Some context.....STAR WARS has been the world of my imagination since before I can remember. I spent my childhood playing in the original trilogy and my university years lamenting the CGI-soullessness of the prequels. (See my essay on why they sucked here.) To add insult to injury it was the very creator who was destroying his legacy, and in doing so, shitting on the amazing contributions of the skilled creators who made the original effects. Selah! It was his right. And then came the joyous news of the final trilogy and the initial joy at the THE FORCE AWAKENS, reviewed here. Yes it was fanservicey, but it was also absolutely STAR WARS, and after those awful prequels they had to earn our trust back. And so we voyaged hopefully into the gigantic fuck you that was THE LAST JEDI (review here). I don't want to relitigate that film, suffice to say it was a relief that JJ Abrams was back for the finale. I was nervous though - was he really going to be able to write the narrative and character-development wrongs of TLJ *AND* provide fans with a satisfying conclusion all in under three hours. Was he gonna tack back to fan service for safety? And all of this was even more frustrating because with THE MANDALORIAN we now know for sure that Disney *CAN* create material that both feels like STAR WARS but does something new.
What's the verdict? THE RISE OF SKYWALKER starts off slow, with another pointless McGuffin-led chase around a metaphorical Canto Bight. The widget Rey and her merry band of rebels have to find is a galactic satnav that will lead them to the Emperor and his new fleet of starkiller star destroyers. Yes, that's right, the Emperor is back - in an audacious retcon that clearly spoiled the answer to the mystery of Rey's lineage in the film's trailer. This sets us up nicely for the final half of the film - which sits in parallel to RETURN OF THE JEDI. In that film Luke redeemed his father. In this film, with an act of mercy (hey LORD OF THE RINGS!), Rey (with a side-order of Leia's martyrdom and a fan-service memory of Han) redeems Ben Solo. They unite to finally off the Emperor for realz this time, trust me. And then Rey adopts the name of Skywalker because why not.
Along the way there's a lot of implied apology from JJ on behalf of himself and Rian Johnson. Chewie gets a proper scene of mourning when he finds out Leia is dead. Ghost Luke tells Rey that a lightsaber deserves to be treated with respect. And yes, there's a lot of fan service. The entire existence of Lando in this film is fun but unnecessary as is the return to both Endor and Tatooine, complete with twin suns. We even see Wedge Antilles return! I mean, don't get me wrong. I am a fan! I was served! There's even fan service of Chris Nolan's DUNKIRK in how the final flotilla of small boats conquers the baddies!
But not everything's rehashed - some stuff is wonderfully new - most of all in the final celebration at the rebel base, where we clearly get a lovely lesbian kiss.
Where does the film fail? It contains a lot of characters with nowhere to go. Poor Kelly Marie Tran has fuck all to do as Rose Tico. Any hints in TLJ of her being a love interest for Finn is thrown aside. He kinda has a thing with a new character who's also an ex-Stormtrooper and are they really setting her up for another spin off with Lando? Evil First Order dude Hux has a literally incredible character arc, although I did rather enjoy Richard E Grant as his successor, General Pryde. Finally, Oscar Issac's Poe doesn't seem to garner any gravitas or wisdom from all the sacrifices made on his behalf in TLJ. But he does have some nice bants with Keri Russell's Zorii Biss.
Still for all that, and the slow start, I really did enjoy the final half of this film, and I felt emotionally satisfied by the ending. None of it beats the feels from the original, but I felt this was as good as we were going to feasibly get. ROGUE ONE remains the best film of the new era. One can only imagine how good this trilogy might have been had JJ Abrams directed them all.
STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER is rated PG-13, has a running time of 141 minutes and is on global release.