'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker' Saps Some Joy Out of the Skywalker Saga Directed by J.J. Abrams

Starring Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Kelly Marie Tran, Keri Russell, Lupita Nyong'o
'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker' Saps Some Joy Out of the Skywalker Saga Directed by J.J. Abrams
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The latest Star Wars trilogy hasn't broken much new ground, but great characters combined with a satisfyingly predictable story made The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi enjoyable romps. The series wraps up with The Rise of Skywalker — a darker film filled with more emotions, more twists and more flaws.
 
Episode IX is a grand finale, not only for the latest trilogy, but for the entire nine-episode Skywalker saga. It's not quite clear how much time has passed since Episode VIII, but there has been a significant new development in the struggle between the Sith and the Jedi — which makes the opening text crawl feel like a lazy bit of exposition. It's like J.J. Abrams missed the day of scriptwriting school when they taught "show, don't tell."
 
Meanwhile, Finn (John Boyego), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo, taking over from Peter Mayhew, who died earlier this year and last appeared in The Force Awakens) are still battling the forces of evil, accompanied by their faithful droids. Rey (Daisy Ridley) is troubled by her mystical connection to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and she's grappling with her own affinity to the dark side of the Force.
 
As the gang attempt to decode hidden messages and make their way to a sinister Sith stronghold, the plot simultaneously feels very familiar and a bit convoluted. A side-plot about a secret mole working within the First Order serves little purpose, and there are way too many instances in which a character seemingly dies only to be quickly brought back to life. The stakes get lower with every fake-out death scene.
 
Fin, whose transformation from stormtrooper to Resistance fighter was so fun to watch in the last two movies, has seemingly run out of things to do here. His chemistry with Rey, which was so crucial to the prior films, has been all but abandoned, leaving him and Poe as peripheral characters. Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) and the adorable BB-8 have been reduced to bit parts, and a couple of new characters are totally underdeveloped.
 
As for Rey, the thrill of watching her master the Force has faded, and she's now gripped with turmoil about her love-hate connection with Kylo Ren. The leader of the First Order no longer seems to inspire much fear; he shows up for the occasional light saber battle, but he's oddly ineffectual, and he never really poses much of a threat.
 
The Rise of Skywalker won't totally squander the good will Star Wars has rebuilt with its latest trilogy (don't worry, there's no stiff George Lucas dialogue to totally ruin it). The effects are predictably stunning, while some revelations about Rey's past shed intriguing new light on her connection to the Force. The real star of this war is the bumbling droid C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), who provides all of the film's best comic relief. And there are some tie-ins to the first film that are a nice payoff for the fans who have been following along since the beginning.
 
But coming from nostalgia king J.J. Abrams — the director who recused the franchise from the brink after those terrible prequels — this final chapter is curiously joyless.
 
(Disney)