The Rise of Skywalker – movie review

Star Wars episode 9, the Rise of Skywalker, brings the series to a brilliant conclusion that feels right in several ways. It realised the promise of the very first Star Wars film back in 1977, by bringing hope in place of despair and darkness. Star Wars is a trilogy of trilogies. This final one starting with the Force awakens and the last Jedi, follows on directly from the triumph of the Resistance and the band of brothers including Han Solo and Chewbacca in the Return of the Jedi – part 3 of the original trilogy. The Death Star is destroyed (again) and Darth Vader comes good and kills the emperor. All seemed well with the galaxy far away.

And yet as we rejoined the tale in the Force Awakens, so little remained of that triumph – if anything at all. The empire was back in business, only changed in name and faces, or masks. In place of the emperor there was the hideous Snoke, and in place of Anakin Skywalker turned Darth Vader, there was Ben Solo turned Kylo Ren. The Resistance has all but crumbled in the wake of the catastrophic end of a new Jedi academy with Ben’s turn to the dark side and its murderous aftermath mirroring exactly the slaughter of the Jedi younglings by Anakin in the Revenge of the Sith. Luke has gone AWOL and Leia and Han Solo have parted.

How could anything be saved from this – and why would not dark-side “normality” be immediately restored soon after anyway? What was left to care about in the Star Wars where the good side always snatched defeat from the jaws of victory? Finally now in episode 9 we learn the reason for the darkness of episodes 7 and 8: the old Emperor Palpatine, like Voldemort in the Harry Potter films – was back! His dark presence had been behind the evil pervading the latest trilogy.

Now the final confrontation and resolution were in clear view. The Rise of Skywalker stayed within the Star Wars landscape but brought in surprising new elements, such as the revelation of Rey’s ancestry and a new force phenomenon of healing and exchange of life. The way that the earlier finale of the Return of the Jedi was recapitulated may be regarded by some as unoriginal but could also be seen as masterful. Once again rebel spacecraft battled impossible odds while the Jedi heroes faced an apparently invincibly powerful reconstituted emperor.

Technically the film was astounding especially the recreation of Leia and her role, by some astonishing graphic innovation. One couldn’t fail to be moved by the sweet memory of Carrie Fisher as her face and voice delivered a major role, posthumously, by an extraordinary feat of image technology, fuelled by love.

The final episode brought back many other well-loved characters such as Lando Calrissian and even (briefly) the Ewoks, on the planet with the blasted husk of an earlier Death Star forming an impressive backdrop across a stormy ocean. The light sabre battle between Rey and Kylo Ren among towering and crashing waves was an epic cinematic moment to rival – and exceed – any in the series hitherto. A haunting return of Han Solo was moving as well as pivotal – again an old script was revisited with a wholly new outcome.

The finale of the final episode was both inevitable and original. There was the feeling of the lifting of a massive evil weight, this time with finality. If you are a true Star Wars fan then you will wait a long time before you see a film with as profoundly rewarding a pay-off as this one delivers. There are loose ends that are not tied off, which is good film making of the Roman Polanski model: for instance Finn ends his arc in something of a love triangle and we don’t see how that ends. We are left to guess if and how the empire will finally collapse, although the scale of the galaxy-wide response to the Resistance’s call to arms at the very end, leaves strong cause for hope for a good outcome, at last. All the best strands of Star Wars were woven together into a deeply satisfying conclusion, with a beautiful toned down send off. One feels one can now part with Star Wars as with an old friend, at peace.

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