Star Wars Episode IX: Rise of Skywalker (2019) Director: J.J. Abrams
I have to give J.J. Abrams credit. He inherited a mess from Rian Johnson with The Last Jedi – Disney acquired one of the most successful franchises in history and managed to turn the fanbase off to it with declining box office numbers from The Last Jedi to Solo: A Star Wars Story, which brought declining merchandise sales, plus they were behind on their Star Wars themed amusement park construction and opening, and after the disastrous release and backlash for The Last Jedi the writer/director for the final episode suddenly quit. People began pointing fingers. Many blamed director Rian Johnson, or Kathleen Kennedy (the odd choice as leader of LucasFilm considering she seems to have been largely ignorant of the Star Wars fanbase, story, and literature). With pressures from Disney for stock issues and declining sales for the biggest franchise of all time, an angry fanbase, and even the actors expressing their dissatisfaction with the many errors and problems with The Last Jedi, J.J. Abrams inherited one of the least favorable situations in directorial history. Much of the Rise of Skywalker is an attempt to cover for the endless foibles of The Last Jedi.
Here is a brief summary of the new film (SPOILER ALERT):
At the outset of the film we are already know the tone is different (i.e. no goofy jokes that are off-putting). A recorded message with the voice of the emperor is echoing throughout the galaxy. Kylo Ren, fearing it is a threat to his leadership of the First Order, journeys widely and captures a “way-finder” – the uninspiring title for a guide to find a hidden sith planet. Kylo travels to the planet and uncovers a dark secret. Somehow (it is never fully explained) the emperor survived his fall in Return of the Jedi by means of the “unnatural” dark side of the force. He exists in a mangled form on a machine that supports him. The emperor explains that he has been behind of the rise of the First Order the whole time. He also reveals a secret to Kylo about the truth of Rey’s ancestry (apparently, J.J. Abrams needed to revive an old villain since Rian Johnson foolishly killed off the main villain for no reason and with no explanation in the previous film). Meanwhile, Rey has been training as a Jedi (since she was offered no training in the previous film but somehow is powerful beyond belief) under the tutelage of Leia (Carrie Fisher died before the film was released so Abrams was forced to use stock footage from The Force Awakens). A First Order has revealed the existence of the secret message to the rebels. She travels with her compatriots Chewbacca, Poe, and Finn on the Millenium Falcon to a remote desert planet in search of a way-finder to locate the origination of the emperor’s message. They meet Lando Calrissian who shelters them temporarily while they are being hunted by the First Order. Rey and Kylo continue their odd connection with each other through the force, and the First Order captures Chewbacca but Rey tries to use to bring their escape ship back down to the planet surface (something we have never really seen before) and in anger she releases lightning from her hands like the emperor once did (a moment of foreshadowing). The ship explodes and everyone believes Chewbacca has died. They escape on some land-speeders, kill their assailant storm troopers, and then wind up being sucked below ground to find the ruins of an old ship that just happens to have a dagger that contains a coded message to the way-finder so they can find the planet of the sith. While below ground, Rey miraculously heals the cuts on a giant underground snake so it breaks open a hole allowing them peacefully escape (I could have done without this whole side plot). They ask C-3PO to translate the dagger but he cannot due to his programming (he is not allowed to speak the language of the sith). So they travel to another planet at Poe’s recommendation, but he is a bit of an outcast. On that planet a tiny character cleans C-3PO’s memory so they can receive the coded sith message. Meanwhile, the First Order arrives and begins hunting them down on the planet, so Rey and the others escape up to their Star Destroyer to steal Kylo’s way-finder. Along the way they find out that Chewbacca was somehow on another ship, so they rescue him and discover that General Hux was the informer (thus redeeming this goofy and unnecessary character who is then promptly and unceremoniously killed by the First Order). Rey has a confrontation with Kylo who explains to her that she is actually the grandchild of the emperor (thus overcoming the problem of The Last Jedi that her family history was meaningless after teeing up the importance of her lineage in The Force Awakens). She flees on the Millenium Falcon. They travel to another remote planet that somehow contains the ruins of the old Death Star (I thought it was completely destroyed previously?) At any rate, Rey dangerously travels over high seas, after using the coded message on the dagger they found, and she arrives onto the Death Star ruins and retrieves the way-finder. She has a brief confrontation with an evil form of herself (a la The Empire Strikes Back) and then Kylo appears. They duel with one another over the ocean and on the ruins of the Death Star. It ends with Rey stabbing Kylo, but then she heals him. She says she would have taken his hand so they could rule together only if he were Ben again. Kylo has a transformative vision of his father, Han Solo. Then, Rey goes to Luke’s planet where she burns her ship and her possessions but Luke saves her lightsaber and offers her Leia’s old lightsaber, thus redeeming his tragically awful character from The Last Jedi. Rey goes to confront the emperor and his new army while the rebels build a small fleet to attack. Rey is offered queenship of the new empire, the Final Order, but she declines so the emperor tortures her. Then Kylo appears and kills the knights of Ren. He then goes to attack the emperor but he is thrown down a chasm. When he reappears later, the emperor somehow steals the life-force of Kylo and Rey so he can revive himself to a certain degree. Rey is then granted help from the voices of all the past Jedi we have known, and she battles the emperor eventually turning his lightning against him and killing him. Meanwhile, above, the battle turns as the rebels take the lead over the First Order, destroying their lead ships. The exhaustion from fighting leads Rey to collapse in death and Kylo redeems himself by giving his life force over to her after they kiss on screen. The film ends by tying up some loose ends, a la Return of the Jedi, and it closes with Rey burying Luke and Leia’s lightsabers on Tatooine and she claims to now take the name of “Skywalker.”
In all, the Rise of Skywalker is a better outcome than I could have expected after cobbling together some of the new story lines, resurrecting fond memories of the originals, and desperately trying to erase or overcome the travesty that was The Last Jedi. The Rise of Skywalker was at least an enjoyable little adventure, though nothing close to the magic of the originals.