"Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker" Review

Title: Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker
Director: J.J. Abrams
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Genre(s): Science Fiction
Rated: PG-13 (For sci-fi violence and action)

J.J. Abrams "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" is one of the most emotionally conflicting films I've seen in a long time.  To the point where I'm not 100% sure where I stand on it, and only by writing this review will I be able to face down my confusion and bring balance to the force.  I am sure you have heard the stories of the troubled history of the making of the film.  I've heard them too.  I have no idea what is true and what isn't.  For all I know, none of it is true, and fans are just making up stories about the production because they had nothing better to watch while they waited for this to come out (or, at least, they didn't until "The Mandalorian" dropped).  What is clear to me is that "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" is a film of two minds; one that knows it should continue the bold direction of 'The Last Jedi' and one that has legions of fans (and stockholders) who want comfort ford and a cookie to wrap things up.

That may be why the film decides to revolve the climatic installment of this three act trilogy around a potentially revived Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who may have survived his electric fall in 'Return of the Jedi' and may have quietly been pulling the strings behind closed doors this whole time.  It amazed me how something could manage to be a total surprise in story progression while simultaneously feeling like the most predictable fan fiction twist at the same time.  Sure, fans will argue that 'The Last Jedi' took unexpected turns when it was released, but that film decided that it was time for the series to grow, expand, and (maybe) attempt to reach for the stars in a way that hadn't been attempted in this franchise since the first trilogy.  Returning to the original baddie of the saga after fans were vocally upset at the changes  in the last film seems not so much like good story telling, but like a baby who doesn't want to leave his security blanket behind.

What I should now mention is that these are some thoughts I had about the film long after it had finished.  While watching the movie itself there were few of these thoughts, as Abrams had delivered a film that was fun, exciting, and quiescently 'Star Wars.'  If I were describing this film in a conventional Hollywood way, I might use a modified classic line and say "this movie is a total cop out...but it's a very good total cop out."  Yes, as someone who was starry eyed about the previous film and all the possibilities the future of the franchise held, I can admit to being disappointed in the direction 'The Ride of Skywalker' took while simultaneously having a good time.  I've seen enough movies where good battles evil, and the only hope everyone has is to destroy this one piece of equipment that controls the entire army fleet (amazing how no one in this series [but the droids] seems to be aware of backup data and how useful it can be).

Yet this type of formula persists throughout the decades because it's simply a lot of fun.  It speaks to kids and the kid in adults, and we watch with hope and excitement because the idea of the good guys taking down the bad guys is almost never boring.  Had this been its own thing, it might have scored a little higher on the star grade.  The problem is, it IS the final act of a trilogy!  It is not as much fun as 'The Force Awakens' was, and on an intellectual level it feels like it was written by underpaid chimps in comparison to the nuanced brilliance of 'The Last Jedi.'  It is fun though.  It has dramatic moments.  A lightsaber battle between Rey and Kylo Ren on top of a near sunken Death Star has no deep meaning behind it, but it is pure eye candy and a thrill to watch.  For that matter, most of the characters are fairly pedestrian and have just enough character development to keep things moving.

It seems like a cruel twist to have Rey (Daisy Ridley) go from being someone who is able to have a natural gift in the force to having inherited amazing abilities, but at least the fanboys will be happy to have an explanation for why she is so powerful now...for whatever that's worth.  The one character I can give a lot of props to though is the villainous Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who actually finishes the film as the most morally conflicted character of the trilogy.  A man who may finally be coming to terms that he is not the evil person he desires to be (and the conflict of what that may mean is portrayed rather beautifully).  Moments like these show that there may have been a bigger plan for all of this in the long run, but that maybe second guessing how the Twitter mob would respond torpedoed any chances of finishing on a high note.

When the dust settles and the world is looking at these films years down the road, I suspect "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" is going to be frowned upon as the movie that brought a franchise that was on the verge of being given a new voice (and, by extension, a new life) and dragged it squarely back into the safety zone, where the status quo is embraced and unchallenged.  It seems like such a tragic turn of events after "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" showed that this franchise still had bold, new things to say about human nature (all while delivering one of the best action climax's of the decade).  Is 'The Rise of Skywalker' boring though?  Is there no fun to be had?  No, of course not.  It's a very entertaining film at times.  Poor writing aside, it's something I can easily see being watched just because it's an enjoyable romp.  That gives it just enough of an edge that I can confidently recommend you watch it (I just can't confidently say your life will be any better if you do).

Parents, there is the usual amount of violence you would find in a 'Star Wars' film. There is some mild language added for strong effect, but no sexual content.  Recommended for ages 11 and up.