With so much teaser trailer talk, rumours of scripts on sale on eBay and directorial to-ing and fro-ing, it was easy to lose track of the fact that there was an actual film at the centre of it all. The Rise of Skywalker is the final flourish for the intergalactic nonology and the concluding instalment in the recent revamped (and to many, reheated) trio of films. A new danger looms over the galaxy, after the viciously malevolent Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) ventures to an uncharted planet and discovers an old ally, who is rather keen on world domination. It is up to the embattled Resistance find the planet and stop Ren and his Sith master, not to mention their lethal armada of star destroyers.
From the hotseat, J.J. Abrams has crafted a muscular, fast-paced feature, the narrative flitting around like the Millennium Falcon skipping through hyperspace. The Resistance gang - Rey, Finn, Poe, Chewbacca and the droids – complement each other well, with plenty of snappy repartee. Always on the back foot, they play out a space-bound game of cat-and-mouse with Ren, complete with numerous punchy action sequences. There is little pause to draw breath, but neither is there much chance for character development. The key focus is on Rey's struggle against her inner darkness, and Ren's resistance against the pull of the light. True, we are thrown a few titbits about Poe's previous life, but Finn's character arc is left weirdly incomplete, and other characters, such as Kelly Marie Tran's Rose, who was so involved in The Last Jedi, gets little chance to spread her wings here. This is price to pay for having a such a star-studded ensemble cast – that there’s no time to flesh out any one character with a bit more depth. Perhaps embracing quantity over quality, Abrams doesn’t really try, either, instead bringing back a couple of familiar faces, in addition to Dominic Monaghan and Naomi Ackie joining the party in more minor roles.
Where the film falls down is in its pretty loose attitude to resurrection. Watching The Rise of Skywalker, it's easy to think of one of Adam Driver's other recent outings, Jim Jarmusch's lacklustre zombie flick, The Dead Don't Die. The dead are doing a lot of things in this saga finale, but there's not much dying going on. To be clear, this is not a criticism of the continued appearance of Carrie Fisher as Leia, poignantly brought to life through unused footage from previous films, but of what’s going on elsewhere. Various characters perish, only to reappear later, in circumstances which are not always clearly explained. It's a rather cheap blockbuster manoeuvre that we've already seen in the first two instalments, and it’s certainly lost its novelty here: onscreen deaths seem to be subject to some kind of glitch in the machine - no one can just straightforwardly pop their clogs and be off. Partner that with some of the original trilogy old guard coming back, a fair few force ghosts and a dose of desperate genealogical research from Rey, and it's hard not to feel like we've seen this one before.
But there is some uniqueness too. The dark side seems darker and more dystopian than ever, and Exegol, where the final battle takes place, is suitably nightmarish, with a shadowy Sith amphitheatre rendered on a vast scale. There are flashes of humour - not so much the goofy gags of old but genuinely sharp, well-timed irony, more often seen in sitcoms or sketch shows than sci-fi titans. And of course, there is plenty of classic Star Wars stuff in there: in some ways, that the film retraces old territory is comfortingly familiar rather than repetitive. Hands tremble and faces grimace in intense force battles; lightsabers are drawn, and occasionally, wiggled around in an aggressive manner. People say amusingly outdated, American things like "Clam it!" and "They're toast!". And when you see Resistance fighters scurrying around, busily plugging cables into X-wings, others marshalling bombers into the air with glowsticks, you know that shit, in its trademark fashion, is about to go down. It duly does, in a climactic, if rather bread-and-butter, space battle, while down in the necropolis, the more significant showdown unfolds as Rey, Ren, and the sinister Sith square up for the final time.
There is a lot to wrap here – too much, in truth, for the film’s bloated 142-minute runtime – but Abrams and co do an admirable job of attempting to tie up loose ends. There remain several unanswered questions hanging in the air, and several characters are foisted with unsatisfactory endings. But there’s a lot to savour in this finale, too, with plenty for fans to get their teeth into. Time and again you find yourself marvelling at the imagination and ingenuity of it all – the diverse planets, the strange creatures, the technology, the special effects, all so rich, so inventive. If nothing else, (and at least until the next inevitable spin-off), it is a pleasure just to be immersed, one last time, in that extraordinary galaxy far, far away.