Rebecca’s Take

In 2015, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” brought the magic back to the beloved space franchise. J.J. Abrams charted an exhilarating return to the Star Wars universe in the first installment of the sequel trilogy, carrying on the Skywalker saga with new and familiar characters in the wake of George Lucas’ disappointing prequels.

But in 2017, Rian Johnson’s polarizing “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” left the franchise’s future up in the air. The director’s bold attempt to break the traditional Star Wars mold was embraced by some fans, derided by others. The dark sequel disregarded story threads and questions set up in “The Force Awakens,” revealing the embarrassing lack of a master plan for the sequel trilogy.

After a two-year break that saw the return of Abrams to the helm, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” carries an enormous weight on its shoulders. The ninth entry in the Skywalker saga and final film in the sequel trilogy must wrap up the 42-year-old storyline while tying together its two, very different predecessors.

Despite these obstacles and high expectations, the excellent “The Rise of Skywalker” moves the sequel trilogy back into the light side of the Force. Exciting, emotional and nostalgic, the breathtaking spectacle delivers a mostly satisfying finale to the larger-than-life franchise.

After the death of legendary Jedi Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the Resistance must regroup after a devastating defeat at the hands of the First Order. But a bombshell comes in the form of a mysterious broadcast from Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), long believed dead. The Resistance and First Order set out to find the power-hungry Sith leader.

As part of the Resistance, scavenger-turned-Jedi Rey (Daisy Ridley) continues her training under Luke with his sister, General Leia (Carrie Fisher). Determined to hunt down Palpatine, Rey is joined on a mission by storm trooper-turned-rebel Finn (John Boyega), hotshot pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), lovable droid BB-8, talkative droid C-3P0 and everyone’s favorite Wookie, Chewbacca.

Haunting Rey are unanswered questions about her family. As her control of the Force gets stronger, her connection with conflicted First Order leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) grows as the search for Palpatine pits them on opposing sides. Torn between her mysterious past and an unsure future, Rey must choose a side in the conflict – a choice tied to the fate of the galaxy.

Under Abrams’ guidance, “The Rise of Skywalker” faces the difficult task of following up both “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi” – and for the most part, it succeeds. The fast-paced epic covers a lot of ground as it brings together multiple plotlines. Closer in tone to “The Force Awakens,” “The Rise of Skywalker” connects better to the 2015 film than “The Last Jedi” did. It corrects the course Abrams initially set for the trilogy that Johnson disrupted.

Where “The Last Jedi” ignored the bread crumbs in “The Force Awakens” about Rey’s potential lineage and the significance of Supreme Leader Snoke, “The Rise of Skywalker” connects the dots. The film also builds upon the relationships established in “The Last Jedi,” especially the connection between Rey and Kylo Ren.

Their relationship – one of the best aspects of “The Last Jedi” – becomes a central storyline in “The Rise of Skywalker.” Ridley shines as the strong yet vulnerable Rey, tapping into a darkness in the character not seen before. Driver knocks it out of the park as Kylo Ren, the ambitious Supreme Leader who wrestles with his conscience as Ben Solo, Leia and Han Solo’s son. Kylo Ren’s character arc is one of the best in the sequel trilogy.

After the unexpected exit of Snoke in “The Last Jedi,” the inclusion of Emperor Palpatine can feel sudden. But the villain’s resurrection is a welcome one, tying all three trilogies in the Skywalker saga together. Like Vader, the Emperor represents a true evil to be reckoned with, and McDiarmid relishes his role.

Following in the tradition of past films, “The Rise of Skywalker” showcases eye-popping special effects. The film features plenty of well-choreographed lightsaber battles and blaster showdowns, with thrilling aerial dogfights between X-wings and TIE-fighters.

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” celebrates the Skywalker saga and fans’ devotion to it. The film weaves in throwbacks, classic sayings and familiar faces from the original trilogy and beyond. Having Billy Dee Williams back as fan-favorite smuggler Lando Calrissian is a delight. This is fan service done the right way.

The film pays tribute to the saga’s roots. Star Wars has always been about the battle between good and evil. Throughout the franchise, the films have enforced the message that no matter what your lineage is, you are responsible for your own destiny. Whether it’s Luke, Leia, Han Solo, Anakin Skywalker, Rey, Finn, Poe or Kylo Ren, characters wield the choice to forge their own path. It’s a theme that audiences have connected with for more than 40 years.

The emotionally charged climax marks the ultimate battle between the light and dark sides of the Force. This is the moment the nine movies have been building toward, taking everything fans know about the franchise and letting it play out. It’s an extraordinary payoff for the generation-spanning saga, tying up the ends of its characters beautifully.

But “The Rise of Skywalker” doesn’t always juggle its plates smoothly. Fans who liked the “The Last Jedi” may not appreciate the film’s loyalty to “The Force Awakens.” The beginning looks so much like the 2015 flick that it appears disconcerting at first, even if it’s out of necessity.

The film relies on unused footage of the late Fisher from “The Force Awakens” to flesh out Leia’s role. The move seamlessly integrates Fisher into the film, a better choice than using CGI. But seeing Leia looking mostly like she did in “The Force Awakens” can be distracting during the movie’s first act.

A long time ago, in a galaxy – well, right here – “Star Wars” captured the hearts of moviegoers young and old, who passed down their love of the films to their children. Now all generations can come together to enjoy “The Rise of Skywalker.” After a divisive response to the previous film, the heartwarming final entry brings the Skywalker saga to a fulfilling end, riding off into a binary sunset.

4 out of 5 stars

Adam Driver as Kylo Ren in a scene from “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” (Disney/Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Joe’s Take

The end of another trilogy, the return of director J.J. Abrams and the eyes of fans everywhere hoping “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” brings balance to the franchise.

Fans mostly adored “The Force Awakens,” directed by Abrams, but some complained it was the same film as “A New Hope.” So, the franchise went in a different direction, turning to director Rian Johnson, who turned everything the franchise built to that point on its head. “The Last Jedi” was met with critical acclaim, but a lot of fan backlash. This forced another course correction as Abrams returned to helm the third film of the third trilogy.

Was it satisfying? Yes. Was it good? For the most part. Was it exactly what every Star Wars wanted? Not a chance.

The most important thing “The Rise of Skywalker” had to get right was Carrie Fisher’s Leia and it did an amazing job incorporating archive footage and CGI to make it work after her untimely death. Leia is treated with care while serving a strong role as mentor to Daisy Ridley’s Rey.

Ridley turned in another stellar performance in the leading role, and Adam Driver has his best performance yet as Kylo Ren. C-3PO provides some surprising comic relief and Chewbacca’s link to the original trilogy pays dividends. Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron) and Keri Russell (Zorii Bliss) have great chemistry in a very small part of the film. John Boyega (Finn) yells more people’s names. But in all seriousness, he’s good, too.

The most memorable moments come from the cameos, which prove the most powerful and satisfying as a fan.

The film is stunning visually, except for one world, which is filled with so much darkness. It reminded me of the end of “It Chapter 2,” as both films had an epilepsy warning because of flashing lights against a bland color palette.

The plot needed more time to develop as the film throws a lot at the audience and doesn’t have the time to explain much of it. This is the trilogy’s biggest issue. It didn’t have a set plan or destination. Abrams opened the door and asked a lot of questions in “The Force Awakens” without knowing how the next director would answer them. When a lot of fans and Disney weren’t happy with the direction Johnson took the saga, Abrams returned to “fix” the problems. Disney made a good decision giving Johnson Episodes 10, 11 and 12 to helm, but sadly took it away after the backlash from “The Last Jedi.” Knowing a trilogy was coming, it was important to think ahead, to think big. It just didn’t happen. Now, every film is disjointed. They don’t flow from movie to movie.

As a result, “The Rise of Skywalker” is rushed. The beautiful John Williams scores are actually mushed together at times. One character will come on screen and his or her theme will play and then three seconds later another character will come on screen and the music will quickly switch to his or her theme. It just adds to the rushed nature of the film. Also, the audience is asked to just accept a lot of new information. Some characters have very powerful and important abilities they didn’t have in the previous films. Emperor Palpatine’s presence, as teased in the trailers, is baffling. It’s a bit of a leap.

Abrams did the best he could within the confines of a 2-hour, 22-minute film to correct a trilogy with no vision. Food for thought, did the trilogy need to be corrected at the all? We saw this happen with the DC Extended Universe when “Man of Steel” was released and it was good. But fans wouldn’t get behind it, so the studio jumped in and all of a sudden the films got worse. It wasn’t until “Wonder Woman” when it got on track as that film had a focus. Then it made “Aquaman” and “Shazam!” Not great films by any stretch of the imagination, but films that were comfortable with themselves, that believed in themselves.

“The Force Awakens” was great. It didn’t need to worry about the criticism about being too similar to “A New Hope,” but it did. Then fans got “The Last Jedi,” which deviated too far and received much more backlash. Then Abrams tried to piece it together and in the process created the worst film in the trilogy and the worst reviewed film among the nine episodes since “The Phantom Menace.” All because some fans couldn’t just be happy. Here’s the lesson. It’s something my mother and father taught me a long time ago. You’re never going to please everybody. Believe in yourself. Believe in the quality of your work. Most people will support something that is good. And if they don’t, you’re Star Wars. You have plenty of money. You don’t have to try to please everybody. You just have to make quality films.

I thought the trilogy was excellent for the most part. This is just the worst of the bunch, but I still thought it was good. Look, I grew up during the release of the prequels. This trilogy is far superior to that one. I was nine when I got to experience my first Star Wars film in theaters. After enduring monotone dialogue and taxation in 1999, trust me … Weesah happy with this latest trilogy.

3.5 out of 5 stars