Review: ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ is a satisfying last ride through a familiar galaxy

(Image courtesy Lucasfilm Ltd. / Disney) Rey (Daisy Ridley) runs from an approaching TIE fighter in a scene from "Star Wars, Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker," which will be released in theaters Dec. 20, 2019.

Where a “Star Wars” fan lands regarding “The Rise of Skywalker” — the ninth and (supposedly) final chapter of the story that began back in 1977 — will depend largely on where the fan started the journey.

Younger viewers, the ones whose memories of young Luke Skywalker battling Darth Vader and destroying the Death Star played out on the small screen, likely will be satisfied with where director J.J. Abrams brings back the narrative that he started with “The Force Awakens” in 2015. The old guard like me, who thrilled to Luke and Leia and Han decades ago in the movie theaters, may be struck with a sense of “been there, blasted that.”

All generations of fans will find a lot to love — it is a “Star Wars” movie, after all — with plenty of action, moving moments for our main heroes, some callbacks that don’t feel like pandering, and a finale that ties up 42 years of Skywalker lore with only a few loose ends. (Gotta leave something for a sequel.)

For a lively franchise that puts young heroes front and center, this installment begins with a concentration on the dead coming back to speak. A transmission from Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who we thought was killed in “Return of the Jedi,” sails across the cosmos, warning of a resurrection of the Sith and the end of the Resistance. That Resistance is still led by General Leia Organa — played by Carrie Fisher, gone three years this month, through unused footage from the last two films — who is training Rey (Daisy Ridley), formerly her brother Luke’s protege, in the ways of the Force.

Elsewhere, our heroes Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) are bouncing among planets in the Millennium Falcon, collecting intel from a spy Leia has cultivated within the First Order. Hot on the Falcon’s trail is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who worries Palpatine’s resurfacing will threaten his hold on power after the death of Supreme Commander Snoke in the previous film, “The Last Jedi.”

OK, that’s as far into spoiler territory I’m interested in going — in fact, there’s little in the above synopsis that isn’t mentioned in the trademark yellow-type crawl that accompanies John Williams’ famous fanfare. (Yes, he came out of retirement to write the score to this one, and shows up in an onscreen cameo — one of many familiar faces Abrams gets before the cameras.)

Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio jam so much action into the first hour there’s scarcely time for the audience to breathe, or for the late-to-the-game new characters to make an impact. Such a frenzied pace is a problem in a movie that ultimately hangs on the quiet philosophical questions that “Star Wars” has asked since George Lucas started the franchise: Are we all good? Or all evil? And is it fate or will that determines which way we go?

Abrams steers away from the fascinating path writer-director Rian Johnson took in “The Last Jedi,” which suggested there’s a little bit of the Force in everybody. Here, Abrams returns to the safer route, with concerns of lineage and legacy, whether one’s family name is Skywalker or Palpatine. If the Force is all in the blood, maybe it is all up to the number of midichlorians a person has in their veins, like Lucas said in “The Phantom Menace” — and that’s not, as Old Ben Kenobi once said, taking a step into a larger universe.

Those may be minor quibbles — but minor quibbles, fought one Twitter rant at a time, are what keep “Star Wars” fans energized. Those fans will find more to like about “The Rise of Skywalker” than dislike, and even in its faults there lies the joy of flying through a familiar universe one last time.


‘Star Wars, Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker’

Our heroes in a galaxy far, far away fight for good over evil one more time, in a concluding chapter that’s satisfying if a bit safe.

Where • Theaters everywhere

When • Opens Friday, Dec. 20

Rated • PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action.

Running time • 141 minutes