I saw Star Wars in 1977 at the Loews State Theater in Manhattan, now long-gone. Little did I know that the universe George Lucas created would still be alive and well decades later. Diehard fans have a singular attachment to this series, and right after the new installment’s premiere I overheard debates arguing the pros and cons of what we’d just seen. I can only speak for myself.
I had a good time watching J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, even though I felt sucker-punched more than once. The filmmaker knows that this is the last time he (or possibly anyone) will get to play with George Lucas’s original concept and characters and his giddiness gets the better of him. Without spoiling any surprises, let’s just say that elements of identity, the powers of the Force and matters of life and death are toyed with in the name of “gotcha” entertainment.
At the same time, Abrams knows that diehard fans share his sentimental longing to spend a little more time with the people who first won our hearts in the initial installments of the Star Wars saga. He milks this for all it’s worth, and if he errs on the side of excess I bet there are lots of folks who won’t mind.
He also digs deep with Daisy Ridley as the intrepid Rey. You can’t go wrong focusing on intense close-ups of her face as he does. She personifies courage and determination without sacrificing her innate likability. When she battles Adam Driver as Kylo Ren the impact is tremendous.
Oscar Isaac has the unenviable job of channeling Han Solo in all his cockiness, but he’s such a talented actor he pulls off the gee-whiz dialogue assigned to him…and John Boyega makes a perfect partner.
The action and visual effects are of the highest order but the film doesn’t know when to quit. Abrams shares screenwriting credit with Chris Terrio, based on a story they devised with Derek Connolly and Colin Treverrow and apparently they couldn’t resist adding climax upon climax in the final act.
Still, there is so much to enjoy in The Rise of Skywalker that I don’t want to seem like an ingrate. It’s hard to resist the appeal of Billy Dee Williams, returning as Lando Calrissian, or pretend that it isn’t fun spending time with Chewbacca, R2-D2, C-3PO, BB-8 and his new companion D-O.
I didn’t approach this film with a checklist of do’s and don’ts. I just wanted to enjoy myself, and I did, albeit with reservations. I think the assets far outweigh the liabilities and fully expect The Rise of the Skywalker to be a giant crowd-pleaser. Whether or not it will meet the demands of long-term Star Wars fans as well as relative newcomers remains to be seen.