Dog’s Movie House: “Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker” Delivers!

JJ Abrams, after jumpstarting the franchise with “The Force Awakens” four years ago, jumps back into the director’s chair to bring this three film arc to its rousing conclusion. Here we find the true villain of this sequel trilogy: a resurrected Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) attempting to improve his chances at immortality by having Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the rest of his First Order find and kill Rey (Daisy Ridley), the last hope for the Jedi. In return, Palpatine promises Ren and his army the use of a huge fleet of Star Destroyers, each with the ability to destroy entire planets. Meanwhile, the Resistance, facing long odds, tries to find the location of Palpatine’s hidden fortress so that they may launch one final assault in an attempt to end the war and bring hope to the galaxy.

“Rise of Skywalker” is so packed with stuff that you could be forgiven for thinking it would have been better if Abrams and company decided to split this finale into two films. That said, after a busy first half in which our main cast is chasing a MacGuffin (in this case, a Sith Wayfinder that will help them find the Emperor), the film settles into a nice groove that accomplishes something few Star Wars films have ever done: establishing an emotional kick that is just as satisfying as the visceral thrills the Star Wars films are known for.

The acting is uniformly good all around. Say what you will about the sequel trilogy borrowing elements from previous films, but the character work here is very good. Ridley and Driver are terrific as Rey and Kylo Ren, respectively. Their chemistry isn’t of an overtly romantic kind, but something deeper, almost sibling-like, and Driver sells his arc like nobody’s business, getting some of the best reactions in the theater. Ridley remains an engaging presence as Rey, fighting her own impulses just as much as the enemies who want her hide. John Boyega does some excellent work as Finn, though the ex-stormtrooper’s arc gets a little scattershot at times. Oscar Issac returns as Resistance pilot and leader Poe Dameron, and Richard E. Grant and Domhnall Gleeson have a lot of fun chewing the scenery as a couple of high ranking First Order Officers.

Abrams and his crew do a very good job in incorporating archival footage of the late Carrie Fisher (footage from “The Force Awakens, by the way) in creating a fitting ending for one of the most beloved characters in all of Star Wars. It’s not perfect, but it works a whole lot better than it has a right to. Mark Hamill gets a pretty good Force Ghost moment as Luke, but Harrison Ford’s single scene as Han Solo is probably one of the most emotionally satisfying scenes in any Star Wars film (and no, it doesn’t matter that he’s dead!) Another neat arc that comes to a close is that of C-3PO (Anthony Daniels). The golden protocol droid gets a bit of time in the limelight and Daniels impresses yet again not only with his comic timing, but with an unusually powerful sense of pathos as well. And kudos to giving Billy Dee Williams a nice curtain call as Lando Calirissian. Lando gets a couple of big moments in the film and each one got a rousing reception from our audience.

As usual, “Rise Of Skywalker” contains some first rate action and wonderful special effects work that really immerse you in the various worlds to which our heroes travel. I only have a couple of gripes. Number one: Kelly Tran’s role as Rose Tico is way too reduced. She barely registers onscreen and she was one of my favorite characters in Rian Johnson’s “The Last Jedi.” Number two: Abrams still pushes the gas pedal to the ground when it comes to pacing, at least in the first half of the film. It’s not as noticeable as in “The Force Awakens,” but the first half of “The Rise Of Skywalker” feels a little overstuffed and rushed. Thankfully at about the halfway point the story threads come together and the pacing becomes a bit more natural, leading to some great emotional moments.

“Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker” is not a perfect film, but it hits on all cylinders most of the time and provides a rousing and emotionally charged conclusion to a story that began way back in 1977. Full of engaging performances and incredible spectacle, “The Rise Of Skywalker” needs to be seen on the biggest screen possible. I recommend the Esquire Imax downtown. Just make sure you check if the show is in 3D or not. I didn’t and ended up seeing it in 3D, which is fine for me but happens to make my lovely wife a bit nauseous. That said, we had a hell of a time at the premier a couple of weeks ago. Big thanks to Doug Link for the always great hospitality. You can get your tickets here! Star Wars is back and it’s a lot of fun. 5 Out Of 5 On The Obviously Biased Barkometer! So Sayeth The Kendog!

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