered the picture. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, “Marriage Story”) has been called to Palpatine’s side and offered a gift – a massive fleet of Star Destroyers – if he will find and kill Rey (Daisy Ridley, “Ophelia”).

Meanwhile, Rey is training with her new master Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher) and working with the Resistance; Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, “Triple Frontier”) and Finn (John Boyega, “Pacific Rim: Uprising”) are continuing the fight against the First Order, with help from Chewbacca, R2-D2, BB-8 and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels, “Solo: A Star Wars Story”).

From there, a collision course is set. Kylo Ren is in pursuit of Rey, while Rey and her cohort seek to find a way to locate and ultimately destroy Palpatine.

And that’s … all I’m going to say about the story. Please take note, however, that the brevity of my synopsis is by no means an indication of inaction. If anything, “TROS” is TOO plotted, zooming from point to point with relatively little time to breathe in between. It’s clear that director J.J. Abrams had a lot of ideas to convey, stories to advance and loose threads to tie up – it doesn’t leave a lot of room to stop and smell the roses. That frenetic pacing is a bit much in places, though my personal feeling is that I want as much story about these people as you’re willing to give me; if that means go fast, then by all means go fast.

The dynamic between Rey and Kylo Ren remains the most impactful aspect of the new trilogy, thanks to the exceptional work being done by both actors. Ridley and Driver have great chemistry, which allows some choices that might otherwise have felt far too forced to work fairly well. Their connection is the beating heart of these later films; in truth, “TROS” probably could have used a little more of it.

That isn’t to say that the supporting players deserve less time. Isaac and Boyega have built an exceptional bromance, a solid pair of buddies; such pairings have thrived in “Star Wars” movies past and these guys do much the same. It’s tough to watch the Carrie Fisher stuff; they did quite well with what they had, but one can only imagine how she would have been involved had she still been with us. Some Force ghosts show up – I won’t tell you who, but you can probably guess. Oh, and Lando’s back – Billy Dee Williams is in the building!

The general air around “Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker” seems to be one of disappointment. That should come as no surprise to anyone. To try and conceive of an ending that could possibly satisfy millions of people, each of whom possessed of their own particular notions of how that ending should go, would seem to be the undertaking of a madman or a fool. Abrams and company were always going to be on the losing end of this proposition, but they made the movie anyway … and I thank them for it.

Not because it was the best ending or the perfect ending, but because it was an ending. Even with its flaws, “The Rise of Skywalker” gave me a precious gift – the chance to say goodbye.

Now, I’m no fool – there’s far too much money to be made here for “Star Wars” to truly go away. The Disney monolith churns on, after all. But for now, this story – the story that has entertained and enchanted me for my entire life – is over.

May the Force be with you. Always.

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 23 December 2019 17:33

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