Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. (M)
A payoff 42 years in the making, this ninth episode in the three-trilogy cycle of films that began with 1977's Star Wars (later subtitled A New Hope) is a rip-snorter of a big-budget big-screen adventure. True to the spirit of both the schlocky serials and high-art Japanese cinema that originally inspired George Lucas in his epic visionary story-telling, this film has literally something for everybody - tipping the hat to, inviting back on set or channelling the after-life spirit of practically every character and storyline from the franchise.
There's a lot of backstory to know and anyone walking in cold with this as their first film in the series will wonder what the people in the cinema around them are laughing, crying or air-punching over with such force.
In the first three films, a young man is identified as being gifted in the mystical Force and trained by a group of galactic police, the Jedi Knights, while his girlfriend makes a career transition from Queen to Senator. Her work mentor, it turns out, is secretly the head of an army of anti-Jedis called the Sith who orchestrate to wipe the Jedi from the face of the galaxy. Thwarted in his career ambitions, the young man allows himself to be head-hunted, throws on some dark soldier togs and retitles himself Darth Vader, while his girlfriend gives birth to their twin children, and dies.
In the second three films, the separated-at-birth twins Luke and Leia are grown up, know nothing about their origin story but find themselves fighting side-by-side against Darth Vader, now 2-I-C to the evil Emperor. Dad eventually sides with the kids and deals the evil Empire a gut punch.
Family is the thematic link that ties together the overly complex multi-stranded storyline in The Rise of Skywalker.
Hero of the third trilogy of films is Rey (Daisy Ridley) whom we met in 2015's The Force Awakens as an orphaned scavenger of scrap metal whose plumb find is a robot ("droid" in these films) that knows where long-lost Jedi Luke Skywalker has hidden himself. Rey finds herself immersed in the still-active Rebellion, headed up by Leia, now a General and mother to Ben Solo (Adam Driver) whose teenage rebellion has turned very dark. Young Ben has learned his mother and uncle's Jedi skills but has turned to the dark side, dressing up as his grandfather Vader and calling himself Kylo Ren.
Like Hamlet, Kylo/Ben holds his grandfather's skull aloft while pondering his place in the universe. Is he good or is he bad? He isn't wrong for wondering this. After all, his mother is the leader of a group of domestic terrorists and since he and Rey defeated the evil Snoke in 2017's The Last Jedi, he is Acting Secretary in the galaxy far far away's Department of Home Affairs, the "First Order".
Kylo/Ben feels a unique connection to Rey, whose Jedi skills under Leia's tutelage have grown to match his own, and thinks she should join him on the throne, but it turns out the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) didn't die and has plans for the pair.
That is just one strand of dozens of plots that find a resolution in The Rise of Skywalker's screenplay as written by J.J. Abrams and Justice League scribe Chris Terrio, even if Abrams the director doesn't give you viewer too much time between plot moments to appreciate or react. Abrams and Terrio are obviously big George Lucas fans because this film not only addresses but honours practically every wish a fan might have had.
Almost every peripheral character from the series makes an appearance, gets a resolution. Every droid has their moment in the sun, with one making a tear-jerking noble sacrifice.
One of the production team's greatest accomplishments is to keep Carrie Fisher's General Leia Organa front-and-centre to the action throughout, despite Fisher having died before the previous film wrapped. There's many reasons I'll be wanting to rewatch this film multiple times, and the first few repeat viewings will be to work out where these shots might have come from.
The world-making is spectacular, with many new planets and landscapes to drive future video games and theme park rides.
Missing from the film is any real sense of danger for the characters. Despite being the theoretical final installment, Disney shelled out billions of dollars to acquire the intellectual property from George Lucas, and it was hard to imagine they'd risk any future possible spin-off or toy income with a Tarantino Hateful Eight-style no-man-gets-out-of-here-alive finale.
Generations of families have grown up with these characters. I once got called into the office of my son's daycare principal for a dressing-down after he was caught mimicking the double-lightsaber decapitation scene from Revenge of the Sith. We both still pretend we're opening the automatic doors in shopping malls with The Force.
Your family is going to love this satisfying final film (for now) for many years to come.