Finally, a saga that has been running for longer than many of us have been alive has come to some sort of conclusion. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is upon us and director J.J. Abrams has served up a visual delight filled with intensely emotional scenes and dramatic space battles - but is it the grand finale that series fans have been waiting for all these years?
The sad death of Carrie Fisher in 2016 has had a huge impact on the way things have worked out, and we'll never know how things should have happened. Instead, all we can do is judge the movie that was put in front of us, and while it's safe to say that we didn't leave the cinema disappointed, we're also glad that a line can be drawn under the desert sands of Tatooine and we can look forward to something different next time.
Star Wars has always done bold characters and great visuals, and The Rise of Skywalker is no different in this regard. Towards the end of the movie, things get particularly spectacular with the surviving cast all pulled together by the Force for an epic battle to round things off and put a bow on a narrative that started with A New Hope way back in '77. To the credit of Abrams and his team of creatives, they do a decent job of pulling all the various strands together for this concluding chapter. Finally, we have some closure.
Well, sort of. It's strange just how many rough edges there are in such an otherwise polished Hollywood product, with unresolved storylines veining through the experience. Romantic undertones between the characters are hinted at throughout the saga but nothing is resolved satisfactorily. In fact, you could even say the opposite and point to unnecessary question marks hanging over core characters. Star Wars has never been about romance in the stars (although that has been a theme in the past), yet Rise overtly ponders the chemistry between the main cast, always alluding to things apparently bubbling under the surface. However, despite these romantic undertones, and despite previously stellar work in promoting equality in A Galaxy Far, Far Away, this is one area where Abrams fumbles.
The evolving cast of characters is reinforced by some familiar faces who return for this encore. The new guard, headlined by Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac, do an admirable job with the script that has been given to them (a script that moves breathlessly between planets at times), although once again there is an over-reliance on themes surrounding inter-generational familial conflict that threatens to overpower the otherwise grand narrative. Then there's the outgoing generation, most obviously Fisher and her posthumous performance, but Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels are among the familiar faces that link this new trilogy to the two that came before.
The whole thing is brought to life with the kind of panto-like gusto that we've seen before from the series, with big bold bad guys battling the virtuous good guys. There's very little to blur those lines, not much grey to soften the contrast between the black and white. This binary battle between good and evil in the stars ebbs and flows with the plucky Rebellion battling against The First Order over the fate of the galaxy. Over the course of the film, Rise builds, with the best saved for last after a sluggish opening. The first act ends up carrying the extra weight leftover from The Last Jedi, so perhaps that's to be expected, but the strength of the ending did at least gloss over the slow start.
In terms of the cinematography, there's a lot to like about, with top-notch camera work (the chase scene on the star destroyer immediately springs to mind) complemented by some of the best visuals in the business. It's amazing what moviemakers are able to do with CGI and Rise carries on the series' tradition of dazzling special effects. With droids galore, creatures great and small, epic space battles decorated with laser blasts, and, of course, the odd lightsaber duel, we walked away knowing that we'd seen a real spectacle.
As we saw with The Last Jedi, however, spectacle will only get you so far in this business, but we're pleased to report that The Rise of Skywalker complements that spectacle with plenty of heart, and come the roll of the credits, you can be left in no doubt that this is a Star Wars film. Not only that, this is a Star Wars movie that's not afraid to draw on the full extent of the saga, and we mostly enjoyed the way that everything came together in the end, with old faces and new fighting it out until the bitter end. As much as it's a conclusion to this new trilogy, they've made a solid attempt to pull the whole thing together into something approaching coherent and for that, we can be grateful.
Whether Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will stand the test of time remains to be seen. Our impressions after having seen the film once are largely positive, but we suspect that repeat viewings may well bother us more, and those moments where the lore is bent to serve the narrative are going to start feeling more like plot holes. Taken at face value it's a fun jaunt through space, an alien-filled adventure overflowing with derring-do and quirky one-liners, but we suspect that once worn by the sands of time, those flaws, so easily dismissed from the comfort of a cinema seat, will come back to haunt its legacy.