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"STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER"
(2019) (Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Sci-Fi: A young woman tries to ward off attempts by an evil leader to join him in overthrowing an even more powerful emperor, all while her rebel Resistance prepares once again to take on an intergalactic military dictatorship.
PLOT:
In this ninth installment of the original "Star Wars" film series, Emperor Palpatine (IAN McDIARMID) has somehow returned from the dead and orders the evil ruler of the First Order, Kylo Ren (ADAM DRIVER), to find and kill Rey (DAISY RIDLEY), a young woman who went from being a scavenger to helping the rebel Resistance take on the intergalactic military dictatorship. Having been trained by the late Jedi master Luke Skywalker (MARK HAMILL), Rey is quite powerful in all things related to the Force, something not lost on Kylo Ren who actually wants her to join him on the Dark Side to overthrow Palpatine.

Still working for General Leia Organa (CARRIE FISHER), Rey wants no part of that and instead is interested in finding something Luke had long been searching for and ends up accompanied by impulsive fighter pilot Poe Dameron (OSCAR ISAAC), former stormtrooper turned Resistance fighter Finn (JOHN BOYEGA), and wookiee Chewbacca (JOONAS SUOTAMO), with some assistance from his and Leia's old friend, Lando Calrissian (BILLY DEE WILLIAMS).

With Palpatine having creating an enormous fleet of destroyers equipped with planet-killing laser cannons, Rey and her friends do what they can to stop both Kylo Ren and the emperor.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Like many other businesses people arrive into the world of moviemaking via any number of routes. For some, it's sheer nepotism, having a parent or other family relative already working in the biz. Others win contests for writing or directing short films, and some of those who appear in front of the camera just so happen to be in the right place at the right time to encounter a decision-maker.

For writer/director/producer J.J. Abrams, his was one of those matters of coincidence. Accordingly to producer Kathleen Kennedy, one day they received a call that films that Steven Spielberg had made as a teen had been discovered. Not wanting to run the risk of losing them, she proposed to the famous director that two teens who had just won a filmmaking award and were featured in the L.A. Times that morning would likely jump at the chance of cleaning those up and transferring them to tape.

Abrams was one of those two (the other was eventual director Matt Reeves) and the rest is, as they say, movie history. There's likely little doubt that Spielberg influenced Abrams's style and the younger director even paid some homage both to his mentor and the sort of short films that were discovered in the flick "Super 8."

But Abrams has also been known to pay homage and reconfigure other past work, such as what he did -- to great and decent success respectively -- with the 2009 reboot of "Star Trek" and the continuation of the "Star Wars" saga with 2015's "The Force Awakens."

Alas, that imitative feature hasn't always served him as successfully, as was the case with "Star Trek: Into Darkness" (which was far too greatly lifted from "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan") and now the last episode of George Lucas' space saga, "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker."

While it doesn't blatantly rip off and retool a standalone "SW" film like occurred with the "Trek" one, and does follow in his own "TFA" footsteps of paying homage to previous "Star Wars" material, this final installment of the original nine-part space saga that started a long time ago in a single screen theater most likely not around anymore ends up feeling a bit too familiar while also decidedly less than thrilling or engaging.

Or at least as a whole as there are a smattering of enjoyable moments scattered throughout the 142-minute movie that Abrams co-wrote with fellow scribe Chris Terrio. And the last one-on-one fight scene and subsequent final wrap-up hit just the right notes. I just wish I could say the same about the rest of the material and overall offering as a collective whole.

Of course, my reaction -- which seems to have mirrored that of many of my colleagues at our press screening who expressed similar "meh" responses right after our press screening -- might have been different had the last installment's director, Rian Johnson, returned to helm this one.

But vocal and diehard "SW" fans weren't happy with the direction that "The Last Jedi" took (although critics and everyday moviegoers apparently were) and so he was replaced by director Colin Trevorrow ("Jurassic World"). Then Lucasfilm reportedly wasn't pleased with what he was creating and thus replaced him with Abrams.

Thus what we get is, natch, a continuation of the story stemming from the most recent entries as mixed with fan-service material and nostalgic nods (including a third act gist that apes/pays homage to the same in "Return of the Jedi"). All of which results in an occasionally poorly edited offering with sequences and elements that distract (albeit entertainingly on their own at times) and diffuse rather than continue building on each other toward the big, let's wrap everything up conclusion.

All of which means I didn't find myself -- not being a diehard "SW" junkie -- emotionally or even viscerally invested in what I was seeing at any moment or what might be coming down the pike. I knew the supposed "oh no" moments weren't going to stick, especially as related to a new revelation of what one apparently can now do with the Force.

The performances from the returning cast are fine and the production values, effects and score are not-surprisingly top-notch. I just wish the story was as well, but considering Abrams' insistence over multiple films to put a new coat of paint on the walls where we've seen the material before, it's not surprising that we get more of a rehash rather than something new. Diehard fans might be happy, but I found "Rise of Skywalker" just okay and clearly the lesser of the most recent "Star Wars" films. It rates as just a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed December 17, 2019 / Posted December 20, 2019


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