The Star Wars saga, now in its ninth and allegedly final installment, has a new catchphrase. Once upon a time, it was, “These are not the droids you’re looking for.” Then it was, “There’s always a bigger fish.” And now, the new mantra of Star Wars fans is “Never underestimate a droid.”
That’s what’s new in The Rise of Skywalker, but many of the faces are familiar, having appeared in both Episodes VII and VIII. Adam Driver, whose performances elsewhere tend to be understated if not deadpan, returns, playing against type, as Kylo Ren. Daisy Ridley is back as the indomitable resistance fighter Rey. John Boyega reprises his role as her sidekick, Finn. Poe Dameron is once again portrayed by Oscar Isaac. Domhnall Gleason, who first made a splash as Ron Weasley’s brother Bill in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, returns as General Hux. Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o is back as badass Resistance fighter Maz Kanata. Making her second appearance as Rose Tico is Kelly Marie Tran.
There are even a few characters recognizable to baby boomers. The late Carrie Fisher (from the archives) and Mark Hamill are back as Princess (now General) Leia and her brother Luke Skywalker, the latter in a cameo appearance. Billy Dee Williams, with a touch of gray in his hair and a few more pounds on his frame, still makes a dashing, devil-may-care fighter pilot as Lando Calrissian. Anthony Daniels, who’s been around since the beginning, is still inhabiting the golden C-3PO costume. Even Ian McDiarmid is back, making his sixth appearance as the evil Emperor Palpatine and looking more like the portrait of Dorian Gray than ever. Chewbacca, the furry wingman, returns, though with a new actor in the hairy suit. Joonas Suotamo has inherited the role from the late Peter Mayhew. Even though he is uncredited, Harrison Ford is in Episode IX, in a cameo appearance as Han Solo.
Here’s the setup: While the First Order continues to ravage the galaxy, Rey completes her training as a Jedi. But danger suddenly resurfaces as the Emperor Palpatine mysteriously returns from the dead, intent on extinguishing the embers of the Resistance. The old saying “You can’t keep a good man down” seems to apply to bad men, too. While working with Finn and Poe, Rey will not only face Kylo Ren once more but will discover the truth about her parents, as well as a deadly secret that could determine both her future and the outcome of the impending final showdown between the Jedi and the Sith.
For devotees of the Star Wars saga, all the cross-generational connections among characters will be easy to follow. But for the less informed viewer, a subscription to ancestry.com, or at least a flowchart, might come in handy. Nonetheless, like many (but not all) of its predecessors, The Rise of Skywalker is a ripping yarn, full of slam-bam, warp-speed action. Once in contact with her inner Jedi, Rey proves herself worthy of the heirloom lightsaber that comes her way. Like an intergalactic Lara Croft, Rey is a woman you don’t want to cross.
Her relationship with Finn has evolved. Any romantic spark that was struck between them in Episodes VII and VIII has died out, and he now definitely plays second fiddle.
Two supporting performances are noteworthy: Lupita Nyong’o as Maz Kanata and Keri Russell as Zorii Bliss. They are both allies of the Resistance, but each comes from a different starting point. An outcast who, like Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman, has nowhere else to go, Maz is dyed-in-the-wool Resistance material. Zorii, on the other hand, is like Rick Blaine in Casablanca or even Han Solo: an enterprising risk-taker intent on looking out for number one. The contrast is interesting.
Comic relief, alas, is in short supply and largely confined to the droids, R2-D2, C-3PO, and their new buddy, BB-8. Not very original or funny, fellas.
Back in the director’s chair after an absence during Episode VIII, J.J. Abrams demonstrates, for the most part, a sure hand and a good command of his material. He has successfully dusted off a franchise that was becoming shopworn. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker might not justify the $900 million-plus that it has grossed since opening Dec. 20, but there are worse ways to spend a rainy afternoon.
Pete Howell spent ten years as The Star Democrat’s arts and entertainment editor before retiring.
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