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Dustin Putman

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker  (2019)
3½ Stars
Directed by J.J. Abrams.
Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Kelly Marie Tran, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong'o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Ian McDiarmid, Billy Dee Williams, Billie Lourd, Jimmy Vee, Greg Grunberg, Dominic Monaghan, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford.
2019 – 141 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, December 17, 2019.
Nine films and 42 years in the making, the Skywalker saga reaches its purported culmination with "Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker." This is an exceedingly satisfying finale, as grandiose, intimate and sometimes genuinely surprising as many of the series' most memorable moments. Writer-director J.J. Abrams (2015's "Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens"), returning after sitting out 2017's decidedly divisive, Rian Johnson-helmed "Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi," and co-writer Chris Terrio (2016's "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice") live up to the daunting task of finding just the right emotionally true conclusion for all of these characters and their decades-long fight to bring peace and order to the galaxy.

The dead has seemingly spoken with the appearance of a threatening transmission sent from the powerful, thought-destroyed Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). As Rey (Daisy Ridley) finishes her training as the final Jedi hope of the Resistance, the First Order's new supreme leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) seeks to track her down, the wayward son of General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and the late Han Solo (Harrison Ford) determined to fulfill their destinies by luring the cosmically connected Rey to the Dark Side. Together once more as Ren closes in, Rey, former-Stormtrooper-turned-Resistance-fighter Finn (John Boyega), ace pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Chewie (Joonas Suotamo) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) set out to locate a navigational relic they hope will point them toward Palpatine's distant location.

"Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker" has the epic scope to match its existential ambitions, a compelling blend of all the elements most "Star Wars" fans should want in a denouement. For the first time in this newest trilogy, the three central protagonists—Rey, Finn and Poe—are together for the majority of the narrative, on a common mission which excels with having their easy interplay near the forefront; their chemistry, running in some ways parallel to that of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo and Leia in the original films, proves all the more gratifying because of its wisely unspoken connection. The increased screentime for C-3PO, never funnier or more endearing, and Chewie is also welcome. On the other end of the spectrum, the noticeably decreased material for Kelly Marie Tran's Rose (a highlight in "The Last Jedi") is disappointing; she is sidelined early on and only finds a little more to do during the third act.

The other crucial thread running so prominently through "The Force Awakens," "The Last Jedi," and now "The Rise of Skywalker" has been the mysterious tethering of minds between Rey and Kylo Ren. How and why they are deeply linked is ultimately revealed, and when it does it both thrillingly defies expectations while making uncanny sense. Daisy Ridley (2017's "Murder on the Orient Express") and Adam Driver (2019's "Marriage Story") are sensationally good, bringing these complicated foes to a rewarding endpoint. Call it a bittersweet case of serendipity, but somehow director J.J. Abrams has found a way to incorporate unused footage of the late Carrie Fisher from "The Force Awakens" into this story without the seams ever overtly showing. Seeing her interacting so naturally and poignantly with her co-stars a few years after her untimely death gives even more weight to her scenes and the ultimate beautiful send-off she receives.

A space opera about finding, and embracing, one's purpose in life, the "Star Wars" franchise has remained tried and true over the last five decades in its themes of morality, sacrifice and family. "Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker" carries these ideas across a finish line of bravura cathartic contentment, where one's fate, it turns out, is not so fixedly predetermined after all. "Star Wars" as a brand will continue, but this is a rousing, thrilling, altogether touching farewell to the Skywalker legacy. It scarcely could have ended in a lovelier place.
© 2019 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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