Entertainment·FILM REVIEW

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker - The force (of fandom) is strong with this one

Pull on your Star Wars PJs, dust off your action figures and buckle up for one last grand adventure in J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

Rey, Finn and Poe battle to give a fitting finale for the franchise

Rey (Daisy Ridley), left, Poe (Oscar Isaac), centre, and Finn (John Boyega) star in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Have you felt a disturbance in the Force recently?

In the run-up to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the final film in the new trilogy, a number of cast members proceeded in interviews to throw Rian Johnson, director of The Last Jedi, into the proverbial trash compactor

John Boyega who plays Finn, described Johnson's film as "iffy" and questioned some of his choices, while no less than Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill complained about the film forgetting the past. 

In the universe of Star Wars, the Force is strong, but nothing it seems is stronger than fandom, powered by nostalgia. 

For the Star Wars generation, we're always chasing that first high, when the screen was covered by a starship the size of a city. For me, a child of the '70, the original trilogy was some of the first films I remember. 

I didn't watch them critically. They were epic space fairy tales filled with noble knights and fearsome villains.

I whooped and hollered as the Millennium Falcon dodged space debris, and when Luke lost his arm during The Empire Strikes Back, I had nightmares for months. This elemental battle of good vs. evil that George Lucas created was perfect for kids. It opens our eyes to a world of wonder on the big screen. Now here we are as adults, chasing those same feelings we had over 40 years ago.  

The Rise of Skywalker director J.J. Abrams, left, and Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm Ltd., pictured at a panel on Day 1 of the Star Wars Celebration in Chicago on April 12. (Rob Grabowski/Invision via AP)

With his first Star Wars film, director J.J. Abrams gave us a new cast of characters in a series of familiar predicaments —  a desert planet, an orphan on a quest and another planet-smashing weapon. Then Abrams passed the lightsaber to Johnson for The Last Jedi. That film turned Luke Skywalker into a space ghost, ended the speculation about Rey's origin and injected the Star Wars universe with vital and visceral new moments. 

Finn and Poe in a scene from The Rise of Skywalker. (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

But fandom roared back. Fruitless petitions were signed and now here we are — Abrams returning to pilot the final instalment. 

The Rise of Skywalker begins on familiar footing, with the Resistance gathering numbers and intelligence, preparing to fight back against the First Order. But Rey is distracted. As a Jedi, she's at the height of her powers, but her connection to Kylo Ren is also stronger, as he tries to lure her to the dark side. 

Adam Driver is Kylo Ren and Daisy Ridley is Rey in The Rise of Skywalker. (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

If that wasn't enough, there's another even more powerful presence at play. If you've watched the trailer, you know the source of that frightful cackle. Emperor Palpatine returns in all his haggard glory. 

Soon Poe hits the hyperdrive, and we're skipping along at light speed, toggling back and forth between Kylo Ren confronting the Dark Lord, Rey chasing her origin and the Resistance preparing for a last stand — again. 

A few new faces make brief impressions. Keri Russell, hiding behind a sleek golden helmet appears as Zorii Bliss, a shadowy figure from Poe's past. Alongside her, we meet D-O, a droid that looks like a wheel with a megaphone for a head (voiced by Abrams). From The Last Jedi, Rose Tico and Maz Kanata make short and almost perfunctory appearances. On the dark side, there's Richard E. Grant giving Domhnall Gleeson lessons in how to sneer like a true commander.

For the most part, the last instalment reframes the focuses on the trio of Finn, Rey and Poe — the rebel, the warrior and the rogue.   

In terms of action, Abrams is no slouch and makes full use of the elements. Tidal waves wash up against relics of old wars as the forces of light and dark battle on top. From the Resistance's forest base to a desert speeder chase, Rise of Skywalker is packed with stunning vistas and set pieces. 

And yet some of the most powerful moments are the quietest: marvelling at the smug charisma of Oscar Isaac, the only pilot who can flirt through a helmet visor; the single-minded fury and focus of Daisy Ridley as Rey, the perfect continuation of Luke Skywalker; and not to mention another moment, which I don't dare spoil, that could even melt a wampa's heart. 

As they say in Star Wars, it's never too late, and clearly no one is ever really gone. 

Gen. Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), right, and Rey in a scene from The Rise of Skywalker. (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

With such a dizzying pace, midway through I thought, maybe Abrams had done it — finally escaped the tractor beam of the originals.

Then the final showdown began, the air choked with déjà vu, a Jedi tempted as destruction looms overhead.  

With The Last Jedi, Johnson shocked us, with bold new visions and interpretations. As he explained in an interview with the Swings & Mrs. podcast, he was trying to do for fans what The Empire Strikes Back did for him. 

"I want to be shocked. I want to be surprised. I want to be thrown off-guard. I want to have things recontextualized. I want to be challenged "

With The Rise of Skywalker, Abrams chooses the other path. Instead of shocking, he soothes. Instead of challenging, he returns old favourites for a final showdown. 

This is the result of a fan culture that puts the past on a pedestal. The best we can hope for are echoes of our original experience. 

In the end, what The Rise of Skywalker serves up is cinematic comfort food and closure.

So pull on your Star Wars PJs, dust off your action figures and buckle up for one last grand adventure.