Star Wars Episode IX: Rise of Skywalker (2019) Director: J.J. Abrams
I have to give J.J. Abrams credit. After inheriting an absolute mess from Rian Johnson with The Last Jedi, at least he managed to pull something together to conclude this disastrous trilogy. To recap, Disney had acquired one of the most successful franchises in history and managed to anger a devoted fanbase leading to declining box office numbers from cheap degradations like The Last Jedi and Solo: A Star Wars Story, which further led to declining merchandise sales, plus delays to the grand opening of a Star Wars themed amusement park, 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 and lore). With pressures from Disney, stock issues, an angry fanbase, declining sales, and even the actors expressing their dissatisfaction with lo those many infamous 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 aware that the tone is different (i.e. no goofy disorienting “your mom” jokes). A recorded message with the voice of the emperor is echoing throughout the galaxy. Kylo Ren, fearing a threat to his leadership of the First Order, journeys far and wide where he captures a “way-finder” – the uninspiring title for a device which ‘points the way’ to a hidden sith planet (we have never heard of this place before). 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 now exists in a mangled form on a life support machine. The emperor explains that he has been the person behind the rise of the First Order this 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 she has grown 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 –sadly The Last Jedi was her last true appearance in the Star Wars saga). The secret message is revealed to the rebels. Rey travels with her compatriots Chewbacca, Poe, and Finn on the Millennium 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 telepathic connection with each other through the force, and the First Order captures Chewbacca but Rey tries 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 land-speeders, kill their assailing storm troopers, and then get inexplicably sucked below ground to find the ruins of an old ship which just happens to have a dagger containing a coded message to the way-finder so they can find the sith planet -how fortuitous!
While below ground, Rey miraculously heals the cuts on a giant underground snake so it breaks open a hole and allows 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, something we have never heard before). So they travel to another planet at Poe’s recommendation, but he has become 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 to the Star Destroyer to steal Kylo’s way-finder. Along the way they find out that Chewbacca was not actually killed and was somehow on another ship, so they rescue him and discover that General Hux was the covert Resistance informant (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 not the child of “filthy junk traders” but is instead actually the grandchild of the emperor (thus overcoming the carelessly dismissive problem of The Last Jedi). She flees on the Millennium Falcon and 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 Solo again. Kylo has a transformative vision of his father, Han Solo.
Then, Rey travels to Luke’s former island where she burns her ship and possessions but Luke saves her lightsaber and offers her Leia’s old lightsaber, thus redeeming his tragically awful character from The Last Jedi. Rey then confronts the emperor and his new sith army while the Resistance builds a small fleet. 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, the emperor’s private security force. Kylo then attacks 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 rages as the Resistance takes the lead over the First Order, destroying their flagships. 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 (apparently they now love each other for some reason, and Jedi can transfer their life force to one another?) 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 incongruent story lines, resurrecting fond memories of the originals, and desperately trying to erase or overcome the travesty that was The Last Jedi, J.J. Abrams managed to create something not completely terrible, or at least not as bad as the garbage preceding it. The Rise of Skywalker was at least an enjoyable little adventure, though nothing remotely close to the magic of the originals.