By Paige Colley
BU News Service
At its core, Star Wars has always been about choice.
Anakin rejected the Jedi prophecy, choosing love over the Jedi code. Luke rejected the pull of his blood, choosing to save his father who in turn chose to end the empire. And in “The Rise of Skywalker,” the new characters are forced to make their own choices which will impact the fate of the galaxy.
“The Rise of Skywalker” is the final film in both the new trilogy and the entire Skywalker Saga. Directed by J.J. Abrams, the movie stars Daisy Ridley as Rey, John Boyega as Finn and Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron, who all play next generation of protagonists. Together they attempt to bring an end to both the First Order, led by Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and a returning villain intent on reviving the previously destroyed Empire.
In addition to the new players, old ones revive their roles as well, including Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian and Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker. In addition, unused footage from the previous film was used to finish Princess Leia Organa’s story arc after the death of Carrie Fisher in 2016.
Out of all the new films, “The Rise of Skywalker” feels the most like a Star Wars movie. It has its traditional Star Wars tropes: chase scenes on speeders, a man in a mask saving the protagonists, infiltration of the villain’s ship, grandiose space battles and a scene where everyone stands around a hologram projection of some kind of schematic while they discuss their final plan.
But where Abrams stumbled in directing “The Force Awakens,” this time he succeeds in branching out past the usual Star Wars tropes. Instead of rehashing similar plot lines as in “The Force Awakens,” or taking it into entirely new territory as Rian Johnson did in “The Last Jedi,” Abrams manages to find a balance between the old and the new.
The echoes of the past this time are simply that: echoes. The glimpses at what has come before are less heavy-handed than those seen in “The Force Awakens” and feel like a natural creation of the universe, rather than a nostalgia trip. The plot of “The Force Awakens” closely paralleled that of “A New Hope,” making the various references, such as the visit to Maz’s cantina and the final run to destroy Starkiller base, feel more like knock-offs than clever easter eggs.
“The Rise of Skywalker” instead develops a more original plot, leaving us immersed in the story, rather than reminding us that this is a Star Wars film. The nods to the past drive the plot in a unique way rather than rehashing what has happened before. As a result, it becomes a natural conclusion to a story that began 40 years ago.
Perhaps even more appealing are the brief moments where John Williams masterfully incorporates musical elements from across all the films, invoking nostalgia at the right moments while reminding us that we should still be rooting for the new characters.
Admittedly, there is a lot going on in this movie; I had trouble finding an opportune moment to run to the bathroom (at two hours and 22 minutes, it’s at the longer end of the Star Wars runtime spectrum.) There is very little time wasted, as every scene leads us to further development for each of the characters. Luckily for us, this gives each character the chance to bring their own individual arcs to satisfying conclusions.
With the satisfaction of finally seeing a true Star Wars movie, there also comes some disappointment. With this film, we were given a peek at what J.J. Abrams had planted from the very beginning. What would the new trilogy have looked like if Abrams had been willing to direct the whole thing? There is no way of knowing for sure, but if this movie was any indication I’m sure it would have left fans far more pleased than they were with “The Last Jedi.”
The film gives the impression that Abrams was doing his best to ignore “The Last Jedi” as much as possible. Despite the major events of the movie that impacted the trajectory of the final movie, mostly the deaths of both Snoke and Luke, “The Rise of Skywalker” may make sense without having rewatched its predecessor.
Taking it further, Abrams cheekily overwrote some of the development laid down in it, as Rey’s parents being nobodies could not be the *entire* truth. This is Star Wars, after all; everyone has to be related to someone. And, because it is Star Wars, hope was much more present in “The Rise of Skywalker” than in its bleak predecessor, as this time the Resistance manages to find a few more allies.
Abrams’ handling of “The Last Jedi” is to some degree problematic. Despite having worked with Rian Johnson on elements in the script while filming “The Force Awakens” Abrams even admitted that there were things he would have done differently if he had directed the second film.
However, Johnson’s choices in “The Last Jedi” left any director in a tricky position on how to proceed; With one main villain killed, the Resistance decimated and without allies and the implication that anyone could be a Jedi, not just the main heroes, the film felt more like a conclusion than the middle portion of a trilogy.
The decision to overwrite some of the choices felt more like a necessity to advance the vision that Abrams had laid out in “The Force Awakens.” This leaves the final trilogy in a strange position, with a two-part story created by Abrams and the stand-alone film by Johnson.
The tension between the two films, however, does not detract from the overall sense of enjoyment that “The Rise of Skywalker” brings to the table. Just as the characters are pulled between the dark side and the light, so too does the new trilogy examine what it really means to be a Star Wars film.
“The Rise of Skywalker” is worth seeing, not just today, but every time one feels compelled to embark on the Skywalker saga.