Combustible Celluloid
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With: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams, Ian McDiarmid, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Anthony Daniels, Jimmy Vee, David Chapman, Brian Herring, Joonas Suotamo, Domhnall Gleason, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong'o, Naomi Ackie, Kelly Marie Tran, Keri Russell
Written by: Chris Terrio & J.J. Abrams, based on a story by Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow, Chris Terrio & J.J. Abrams
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action
Running Time: 141
Date: 12/20/2019

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Rey of Hope

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

"The dead talk!" begins the opening crawl of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the ninth and — apparently — final entry in the original "Skywalker Saga." It opens everywhere December 20.

The talking dead refers to the evil emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who seemingly died at the end of Return of the Jedi, but has been hiding all this time in a secret Sith lair, orchestrating everything.

This effectively explains why the events and images of 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens so closely mirrored those of the original 1977 Star Wars. They were all designed by the same architect.

Wrapping up a forty-two year-old series as popular and beloved as this one is no cakewalk, and, for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, director and co-writer J.J. Abrams opts for a sense of completeness rather than a sense of pacing.

To put a point to it, the movie is a bit busy, a bit flabby around the bottom, and its momentum tends to flag at certain points.

In essence, and without divulging any spoilers, the story revolves around Palpatine. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) has gone on a mission to find Palpatine and kill him, thereby avoiding any threat to his own rising imperial powers.

Getting to Palpatine's hiding place requires obtaining one of two pyramid-shaped gizmos. Kylo finds the first, and a great deal of time and effort is spent finding the second.

Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) continues her Jedi training with General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher, appearing courtesy of outtakes from The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi).

And heroes Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) are off getting intelligence from a spy that has infiltrated the evil First Order. The news isn't good: Palpatine plans to start destroying planets in less than a day's time, thereby establishing the sinister-sounding "Final Order."

Stopping him requires a great amount of jumping through many hoops as well as enriching each new character's own history, and making callbacks to just about every other character that has ever appeared in a Star Wars film.

Happily, one of them is Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), just as smooth and cool as ever. It's his first time in the role in 36 years, since 1983's Return of the Jedi, perhaps some kind of record.

Abrams, working with co-writer Chris Terrio (Argo) comes up with some spectacular scenes — including a planet containing a massive fragment of fallen Death Star surrounded by harrowing, hundred-foot waves — and some fun new characters, including a masked warrior played by Keri Russell, and a cute new droid.

Much of the running time is spent traveling, however, and there are perhaps one too many lightsaber battles, resulting in some fidgeting or a checking of the watch after about 90 minutes.

Indeed, The Rise of Skywalker is eleven minutes shorter than Rian Johnson's 2017 Star Wars: The Last Jedi, — perhaps the best of this final trilogy, thanks to its pacing, its wit, and its smarts — but feels much longer.

That film was infamously attacked by certain fans, presumably for adding some gray area into the concept of The Force, adding some diverse female characters, adding the cute Porg, or some combination of all three.

Abrams sidelines or smooths over those ideas in The Rise of Skywalker, yet the new movie still leaves off most satisfyingly, with a mix of joy and sadness.

Star Wars creator George Lucas was initially inspired by old serials and movies about soldiers and cowboys, stories of scrappy underdogs charging into the fray, with plenty of cliffhangers to provide suspense. (Perhaps this is why the stories are set "a long time ago...")

Like any great, long-running series, the identifiable, lovable characters in this series — who in the audience doesn't feel a misfit sometimes? — are its key. And even if Abrams takes the long way around to eventually say goodbye to them, the goodbye itself is everything anyone could have asked for.

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