“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” tries to bring balance to the Force

It occurred to me that Star Wars is like Christmas. Even when I don’t enjoy it, I always celebrate it. I respect its symbols, the traditions. And even if I don’t fully embrace its religious side (the ever-quarreling fandom), I acknowledge its power grows beyond rationality. It connects me to friends, loved ones, and millions of other people. It was always part of my story. And again, like a Christmas celebration, sometimes I like it, sometimes I don’t, but I will still go to the party. Because I still believe in its magic.

This… Force, for lack of a better term, surrounds us, penetrates us. It binds at least that galaxy together (sorry, I couldn’t resist). After “The Last Jedi” (Episode 8 in the canonic order, if you are still counting) that precious balance was lost, fans strongly divided. Regardless of one’s personal opinion on the movie itself (like every work of art, one can like it or not: I didn’t), the franchise fandom had two very difficult years of bickering over Rian Johnson’s controversial decisions.

“The Rise of Skywalker” had the daunting task to fix that mess, restore a narrative continuity, bring closure to the saga and at the same time, conclude the “trilogy of trilogies” composed by the 9 main films. Not a small feat.

After Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World) left the project due to “creative differences” with Lucasfilm, the job has been trusted to J.J. Abrams (director and co-writer with Chris Terrio), who had to work under a tighter deadline to deliver such a demanding result. Did they succeed?

In short, yes. For me, the film passes the test with flying colors. I went to watch it tonight (opening day in Spain) in Fuerteventura, where I am on holiday with my family. Luckily, the island has a cine and they show movies in the original language. I got my ticket more than two months in advance just to be sure. I rented a car to get there, because passion requires sacrifice, and also because yes.

This will be a no-spoiler first impression, so there is only so much I can say. A future post will have a look at the different character arcs, like I did with “The Force Awakens” (not with “The Last Jedi”, I still cannot make full sense of that).

Apparently, audiences are loving it, but critics aren’t. But what did they expect? A subtle exploration of the human condition?

Also, it’s the exact opposite of Episode 8 (which means, someone was listening to all our bemoaning, all too well. Almost all the major grievances expressed by fans have been – more or less – addressed).

The movie manages to bring full closure to an epic tale that suffered from different creative visions from the very beginning. Abrams (who admittedly is better at starting stories, than at ending them) opened many narrative possibilities in Ep. 7, Johnson made a big mess things more complicated, and now Abrams got the hot potato again.

He had the titanic task to finish the job, bring so many characters together, keep narrative coherence not to infuriate the volatile fans even more, and, you know… tell an exciting story, maybe?

A writing balancing act that sounded like a miracle and would have been a disaster in less capable hands. But Abrams (the creative genius behind Lost, who already revitalized franchises like Star Trek and Mission: Impossible) surprised me once more.

Where he had to cut, he cut short. Some characters are given a marginal role, and even some new ones are introduced, but the main heroes have been brought front and center again. This is the story of Rey and Kylo, their yin-yang duality shifting like a dance, the classic conflict between the dark and the light sides of the Force but presented in a more nuanced, contemporary version. In the backdrop, the galaxy in danger, again.

Some of the Episode 8 decisions that diverged more from Abrams’ original vision and were left hanging have not been completely overwritten, but delicately steered back in. The process fascinated me, so many plot lines connected, basically without incidents.

And the story runs fast, speeds up from one chapter to the next in a high-adrenaline ride that doesn’t ruminate over narrative choices, nor leaves much space for second-guessing them. After all, races against time are Abrams’ forte, and he knows it. He doesn’t try to over-justify decisions. This is Star Wars, seems to be the meta message. I bought it.

Make no mistake, we are exploring familiar territory all along. If “The Force Awakens” followed the structure of “A New Hope” (even a bit too much), and “The Last of the Jedi” walked on “The Empire Strikes Back” footsteps (the party got divided, darker undertone, big reveal in the second act) here we are dancing by the tune of “Return of the Jedi”. The fellowship is reunited, has to follow a linear route visiting exotic and spectacular locations, faces an ultimate challenge and… well, I said no spoiler.

It’s 100% Star Wars material, with its familiar corollary of friends, foes and tricksters, space battles, lightsabers, terrible and fascinating alien worlds, a mega villain; there is even a kitchen sink space cantina with music.

While Johnson wanted to “change everything” in Ep. 8 (maybe with a touch of personal hubrys, too?), Abrams made a movie from a fan, for the fans. Which will be seen as a bad thing by some (who criticize “excessive fanservice” as they collect lightsaber replicas and action figures; or maybe just ignore the reality of a multi-billion dollar franchise), but I found balanced and not intrusive.

A particularly controversial choice has been to resurrect the Emperor Palpatine (it’s trailer material, so not a spoiler, unless you spent the last year sleeping in a cave inside an asteroid) – but then again I think the decision paid off. Nobody knew what Kylo Ren’s intentions were at the end of Episode 8 (and certainly Kylo didn’t, more than a Supreme Leader he reminded me of a confused teenager with involuntarily comic anger management issues), so (re)introducing an external mega-villain allowed to shift the focus of the conflict away from him, giving his character the necessary breathing space to develop.

Another balance is restored between Old and New. Lando Calrissian and Leia are present in mentor roles; Chewbacca and C3-PO keep the story together, representing the beating heart of the franchise; old, departed heroes make brief but significant appearances; and the new ones, from Kylo to Rey, Finn, Poe, BB-8 are all given enough space to face personal challenges and overcome their heroic limits. The relationship between Kylo and Rey, in particular, is fascinating and sustains a large part of the dramatic impact of the story until the very end.

The cake, filling as it is, has a lot of cherries on top, with cameos like John Williams, Harrison Ford and pretty much everybody who appeared in the saga. The script feels a bit compressed, but is a satisfying alchemy.

And it delivers a message. Star Wars has always been political, and not in a subtle way. This is no exception. “Good people will fight, if we lead them”, says Poe to inspire his friends before the final battle. It’s the “power to the people” narrative, the necessity to reunite the ranks of all those with good will, when a common enemy arises.

Few words, to the wise. The theme (together with “We have each other”) is exposed clearly during the final battle, in the words of a baffled imperial First Order Final Order officer, who tries to describe what he sees: “It’s not a navy, sir. It’s… people!”

All this makes for an experience that left me satisfied. Plus the usual outstanding production, with impressive sound, visuals, special effects and cinematography (although I have to say that “The Last Jedi” still represents for me the highest landmark in visuals, some of its scenes are unforgettable). Acting is also very strong in all roles, from the marginal to the main ones. What more to wish for? It’s Star Wars!

All considered, “The Rise of Skywalker” delivers a fitting conclusion to the series, although it doesn’t reach the flawless peaks of say, “Avengers: Endgame” (still Disney, so please internet critics, stop blaming the Big Mouse).

The only main difference is that Star Wars had a troubled production and didn’t have one united creative vision from the beginning to the end. Too bad it happened, it shouldn’t happen, but in the industry, it can happen.

But all considered, I can’t complain. Episode 9 doesn’t break new ground, is entirely predictable and runs very few risks, but has a big beating heart and wears it over its sleeve. This final (?) Skywalker chapter accomplishes the incredible task to deliver an appropriate closure to a story started 42 years ago, connects Old and New, and solidly entertains all the time.

Not small achievements. The balance is restored in the galaxy. The awe-inspiring magic still works. After all, it’s Christmas.


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