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‘Rise of Skywalker’ offers ho-hum end to ‘Star Wars’ saga


Some movies are critic-proof. But then, criticism isn't meant to sway people to thinking one way or another. It's merely meant as a means to get people thinking, period. Which is what I tried to do with the review of  “Star Wars: Episode IX, The Rise of Skywalker” that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

When George Lucas debuted his film “Star Wars” in 1977, no one could have predicted just how much of a sensation it would ultimately become – spawning three trilogy compilations that cover an equal number of generations, stand-alone spinoffs such as “Rogue One” and “Solo” (each tagged as a “Star Wars” story), animated television series and an accountant’s dream of merchandise-generated income.

Now with “Star Wars: Episode IX, The Rise of Skywalker,” that original story line, beginning with Anakin Skywalker, proceeding with Luke Skywalker and culminating with a third and final Skywalker – not to mention the various characters surrounding this trio so strong with The Force – has seemingly come to an end.

I say “seemingly” because, as with those superheroes populating the Marvel universe, no story ever really ends, and no character every really dies.

It was left to J.J. Abrams, the aging wunderkind behind the “Star Trek” reboot, to produce the final three films – referred to as the “sequel trilogy,” following the “original trilogy” and then the “prequel trilogy.” In addition to executive-producing Rian Johnson’s 2017 “Star Wars: Episode VIII, The Last Jedi,” Abrams co-wrote and directed both 2015’s “Star Wars: Episode VII, The Force Awakens” and now “The Rise of Skywalker.”

Much has been written about how Johnson’s movie departed, at least a bit, from the franchise’s standard tropes – and how much furor that caused among die-hard fans. Few are likely to make similar complaints about what Abrams offers as the finale.

Without divulging any spoilers, it’s enough to say that “Episode IX” continues the quest embarked upon by Rey (again played by Daisy Ridley). As part of the so-called Resistance, she – along with friends Finn (John Boyega), Po (Oscar Isaacs) and a number of others – spends the film’s two-and-a-half-hour running time searching for the source of the new tyranny threatening the galaxy. At the same time, she keeps trying (mostly in vain) to avoid her arch foe, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), with whom she has a powerful connection that neither fully understands – but, also, that neither has the power to ignore.

If you’ve seen the previous films, you can predict how things end. Maybe you won’t be able to foresee all the specifics. But it’s safe to say that “The Rise of Skywalker” doesn’t offer any real surprises – other than the deaths of some familiar characters and the resurrection of notable others.

What’s more noteworthy is how Abrams has updated Lucas’ storyline to abide by 2019 mores. How women can now fill the role of hero, how characters of races traditionally seen as tertiary can now step into the spotlight and even how the very term gender – and the notion of sexual orientation itself – can be seen as naturally fluid.

There is value to this, of course. The problem is that it all feels a bit too calculated, as if Abrams were merely ticking off boxes instead of portraying a “Star Wars” world in which such attitudes are intrinsic. 

Not that fans of action are likely to care. As Jedi Master Yoda might say, the greatest feeling, sensation is.

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