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Spoiler-free Review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Chances are, if you’re reading this review (and I use the term loosely), you’ve already seen The Rise of Skywalker (so now it’s okay to look), you couldn’t care less about the film and are looking for validation, you trust that I won’t give anything away because you’ve read enough of my stuff to know better, or, you’re somewhat curious if you should see the movie, at least eventually. To the first group I say, “Hope you enjoyed it. How ‘bout that ending?!” To the second group, I say, “You probably haven’t seen a Star Wars movie since 1977 (if at all) and that’s okay. No need to start with this one.” To the third group, “I couldn’t spoil it if I wanted to; I’m just a casual fan, familiar with the broad strokes of the epic saga but not obsessed with the minutiae; and to the fourth group, here’s the deal: “If you saw Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens and Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi then you should definitely see The Rise of Skywalker (aka Episode IX), for closure.

In terms of providing closure, The Rise of Skywalker gets the job done in stellar fashion. However, the movie as a whole is not nearly as satisfying as its dramatic and heartwarming conclusion. It’s like all involved were trying too hard to be everything to everyone and the narrative got muddled in the process. The movie starts off as it should, in true Star Wars fashion – with the iconic title, the instantly-recognizable John Williams score, and scrolling text designed to set the stage for the final showdown between surviving members of the Resistance and the powerful autocratic military dictatorship known as the First Order. In a galaxy far, far away.

Then, it gets down to the business of setting up the final, epic battle. Director J.J. Abrams makes sure everyone whose anyone critical to the origin of the franchise pops up in some way – and that includes a few key scenes with Resistance leader Leia Organa (using footage shot before Carrie Fisher’s untimely death in 2016), her brother Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) who made the ultimate sacrifice in The Last Jedi, and the not-so-surprise return (if you’ve seen the media blitz) of smooth-talking friend of the Resistance, Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams). And of course there’s Chewbacca, R2-D2, C-3PO. In other words, the gang’s all here.

The ‘new’ gang is here as well, to drive the story home. Scrappy scavenger-turned-new-hope Rey (Daisy Ridley) is working hard on her Jedi training when called into action with her friends Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) to save the galaxy. She’s thwarted at most every turn by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, Marriage Story, The Report), with whom she shares a mystical ability to communicate – and a deadly attraction. He’s still trying to woo her to the dark side. Is that her true destiny?

Rey is challenged and compelled to learn her identity (“She’s not who you think she is,” we’re told). There’s even a mysterious “wayfinder” device to assist the navigation. But this is “Star Wars,” where the only tools one really needs to succeed are hope, faith and friends. That was the message when the saga began to unfold 42 years ago. And that’s the message now.

The last leg of the journey is a bit uneven, but the trip is still worth taking. It’s entertaining and nostalgic, and a fitting tribute to the legacy of Luke and Leia. May the force be with you.

See, no spoilers.

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