Wednesday, December 18, 2019

'Skywalker' closes a long 'Star Wars' series

JJ Abrams' finale is sure to inspire pros, cons and middling reactions, but it gets the job done.

JJ Abrams moves quickly through his 2 1/2 hour wrap-up of the Skywalker series, making sure the pack the movies with ingredients designed to please the fan base while arriving at an entirely expected destination. That's not a spoiler. What? You expected evil to triumph?

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker -- the ninth movie in the series -- brims with the battles, familiar characters and the sentiment that we've come to expect from the Star Wars movies. Maybe that’s enough.

I looked at the one-line description of the movie on IMDb: It reads, "The surviving Resistance faces the First Order once more in the final chapter of the Skywalker saga." Do you need to know much more?

Some fans felt Rian Johnson veered too far from the revered Star Wars formula in the previous chapter, The Last Jedi. I enjoyed that movie's approach but also believe that Abrams had no choice but to reassert the franchise's familiar themes in bringing the Skywalker saga to its conclusion.

Almost from the movie’s start, Daisy Ridley's Rey leads the charge against the aforementioned First Order, an evil group that's trying to establish a new empire of Siths. As the story unfolds, various characters will find their true selves, Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) again will rear his hideous head and a bit of nostalgic casting will make us remember when Star Wars had yet to reach industrial-strength levels.

Billy D. Williams revives Lando Calrissian; the late Carrie Fisher appears briefly as Princess Leia. (Abrams used footage shot but not used in the last episode). Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) gets a bit more screen time, as do C-3PO and R2-D2. Mark Hamill turns up.

Working from a screenplay he wrote with Chris Terrio, Abrams mixes droids, creatures and many of the characters who have taken over the series: John Boyega's Finn, Adam Driver's Kylo Ren, and Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron.

En route to its conclusion, the story makes more stops than a local subway train. The crew of Poe's ship breathlessly hurries from one place to the next, servicing the plot as they push forward.

The finale, of course, delivers the expected mix of action and emotion. For me, the emotion is more understood than felt, but fans may buy into it. In some ways, the plot of a Star Wars movie hardly matters because all of them pit the forces of hearty rebels against imperial evil, just as all build toward genealogical revelations about who's related to whom.

Of the creatures, the most amusing arrives when Maz (Lupita Nyong'o) reappears to perform a technical operation that's needed to keep the story moving.

Did I mention that Naomi Ackie plays a new character; Her Jannah rides a kind of hybrid creature that most resembles a horse that has been outfitted for Mardi Gras.

Pile on the effects, rely on Isaacs to add a bit of swashbuckling swagger, challenge Daisy's identity and throw in a surprise or two about the other characters.

The Star Wars series has given Disney the proverbial license to print money. Parts of the fan base always find something to grumble about. Others will feel that they've been amply rewarded. I can't imagine anyone would want to walk into The Rise of Skywalker if they haven't seen the previous eight movies.

Why rattle on? I'm not enough of a fanboy to get staunch about Skywalker. It's enough to say that Abrams has finished the Skywalker series in ways that mostly satisfy, providing some epic sights as he goes.

Case closed. Box office open.

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