“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” does the job. It wraps up the trio of trilogies begun in 1977 in a confident, soothingly predictable way, doing all that cinematically possible to avoid poking the bear otherwise known as tradition-minded quadrants of the “Star Wars” fan base.
Thanks to Daisy Ridley, primarily, director and co-writer J.J. Abrams’ safety-first approach to rounding out this clump of Disney’s crucial income stream retains something like a human pulse. There’s nothing as cute as Baby Yoda or anything in “The Rise of Skywalker,” for the record. But I do like the droid BB-8\u2032s new droid pal. So that’s one thing you can’t get at home on “The Mandalorian.”
In the musical “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” the mail-room clerk who sings “The Company Way” pays tribute to his lifelong credo: “bold caution.” That’s “The Rise of Skywalker” in two words. It’s well-crafted and heavy on nostalgic cameos from familiar spirits gone by. It embraces and supercharges the serial cliffhanger tradition creator George Lucas loved enough to embark on a remake of “Flash Gordon” two generations ago. When he couldn’t secure the rights, Lucas went ahead and made his own “Flash Gordon.” And now our household has a half-dozen semi-operative lightsabers in the basement and a set of “Star Wars” sheets and pillowcases in the laundry basket.
In brief, because spoiler vigilantes roaming the internet come from the planet Touchy:
The first three words of the title crawl are: “The dead speak!” Somehow, somewhere, a phantom version of Emperor Palpatine, ruler of the First Galactic Empire, is sending a signal that he’s back in business. The Resistance now must face an adversary known as the Final Order. Ridley anchors a busy yet simple narrative as Rey, the “last hope of the Jedi,” who remains in psychic deadlock with Supreme Leader and bad boy Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
The gang introduced in large part by Abrams’ entertaining 2015 trilogy-starter, “The Force Awakens,” remains in prominent position here, and comports itself as more of a straightforward rooting interest than it was in the most recent and controversial “Star Wars” movie, “The Last Jedi” (2017). Finn (John Boyega),dear old shambling shag-rug Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo, underneath it all) and take-charge Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, a dashing asset as always) are joined by various newcomers. The most notable is the bow-and-arrow huntress Jannah, played by the splendid Naomi Ackie. Where’s her movie? I want her movie!
As for poor, sidelined Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) ... her radically reduced presence from “The Last Jedi” feels suspiciously like a bone thrown to the previous film’s myriad haters. Here she’s essentially “third anonymous female with a blaster on the left." She has barely a dozen lines, most of them on the order of: “Where’s Finn?”
The script by Chris Terrio and director Abrams litters the narrative with clues and gadgets and chapter-enders: a Sith inscription on a knife here, a lengthy lightsaber battle on a storm-tossed spaceshipwreck there. The movie takes its sweet time revealing a standard-issue revelation regarding Rey’s ancestry. The cameos and victory-lap encores are the selling point in “The Rise of Skywalker.” Billy Dee Williams returns as Lando; certain aggravating forest creatures from “Return of the Jedi” (1983) get a quick close-up (for me, not quick enough). And strictly for fans of fine actors stuck in minuscule roles, good old Denis Lawson -- forever cherishable for, among other earthbound pictures, Bill Forsyth’s “Local Hero” -- pops up for a second or two, too.
As stated in this review’s opening crawl: The movie does the job. Abrams keeps it on the straight and narrow, though there is a brief, middle-distance same-sex kiss off in a corner in the finale. In the main, “The Rise of Skywalker” allows itself no risk, or any of that divisive “Last Jedi” mythology-bending, with its disillusioned, cynical Luke Skywalker, or some of the nuttier detours favored by that film’s writer-director, Rian Johnson.
On the other hand, nothing in Abrams’ movie can hold a candle to the Praetorian throne room battle scene in “The Last Jedi.” The “Rise of Skywalker” director frames and shoots for the iPhone, by Jedi-like instinct. Johnson knows more about filling out and energizing a widescreen action landscape, interior or exterior. Abrams and company get around the “Last Jedi” fan base blowback the easy way: by making a movie, a pretty good one, essentially pretending there never was a “Last Jedi.”
My favorite bit in “The Rise of Skywalker” is a throwaway sight gag, involving the rise not of a Skywalker, but of a couple of Storm Troopers. In this film, they’re equipped with the equivalent of jet packs, in addition to hovercrafts and all the rest of the stuff now on sale at Target. “They fly now?” one of our heroes says. It’s not a memorable line. Then again, no one’s going to mount a feverish online boycott against it.
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” -- 3 stars
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi violence and action)
Running time: 2:21
This article is written by Michael Phillips from Chicago Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.