At least in popular entertainment, 2019 may go down as a year of endings, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe and “Game of Thrones” reaching conclusions of a sort.
Now, “Star Wars” is doing the same, as the Skywalker saga ends with its ninth installment, “The Rise of Skywalker.” Unfortunately, this conclusion is more akin to the lackluster ending that graced TV screens in May than the one for the highest-grossing movie ever.
Still apparently licking its wounds after being decimated in “The Last Jedi,” the Resistance continues waging its fight against the First Order in this film. Things are looking grim, however, as it appears Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) recently acquired quite a fleet. That means our trio of heroes (played by Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac and John Boyega) must take some drastic measures to defeat the forces of evil one last time.
The best aspect of this film is Ridley, who is once again tremendous as the young Jedi, Rey. She brings a determination to the part that works well, while also expertly portraying the conflicts her character faces.
Driver is once again quite good as the Sith wannabe, playing him as someone trying so hard to be despicable despite his conflicted feelings. Isaac exudes charisma as Resistance pilot and leader Poe Dameron, making him always fun to watch. Boyega is fine as fellow resistance fighter Finn, getting in some good jokes with nice comedic timing.
John Williams, perhaps for the final time, also contributes an excellent score. He effectively employs some familiar themes while still incorporating some rousing and moving new music.
Williams’ score often elevates the several terrific high points of this film. There are scenes here, like ones involving a force tug-of-war, an emotional sacrifice or arrival of a spaceship, which tap in to the magic and wonder that has defined this franchise. Director J.J. Abrams smart visual choices also aid those moments, particularly in a scene late in the film involving a lightsaber transfer that features some masterful editing.
While it has those standout moments, “The Rise of Skywalker” suffers from too many that do not work. In a word, this movie feels rushed. Screenwriters Chris Terrio, Abrams, Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow try to squeeze far too much plot into this movie, as there is a glut of world hopping and narrative beats.
That comes at the expense of both the characters and exploration of any larger ideas. Returning characters like Finn and Poe are severely underdeveloped and underused here, while new characters are introduced with the expectation the audience will immediately care about them despite very little reason to.
That leads to many moments that feel forced, such as a weird dynamic that develops between Poe and Finn. The best thing in the film from this perspective is the relationship between Rey and Ren, which is interesting and affecting.
The lightspeed pace and rhythm of this film also removes some exposition that, while not needed, would have benefitted the picture. Some of that falls into the category of information that would help viewers suspend their disbelief by answering logic questions.
The rest would serve to give moviegoers more information about developments that play a crucial role in the film like the return of one former galactic senator that I find fascinating. That type of exposition would have deepened the experience by providing some excellent world building and lore.
Finally, the rushed nature of the film robs it of some of the gravitas and weight it needed to feel like a satisfying conclusion of perhaps the most popular piece of pop culture in the last 40 years. It makes much of this feel perfunctory, but the movie is still worth watching, at least for a “Star Wars” fan because the good ever so slightly outweighs the bad. I give it 3 out of 5 stars.
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” stars Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega and Carrie Fisher. It is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action and runs 2 hours and 21 minutes.