Words: Cliff Joannou
More than 40 years since that famous opening credit sequence introduced us to a world of Death Stars and Jedi Knights, the Skywalker saga reaches an on-the-whole satisfying end with episode nine, The Rise of Skywalker.
The film picks up some time after The Last Jedi with the Resistance broken and reduced to a fraction of determined fighters.
It’s not a spoiler to say Emperor Palpatine has returned and is seeking revenge on the rebels who defeated him some 25 years ago (in Star Wars continuity, that is) when the second Death Star was destroyed in The Return of the Jedi.
Palpatine has since been working in the shadows, amassing an army of unparalleled size and is poised to strike against the galaxy.
Meanwhile, back at the Resistance’s base, Rey has been learning the ways of the Force under the tutelage of Leia. Following the untimely death of Carrie Fisher, unused footage has been used to include her character with varying degrees of success.
Die-hard fans will be able to spot which alternate takes from the past two instalments were used to bring Leia into this closing chapter, providing her with a story arc that mostly works in relation to the grander scheme of the nine-part saga. (Anything more and I’d be spoiling some great twists.)
Diving in and out of multiple worlds, our heroes embark on the exhaustive quest to find the emperor, who is orchestrating his machiavellian plan from an uncharted planet in the mysterious Unknown Regions.
As the adventure rolls out, secrets are exposed and revelations are made, something that has been ingrained in Star Wars mythology since Darth Vadar made his own big reveal back in The Empire Strikes Back with those fateful words, “I am your father” to Luke Skywalker.
Star Wars has ever since revelled in teasing connections between characters and links to the past, weaving the tapestry that is one of cinema’s most convoluted family sagas.
Elsewhere, Finn’s story is more realised as context is given to his defection from the First Order in The Force Awakens, while those who lamented Poe’s less-than-inspiring mission in The Last Jedi might be left scratching their heads once more as to exactly what he brings to the Resistance.
Fans of the original trilogy will love C3-PO’s larger-than-expected role in Rise of Skywalker, and new character Babu Frik is probably the latest trilogy’s best and most authentic addition to Star Wars lore.
As for Star Wars’ LGBTQ fans’ long-yearned-for representation… there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment that doesn’t carry the emotional punch they might have hoped for. You can’t have it all, I guess.
Director JJ Abrams avoids picking up the pieces surrounding the lesser-loved plot points in The Last Jedi by largely sidestepping its most controversial moments. One could effectively jump from the Abrams-directed episode seven and into episode nine.
Just how much of the Rise of Skywalker’s story was determined at the outset, when Lucasfilm first started plotting the current trilogy, remains to be seen.
The action is unrelenting as Abrams goes for adrenaline as opposed to The Last Jedi’s steadier pace. Some might say that it reflects the Resistance’s desperation to defeat the emperor before he reasserts the empire’s foothold in the galaxy.
Others would say he’s just going for the big bangs that deliver box-office cheers.
So, does the Rise of Skywalker do justice in concluding the stellar saga? In short… yes. It certainly delivers the highs and dramatic shocks with at least one or two twists that are genuine surprises.
Where it sits in the pantheon of Star Wars films, time will tell. But as a finale to a story that has dominated popular culture for four decades, it’s epic in the way that only Star Wars can be.