J.J. Abrams was given the decidedly Herculean task of wrapping up 40 years of cinema continuity and addressing a fever-pitched fandom. I will say that he did this well. The Rise of Skywalker isn’t perfect, but it brings together decades of Star Wars threads and provides a balance of story and action that brings honor the the Skywalker mythos.
After the unsettling cinematic presentation of Episode VIII, the ninth installment in this film epoch had much to accomplish in its 2 hr 21 minute run time. The pacing was tight, and there was only one lag in the center of the film. Other than that, the viewer could literally be seated on the edge of their chair during the vast majority of the film (as I was during most of the movie).
The film opens with our beloved anti-hero Kylo Ren on a mad dash to uncover an artifact that we initially know nothing about. The item he’s in search of turns out to be a Sith Wayfinder (a brand new concept in the films) that carries a map to what turns out to be none other than Emperor Sheev Palpatine himself, in full zombified glory. Not only that, good ol’ Sheev is on the planet Exegol (pronounced ex-ih-cul) which is A) shrouded behind a degree of obstacles that only a Force user could navigate through (or so we think..), and B) home to a fleet of 10,000+ Star Destroyers that Sheev has been stockpiling over the last 40 years, or so. The former-Chancellor calls this armada the “Final Order” and he is prepared to wrest control of the galaxy once and for all.
Of course, Supreme Leader Kylo Ren does not want to allow this to pass, as he plans to dominate the galaxy for himself. So, just as he did with Snoke, Ren poses as Palpatine’s apprentice and carries out the Emperor’s tasks while secretly preparing to destroy him at the appropriate time. The major objective assigned by Sheev turns out to be, naturally, the capture and/or destruction of the mighty Jedi-in-training, Rey.
On the Light side of the Force, the story opens up with Finn, Poe Dameron, R2-D2, and C-3PO on a mission, presumably, to wipe out some stray members of the former-First Order. They escape due to a number of tactics, including “light-speed skipping,” and they make it back to the home planet of the Rebellion. During their mission, they found out about Exegol and the catastrophic plot unfolding on the Sith planet. Leia and Rey are informed, and thus the stage is set for two sides of the Force coin to clash and see who will emerge victorious.
From here, there are a multitude of interactions and plot elements that take the viewer all through the galaxy. This film actually tops Rogue One for number of places visited. It truly delivers a sense of scale, movement, and wonder as both sides of the Force take the watcher on a journey through space. Nothing seems odd except for a First Order token that shows up during the middle of the film. The coin literally lets “any ship pass First Order checkpoints” as long as the coin is on board. Um…. what??? The crew encounters the coin while on a mission to unlock a Sith manuscript from the encrypted mind of C-3P0. The holder of the coin, a Metroid-helmet clad female with bounty hunter bravado, plans to use to use the medallion to “escape the First Order forever” à la Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises. The viewer literally has to just let this part slide. The acquistion of the token by Team Rey leads to the second major confrontation between Rey and Kylo Ren. This battle leads to the procuring of Kylo’s personal TIE Fighter by Rey and her escape to parts of the galaxy, unknown.
The climax of the film happens during her escape (I won’t give it away), and this is where the film begins its race to the conclusion. All sides converge on Exegol and we are treated to numerous battles, astounding character revelations, and multiple new powers and capabilities of the Force. The viewer is finally also provided with the answer to the question “Who is Rey?” which has been looming over the “new-quels” since Episode VII. Again, I won’t spoil it, but the ending is satisfying and delivers every element that a Star Wars movie rightfully should.
Since the prequels, action—and, more specifically, lightsaber combat—has become a staple and expected element of Star Wars films. The original films had action, and lightsaber battles, but the focus was more on the actual mythology of the universe. This film delivers on the established promise of lightsaber action, and doubles-down with plenty of starfighter combat and non-lightsaber Force powers, as well.
Action-wise, I would say this is the strongest film in the entire franchise (put your pitchforks away). Certain films had more electrifying individual moments, i.e. the Darth Vader scene in Rogue One, the famous throne room scene in Episode VIII, and, of course, Anakin vs Obi-Wan in Episode III. That being said, this film has the strongest presentation of action, the best inclusion of combat throughout the entire movie, and, easily, the best presentation of a vast array of different Force powers.
Each character feels like an individual, and each character feels strong. Rey uses the Light side of the the Force (except for one decidedly unexpected moment). She specializes in lightsaber combat, Force push, Force sense, lifting objects, speed, agility, and, as we learn, healing. Kylo Ren uses the Dark side of the Force. He also specializes in lightsaber combat, but uses overwhelming strength to his advantage. He also uses Force push, lifting/stopping objects, Force choke, and, in this film, he seems to have mastered the use of “Force-time.” This is the ability to speak directly into the mind of someone and/or appear directly in front of them from a seemingly infinite distance away. He even Force-time fights Rey in this film!! Though Rey doesn’t use Force-time (which seems to be a Dark side ability), she and Kylo both master what I call “Force-mail” in this movie. I won’t give away what that is. Finally, Sheev, himself, is also a Dark side user. Famously, he eschewed with lightsabers long ago, and uses Force push, lifting/stopping objects, and, his signature attack, Force lightning. He actually takes this skill to a completely different level in this film. Sheev also demonstrates a couple new Force abilities that dive much deeper into the Dark side. They’re pivotal to the plot, and also flat-out terrifying, so I won’t give them away here.
The non-Force users are also given plenty to do. Poe and Finn come across as capable and powerful. The movie seems to go out of its way to shortchange Poe in various instances, but he still comes away as seeming useful and adroit. Finn does his best Steve Rogers impression during multiple parts of the run time. Aside from the Force users, Finn is made out to the be the most resourceful, adept, and flat-out strongest character. The movie struck a great balance between the high-powered Force combatants and the more conventional ship/weapon-wielding characters.
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, was a joy from beginning to end. There were a few “Excuse me?” moments, but it tied together 40 years of Star Wars lore in probably the best conceivable manner. Special shout-outs also go to the acting and cinematography. Each and every performer carried their weight on screen. They were literally all good. And, of course, the visuals were absolutely stunning and breathtaking, throughout.
Episode IX is, in my opinion, the best Star Wars film. It simply had every element. I would implore any fan of Star Wars, nerd culture, or even cinema to go see this film, immediately. You won’t be disappointed. And, of course, you want to know who Rey is, right??
And, one more note:
BABU FRIK (pronounced ‘free).
You’ll understand it when you see it.
—The Cavalier Nerd