Movie of the Week: Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of the Skywalker (2019)

J.J. Abrams directs Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Issacs in the final chapter of the space battle saga where Rey learns her true origins while the Rebellion makes their last stand in the face of overwhelming odds.

This doesn’t feel like the end. The new trilogy characters threads are tied up but you feel there’s more potential in them. John Boyega’s Finn never really found his stride despite a fascinating starting point and a few unresolved hints. Rey is now on an uncertain path… where next for her? What will her galaxy look like in 5 years or 15 years time when we revisit her “A long time ago” again?

Very beautiful, is the answer. The one aspect of The Last Jedi that Abrams has truly embraced is the artful, huge canvas fantasy imagery that Rian Johnson ran wild with. The gothic horror of Exegol (a sublime mixture of Hellraiser and Prometheus). The desert party planet of Pasaana, where a showdown occurs where both Sergio Leone and David Lean are brilliantly ripped-off. The pastoral wreckage of Kef Bir… black tidal waves buttressing a fallen Death Star. This is cinematic painting, true art out of childish dreams. So the action that happens in these landscapes is good rather than outstanding. Solid thrills. This entry isn’t too reliant on its set-pieces. The kinetics nip along, not particularly memorable, but keep you focussed in the moment.

Interestingly, this is the first of the new films that feels fuelled by character arcs rather than fan service. There’s plenty of cheery callbacks and legacy reinforcement but not at the expense of giving the new kids their curtain call. Everyone significant has already been introduced. Their stories need closure. So we follow them growing. Rey decides what side of the balance of the force she is going fall to. Kylo Ren learns what life is like alone. Finn works through his past as an orphaned child soldier turned runaway. Poe Dameron considers a life after the rebellion. The whole thing is sewn together with an artefact scavenger hunt plot that feels like The Goonies goes Intergalactic (they spend a lot of time in tunnels, rainy cliff edges and in wrecks looking at clues). Abrams’ neat approach works crisply and unchallengingly, you follow the sweep, rarely bored or feeling superfluous to the plot.

Episode 9 settles together into a strong entertainment – eye candy, nostalgia and bit of well invested melodrama. Jedi fights now can take place over two locuses creating some elegant shifts of backdrop. C-3PO makes a heroic sacrifice. An old foe returns to fantastic results… hell, everyone returns. EVERYONE! Chewie gets his just desserts. We even finally see the Knights of Ren in action. A spy is revealed… a good hoodwink. More consistent than Solo, broader than The Last Jedi.

Rise of the Skywalker all feels, gloriously, like kids in the playground. “You’re the bad guy.” “Now I’m a good guy.” “Ah, you got me.” “You’re dead.” “I’m back from the dead.” “NO! I’M BACK FROM THE DEAD!”

It might look ridiculous to outsiders and casuals but this is always what Star Wars was for my generation. A leaping off point for play. We grew up on the toys and stickers. Afternoons in the park or garden were filled with who got to be Han Solo. Death means nothing in play. Ends mean nothing in imagination. Star Wars is no longer my favourite franchise but I doubt anything could ever replace it in my fondest movie memories. Christmas, seeing the Lucasfilm logo, then that pale blue thin font, the fanfare, the big yellow recap flying up the screen… IT BEGINS! Toxic fans or dodgy entries or playing things safe cannot kill what that means to someone like me.

Rise of the Skywalker fulfils the promise of that indoctrinated iconography and I can gloss over any flaws and fudges as I was thoroughly taken back to childhood by it. Happiness in one more adventure, the victory of a whole saga.

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