It was more than 42 years ago that George Lucas took us all to a galaxy far, far away. It was the first film I recall seeing in theaters as a child, and I left with a sense of awe. This fascination would lead me through my education, career and even into the director’s chair myself.
In the decades that followed, the “Star Wars” franchise would build on itself – eight installments in the regular cannon, two spinoff films (“Rogue One” in 2016; “Solo” in 2018), several novels, TV shows and comic books.
Finally, “Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker” brings a climatic end to a two-generation film saga.
Once Disney purchased Lucasfilm back in 2012 (for more than $4 billion), Lucas relinquished control of “Star Wars,” admitting that going to see the first film in the Disney series (Episode VII) was like going to his ex-wife’s wedding.
Director J.J. Abrams was tasked with introducing a whole new audience to The Force. After landing fourth on the all-time box office list (holding off “Infinity War”), he again was asked to direct the concluding installment, making him the only person (outside of Lucas himself) to do multiple films in the series.
“The Rise of Skywalker” begins where we left off, as Rey, Finn and Poe with old friends General Leia, Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2 discover a plan for control of the galaxy. Yes, typical for a “Star Wars” film, but that’s what draws in the crowd.
Abrams combines action, adventure, humor and emotion to mesmerize the audience for the 141-minute run time. Knowing there are a lot of loose ends to tie up, he does it eloquently.
Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) backstory is finally revealed in dramatic fashion, which is expertly done by the talented Ridley. Her connection to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) also is explained in the climax of the film.
Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) provide playful banter with the typical cheesy lines; the droids (C-3PO, R2-D2, BB-8 and the new D-0, who is voiced by the director himself) offer some great comic relief, too, as well as emotional exchanges, proving you can “never underestimate a droid.”
We also get some hysterical hijinks from the droid builder, Babu Frik, whom we can’t understand but whose demonstrative gestures and facial expressions we can’t help but laugh at.
There also are a few surprises along the way. A few visits from our old friends (and foes) are interjected masterfully in moments that will stir excitement and nostalgia. A couple of great Easter eggs and the highly anticipated kiss is definitely Disneyesque, yet a lot better than the one in “Empire,” when we realize who Luke and Leia really are.
Although certainly a fine film, with “Episode VII,” Abrams treated the franchise as if he had been given the keys to a classic Ferrari … have fun, but don’t crash it.
This time, he takes us on an all-out thrill ride, then parks it in a showroom in a place of honor, for everyone to appreciate and admire for what it is, what it was and what it has done.
Just like a beautiful Tatooine double sunset.
• Jim Stockwell is a tenured instructor at McHenry County College. He hosts the Second Monday Film Series at Classic Cinemas in Woodstock.