"Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" Fulfills Its Duty To The Fans

Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker – Opens 12.20.19
Hollow Point – Opens 12.24.19
Little Women – Opens 12.25.19
Spies in Disguise – Opens 12.25.19
The Song of Names – Opens 12.25.19
Uncut Gems – Opens 12.25.19
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” Fulfills Its Duty To The Fans
By Stephen Whitty

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a band of plucky rebels picked up a lightsaber or two and went to war against an empire. And they’re still at it. But is the Force still with them?
Are we?

The latest and last film in the Star Wars triple-trilogy works really hard for fans. It brings back just about every franchise character that ever lived. Ever died, too (that’s what flashbacks and hallucinations are for). It even invites back a few you hoped they wouldn’t, like the Ewoks.

The film’s not just a nostalgia trip, either. A spirited Daisy Ridley truly comes into her own as Jedi-in-training Rey, and Oscar Isaac is an even-more-dashing-than usual Poe Dameron. John Boyega’s Finn gets pushed to the sidelines, unfortunately, but Adam Driver’s devilish Kylo Ren firmly grabs the spotlight — in some ways, in the end, this is his story.

But in fulfilling its duty to the fans, sometimes the film feels a little too … dutiful. The previous film, The Last Jedi, took risks. The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t. In fact, a lot of times it feels like a direct sequel to the safer film before that, The Force Awakens. Sometimes it even feels like a thinly disguised remake of Return of the Jedi.

Of course, it’s been more than 35 years since that classic, and things have changed, including audiences’ attention spans. Director J.J. Abrams’ hyperkinetic camera is always moving, panning, swirling, even when it doesn’t need to. While the original films took time to set scenes or let dialogue unfold, The Rise of Skywalker starts at a run, as it keeps cramming in plot points and action sequences, and never quite catches its breath.

Neither do we. The relationships between Rey, Poe and Finn aren’t just taken for granted, they’re pretty much ignored — until they’re finally contradicted, along with their characters. Finn spends the first half of the film crushing hard on Rey, then quickly falls for someone else. Poe is an arrogant hothead until he isn’t.

Other, potentially powerful emotional moments don’t pay off. It’s nice to see Billy Dee Williams again as Lando Calrissian, but it doesn’t lead to anything surprising. While it was valiant to try to bring back Princess Leia’s character after Carrie Fisher’s death, it’s clear there just wasn’t enough leftover footage to construct a performance.

And those who never took to that beach ball droid BB-8 will be even less enthused to see he now has his own little friend, a squeaky bit of junk who looks like Pixar’s desk lamp, and feels like the franchise’s latest crass grab at merchandising.

But, even a flawed Star Wars film is, still, a Star Wars film. John Williams’ music is stirring, right from the opening title. The lightsaber battles thrill. And if the original, mythic, questing message of the first films has been tamed and tweaked into little more than a mild, modern-day, Dr. Phil-style affirmation — that you’re not your parents — at least the movie leaves you feeling happier when you walk out than when you walked in.

And these days, that’s a rare, and necessary, treat.
Stephen’s Grade: B
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Rated PG-13
Stars: Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac
Director: J.J. Abrams
Uncut Gems
Rated R
Stars: Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel
Director: Benny and Josh Safdie
This riveting thriller stars Adam Sandler — in a career high — as a charismatic jeweler who takes a high-stakes risk in pursuit of the windfall of a lifetime. But balancing business, family and plenty of adversaries may be more than he can handle.
Hollow Point
Not Rated
Stars: Luke Goss, Dilan Jay, JuJu Chan
Director: Daniel Zirilli
After his wife and daughter are murdered, a college professor finds himself caught up in a war between a group of vigilantes and the criminals wreaking havoc on their city.
Little Women
Rated PG
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Timothée Chalamet
Director: Greta Gerwig
Based on the classic novel by Louisa May Alcott, this film tells the story of the four March sisters, who are growing up in post-Civil War America. Jo, Amy, Beth and Meg are different from one another, but their family bond keeps them together in difficult times.
Spies in Disguise
Rated PG
Voices of: Will Smith, Tom Holland, Karen Gillan
Directors: Nick Bruno, Troy Quane
In this animated film, the world’s best spy is turned into a pigeon, leaving him to rely on his nerdy scientist pal to save the world — and return him to his human state.
The Song of Names
Rated PG-13
Stars: Clive Owen, Tim Roth, Catherine McCormack
Director: François Girard
At the start of World War II, 9-year-old Martin’s family takes in a young violin prodigy and Polish-Jewish refugee, Dovidl. The two boys grow up as brothers, until Dovidl vanishes one night. Years later, the adult Martin goes on a quest to find out what happened to his lost brother.