NOTE: While this is a review of The Rise of Skywalker, it does not contain any spoilers regarding plot or characters. However, the tone and atmosphere are discussed at length. If you wish to remain 100% spoiler-free, feel free to come back and read this review after you have seen the film.

Since the summer of 1977, Star Wars has enraptured us with all of the spectacle and grandeur that box office blockbusters are known for. Throughout all nine films, the focus has been on the Skywalkers, and now, with the release of The Rise of Skywalker on December 20th, this portion of the mythology comes to a close. It’s bittersweet, to be certain. When you juxtapose that with our culture of rampant mass media consumption (particularly with the popularity of streaming services), instant social media reactions, and our dedicated fanbase, there is a lot riding on this movie. 

We live in a definitive age of more: more sequels, more spin-offs, more seasons. And sometimes, the results are of mixed quality. There is wisdom in knowing when a story should end, and the pressure on the creators must be enormous. Director/writer J.J. Abrams and writer Chris Terrio, alongside producer Michelle Rejwan and Lucasfilm Vice-President Kathleen Kennedy, have been tasked with wrapping up the Skywalker saga, which must be incredibly daunting. Plus, Star Wars fans are a passionate, ravenous collective; we love this mythology and consume it readily. The Rise of Skywalker needs to deliver on every level, in order to properly give closure to this space opera that has enveloped so many of us for over forty-two years.

And it does, in triumphant fashion. The Rise of Skywalker is an absolute spectacle and a thrill-ride from start to finish. The trinity of Daisy Ridley (“Rey”), John Boyega (“Finn”), and Oscar Isaac (“Poe Dameron”) have much more screen time together than in the previous two films, which allows for them to showcase their considerable talents as an ensemble. It also provides an organic canvas that elevates the pathos for Daisy Ridley’s Rey; The Rise of Skywalker showcases her considerable range as an actor. She has a lot to do in this film-her conflicts are numerous, at times relentless, and through it all Ridley delivers. 

When the movie starts, it has been roughly a year since the events of The Last Jedi. Rian Johnson’s magnum opus (to me, the finest of the sequel trilogy) crafted a complex, compelling narrative, and like some of the great stories of heroes from ancient Greek mythology, made Luke Skywalker more flawed and relatable. It created something of a vortex in the zeitgeist and introduced some intriguing conversations. That continues in Abrams’ new film. While not nearly as sophisticated a piece as The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker takes these fascinating narrative threads and interweaves them into the overall arching mythology. It works. Not adeptly, but it works.

And while the aforementioned Ridley is fantastic, Adam Driver (“Kylo Ren/Ben Solo”) shines here as well. In fact, it may be his best performance of the sequel trilogy. He brings more range and depth to his tortured character and delivers a powerhouse performance. Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron is also engaging but in a much different way. His character has changed the most, and while it took me a while to make peace with that, it eventually made sense, from a narrative perspective. 

It’s not a perfect movie; it may be my least favorite of the sequel trilogy. But it’s also a heck of a lot of fun, And while it did take about thirty minutes to find its footing, once it does, it never slows down.  The Rise of Skywalker provides some of the most epic action sequences and stunt work in the entire franchise’s history and packs a visceral, emotional wallop that will have audiences buzzing for years to come. There are a number of critical moments here that will challenge what you know about the Force, these characters, and the mythology, and that is a good thing. It takes some storytelling risks (more than I expected), but that is essential to the longevity of a successful overarching narrative. The best stories of all time always feel fresh and vibrant, and because of the brilliance of J.J. Abrams, The Rise of Skywalker continues the legacy of the great mythological that is the Star Wars franchise.

4 out of 5

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Dan Zehr is the Host and Brand Director of the Star Wars podcast Coffee With Kenobi and is the co-author of The Star Wars Book. He is a Feature Blog Contributor for StarWars.com, as well as a writer for IGN, and is a prominent influencer in Star Wars fandom. He is also a prolific high school educator, who teaches Literature and Composition, and has a Master's Degree in Teaching and Learning.His work combining Star Wars and education garnered him a role in the Target Rogue One: A Star Wars Story commercial, as well as feature profiles in the Chicago Tribune, Illinois State University's Statewide Standard, and the Peoria Journal Star. He has also been interviewed in Good Morning, America, the HuffPost, Forbes, and Bloomberg. He resides in Illinois with his wife and three boys.

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