Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

The year is 1983. There was no internet then, so public discussion of movies was slightly different. It occurred through letters to magazines like Starlog and friends talking among themselves. I'm days away from turning fifteen. Return of the Jedi has come out. People are mildly perplexed. All the Ewok stuff feels a little kiddie-ish, especially after the dark, gloomy tone of The Empire Strikes Back. Some of the storytelling choices seem a little kooky. But Who cares?, we say. It's Star Wars and it's awesome!

The Rise of Skywalker falls squarely in that tradition. Does it have noticeable flaws? Yes. Are some of the plot points on the wonky side? Absolutely. Did I care? Not one bit.

There is no point in elaborating too much on the plot. Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) has returned. He's created something called the Final Order that is designed to conquer the entire galaxy. To accomplish this, he needs to eliminate Rey (Daisy Ridley). She's still telepathically linked to the villainous Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and attempting to figure out the truth about her heritage. Enough said.

We're in a weird place with the final three installments of the Star Wars saga. The Force Awakens was widely praised by fans because it hewed very closely to the tone and feel of the 1977 original. Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi threw a lot of core ideas out the window, challenging audiences to see the elements of George Lucas's creation in a new way. That resulted in a love-it-or-hate-it reaction, with some fans in the negative camp extremely vocal about their displeasure.

So how do you wrap that up? Do you return to the old faithful stuff, or continue reinventing? The Rise of Skywalker does a little of both. The film retcons Rey's background, getting rid of the whole “your parents were nobody important” thing Kylo told her in The Last Jedi in favor of something with Great Significance. That reeks of fan service. So do the numerous cameos from supporting characters and familiar objects seen in many of the previous Star Wars chapters. Some fit in organically, such as the welcome return of Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams). Others are more overtly pandering.

At the same time that The Rise of Skywalker is trying to deliver what it thinks fans want, the movie makes a few bold choices of its own. The revelation about Rey, despite being course-corrected, fits intriguingly into the larger scope of the saga, providing a parallel to original hero Luke. The tenuous connection between she and Kylo, meanwhile, is a neat representation of the two sides of the Force. Throughout the series, the battle between the light side and the dark side has been critical. Here, it's personified so that we can consider more fully how good people have bad sides, and bad people have good sides.

Kylo Ren has his own arc. How it resolves itself might cause certain viewers to scoff. Consider it more deeply, though, and you can see how it reflects the journey of another key figure in the Star Wars universe. In doing so, the film hints at a vulnerability in the dark side, one that meshes beautifully with the overall good-versus-evil theme of the franchise.

As someone who has been emotionally invested in Star Wars for forty-two years, I found The Rise of Skywalker's attempts to congeal the disparate elements from the previous eight chapters captivating. No, not every choice succeeds, but a bold attempt is far more satisfying than a lackadaisical effort. Capping off a series with the scope of this one isn't easy. Director J.J. Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio work hard to craft a finale that gets to the heart of what people have loved for four decades -- namely, the concept of appealing, unlikely heroes banding together to defeat heinous villains in a galaxy filled with opportunities for adventure.

In other regards, the movie delivers the requisites: stunning visual effects, exciting action sequences, good performances. All are perfectly enjoyable. Truth be told, there was no way The Rise of Skywalker could ever perfectly stick the landing, just as Return of the Jedi couldn't back in '83. But you know what? It's still Star Wars and it's still awesome.

out of four

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence. The running time is 2 hours and 21 minutes.