Following the divisive The Last Jedi, director J.J. Abrams returns to restore balance to the Force – and conclude the four-decade Star Wars saga – with The Rise of Skywalker.     

Abrams’ opening move in this hard reset is to resurrect Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who’s been lurking in the shadows all this time while the First Order play surrogate Empire. When the Resistance learn of his return, it’s full speed ahead to acquire a relic that points the way to the Sith home base, and prevent the Emperor from unleashing Final Order on the galaxy…

Once The Rise of Skywalker gets underway, it’s as if the events of The Last Jedi never really happened – although Luke’s involvement is of course acknowledged and Rey and Kylo Ren continue their love/hate relationship via Force mind-meld. The pacing is frantic as Abrams’ reconnects the narrative to what he conceived for The Force Awakens, and there’s a sense he’s also squeezing in ideas he may have had for Episode VIII before proceeding to the grand finale. And yes, there are finally some answers to a lot of the questions raised in TFA, which were subsequently brushed aside in Rian Johnson’s rogue instalment.

Moreover, while there’s fan service aplenty – this is the last hurrah, after all, so a lot of familiar faces pop up to say farewell – there’s less reprisal of key moments from the original trilogy (The Force Awakens was basically a retread of A New Hope in order to relaunch the franchise, and The Last Jedi liberally reworked set pieces from The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi). Consequently, The Rise of Skywalker actually feels like an “all-new” Star Wars adventure, one that adds some surprising new revelations concerning the Jedi and the Sith to the canon.

Rey and Kylo Ren, engaged in a tug of war between the Light and Dark sides, have much richer character arcs this time around, and Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver are back in top form as the conflicted duo. And there’s a better sense of unity among the core team of Poe, Finn, Chewie and Rey, without any distracting side missions. Even the irritating C-3PO is given a poignant moment, while BB-8 gets a new droid pal that resembles a rolling hairdryer.

There’s a LOT going on in The Rise of Skywalker but Abrams’ has successfully steered the new trilogy back on track, and the result is a largely satisfying, epic and nostalgia-infused conclusion. The Skywalker Saga may be over, but remember, the Force will be with you… always.  

In cinemas: December 19, 2019
Starring: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac
Directed by: J.J. Abrams

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