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Film Review: The Rise of Skywalker was great, actually

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS

As the internet battles over whether The Last Jedi was the best way for the series to go (nearly 2 years later), The Rise of Skywalker has finally hit theaters and ended the 9 movie Star Wars series. There were ups and there were downs, but the battle between Jedi and Sith has come to a close.

J.J. Abrams brought a thoughtful conclusion to the series that wrapped up most loose-ends and provided closure on a number of pressing questions, while still leaving some storylines wide-open for any future adaptations or side stories. The ride to the end was an emotional one that Rey (Daisy Ridley) played well. I felt the emotions take over me numerous times as she struggled with her final mission.

The original Star Wars trilogy was a story of family and friendship. The bond between Luke, Leia, and Han Solo is found in the new cast and despite being sent on different paths in The Last Jedi, its comforting to see the gang join back up for the last battle against the dark side.

The Last Jedi actually did a good job of helping Finn and Rey grow into their new personas and J.J. Abrams did a great job of working in what happened in TLJ into The Rise of Skywalker instead of completely undoing what happened in the last installment, like Rian Johnson did to The Force Awakens. The continuity issues created in the last movie create a time crunch that does make the movie a non-stop action and emotion journey, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

Critics pan this as a move to undo what Johnson did in the prior installment, which they found to be a breath of fresh air from light saber battles and space battles, but that’s what Star Wars is. People complaining about Jedis and light sabers should probably find another movie to watch in their free time like Knives Out.

Star Wars has a loyal fan base that Lucasfilm massively upset in the prior installment that set Jedi trees on fire and brought Yoda in to tell fans to shut up and let their childhoods go. Disney decided to reverse course after Solo bombed at the box office and go back to the fans and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Star Wars is a Skywalker family story. From Anakin Skywalker to Ben Solo, they are the fabric and lore that make Star Wars core. The Rise of Skywalker rightfully celebrates that with an all-star ensemble from the past and further pushes the new cast into their future.

There are parallels to the past, but also notable changes that show growth and change in the force. I was most impressed again with Kylo Ren or Ben Solo. He went from a spoiled brat in the first movie to someone I could finally empathize with. His tragic circumstances and lonely life are far from the direct family he comes from, but well-connected to his grandfather Anakin Skywalker who shamefully destroyed all the love and family he had in his life trying to save his love. Ben makes a different choice and the galaxy is better for it.

Throughout all of The Rise of Skywalker, life and death are constantly in the balance. The Star Destroyer kill machines destroy entire planets, while the cast all fight for their own survival in one way or another. Not everyone is victorious, but despite all the challenges, what the audience gets is a true story that has a beginning, middle, and end. That was no easy task for someone handed a story where everything means nothing and all the meaning from the first part of the trilogy was erased, but J.J. Abrams successfully delivered that.

In a way the movie does feel like all the fan predictions come to life in one way or another (minus the Jar Jar Binks is Snoke theory), but all the processes that lead there make sense from a story telling point of view and are explained in ways that are both reasonable and rational.

In contrast, the prior installment was often irrational and threw complete chaos into the trilogy. Some people may view that as art, but it is actually just bad storytelling. The blame for this mostly rests on Lucasfilm who did not creatively control the projects and allowed them to spin out of control. That’s the only local explanation for having Snoke introduced a villain and somehow ending with Palpatine as the big bad guy (non-fans probably don’t even know who he is).

The explanation of Palpatine as the bad force that existed all along makes sense to anyone who has ever finished a long series in an anime, where the big bad is actually just reincarnations of prior villains – the dark energy is just moving between bodies and constantly coming to kill off the heroes until it is finally vanquished. Palpatine is both creepy and convincing as an all powerful bad guy. When he first appeared I was shook.

It would have been easy to just turn Kylo Ren into a loyal and submissive Vader clone, but his constant resistance against any form of control is refreshing. Kylo Ren is complex, but Ben Solo’s love for his mother is something that anyone can relate it. One of the moments in the Last Jedi that most struck me was the hesitation Kylo showed before his mother’s ship was destroyed. It was very human, no matter how strained we always feel a bond to the woman who gave birth to us. Kylo always felt beyond redemption or saving, but it was his mothers love that eventually led him to the light within in the Rise of Skywalker. Its in the nature of mothers to love their sons no matter what, and Leia spent her whole life believing in her son. That was very real.

Rey on the other hand is reminiscent of Luke Skywalker and is quite naive, but her friends and experiences help to strengthen her and make her a much more cunning person. She is the ultimate hero, willing to sacrifice anything to save her friends, but also wanting love, a family, and home.

Luke and Leia both take Rey under their wing throughout this trilogy and the ending of this movie so perfectly shows that family is the people that love you, not necessarily your blood. Rey’s loneliness in The Force Awakens and her timeless friendships and love at the end of The Rise of Skywalker show strong character development, growth, and a story well told. She has changed completely by the end and anyone who watched all three will feel that journey.

The Rise of Skywalker is also filled with plenty of laughs thanks to C-3PO, Poe Dameron, R2-D2, Chewbacca, and others in the cast. Although the storyline is very serious, it never becomes too serious to handle and the constant action helps to keep the movie from becoming too dramatic as well.

Although the movie is 142 minutes, they mostly breeze by and that is hard to say about many movies nowadays that waste time with pointless scenes and backstories that nobody wants to watch. The Rise of Skywalker is well-edited and seamlessly moves from one scene to the next. The Last Jedi noticeably wasted time with a ridiculous and laughably bad no fuel space chase as well as missions gone wrong with Poe, Rose, and Finn.

I personally would have loved some more scenes between Rey and Finn, its understandable that their paths are fundamentally different though. The Rise of Skywalker never fails to remind us that Rey is very important to Finn though and so is the force and resistance. This movie is about a war that has wrecked the lives of many including the main cast and the battle comes first.

Personally, I’ll go back to watch The Rise of Skywalker again and again. It’s a fitting ending for the series. Fans and critics can battle online, but there’s no denying that the laughably badly acted prequels have nothing on this trilogy that found its footing in the end.

Rating: 9 out of 10

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