“I need to go alone,” says heroic Rey (Daisy Ridley) in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” to which her buddy Finn (John Boyega) replies, “Yeah. Alone with friends.”
That’s the message of “Skywalker” in a nutshell: Heroism and saving the world are fine, but nobody does it on their own.
Rey gets help from not just Finn but also Poe (Oscar Isaac, whose quippy Han Solo knockoff has quickly become a latter-day “Star Wars” MVP), Chewbacca and a host of OG characters, because no one’s ever really gone in “Star Wars” movies. That includes General Leia (the late Carrie Fisher), who is given the emotional send-off she deserves in this final installment of the Skywalker trilogy.
There’s a lot going on in “The Rise of Skywalker,” which sometimes shows the strains of Intellectual Property Management. New characters are introduced who don’t have much to do but could pay off in future films (hi, Keri Russell) and obligatory new settings are unveiled (not sure what’s the point of an outer-space Burning Man). Meanwhile, existing story lines are either wrapped up or rebooted.
The main plot strand is Rey and pals fighting against both perversely evil Palpatine (elegant Ian McDiarmid), who’s enacting a Nazi-like plan for world domination he calls The Final Order, and misguided-or-maybe-evil warrior Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, magnetic every moment he’s on screen). Kylo previously has been rejected by Rey and is not taking it well.
Some scenes in “Skywalker” are so cluttered that it’s more like “Rise of the Short Attention Span,” and I’m not sure we needed to see the Ewoks again. But director J.J. Abrams aces the sort of exciting battle sequences we expect from a “Star Wars” movie and he and co-screenwriter Chris Terrio use wiseguy humor to smooth over some of the rough edges. This “Star Wars” made me chuckle more than any of the previous ones.
What Abrams is best at is bringing together characters to show us unexpected dimensions of their relationships. That’s true of Kylo and Rey but also Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), who pops up, possibly taking a break from a new career as a motivational speaker. He tells the Scooby gang, who don’t think they’re ready to save the world: “Luke, Han, Leia, me. Whoever is ready? We had each other. That’s why we won.” It frees up the characters to lean on, and learn from, each other, which gives “Skywalker” the forward character momentum that several “Star Wars” entries lack.
“Skywalker” is the most diverse of all the “Star Wars” movies, including a showy, same-sex kiss that the Hallmark Channel will love then hate then love, and a plot that is unapologetically driven by its female lead’s search for herself. She gets closer and closer to figuring out her purpose as “Skywalker” draws to a satisfying finale that springs out of advice from her pals: “We’re not alone.”
That sentiment is constantly being rephrased in “Skywalker,” so much so that I found myself thinking, “OK, J.J. Abrams. I get it.” On the other hand, in a world that faces problems even larger than those in the “Star Wars” universe, the message that we’re all in this together is one that bears repeating.
Chris Hewitt • 612-673-4367 • @HewittStrib
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
★★★ out of 4 stars
Rating: PG-13 for violence