When I saw “Star Wars” at Seattle’s UA 150 theatre in the summer of 1977, my friends and I took notice of a brief shot during the climax, of the film’s heavy-breathing villain, Darth Vader, spinning off into who-knows-where.
Hmm, he’s still alive. Does this mean there’ll be a sequel?
Ah, it was all so innocent then. I doubt that even “Star Wars” creator George Lucas could’ve guessed that in 2019, his sci-fi saga (now owned by Disney) would formally conclude its nine-film cycle, having generated billions of dollars of revenue and an army of near-religious fans across multiple generations.
But here we are, as “Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker” takes its place in the firmament. Here, the final threads of the Luke Skywalker-Han Solo-Princess Leia story are tied up, and the Rebellion finishes its business.
The heroes of this trilogy reunite under the leadership of Leia — embodied here, as ever, by Carrie Fisher, albeit in some combination of old footage and digital trickery (Fisher died in 2016).
Rey (Daisy Ridley) is still in Jedi training, while Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) ready themselves for the big fight to come. Rey continues to mind-talk with that fan of the Dark Side, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), whose fancy new mask-helmet makes him Darther than ever.
Lightsaber duels and spaceship flotillas ensue. The movie’s got some surprises that are not terribly surprising — but they certainly qualify as “fan service” to the devoted faithful.
Director J.J. Abrams, who made Episode VII in the series, backs away from some of the cooler possibilities put forward in Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII, “The Last Jedi.” That film was the best “Star Wars” picture since the first one, a giddy romp that put new life in the franchise.
Diehard fans didn’t like it, however, so Disney and Abrams dial back to more familiar characters and references. There’s nothing in “The Rise of Skywalker” that will take your breath away, and nothing to trouble you, either.
Abrams allows the tiniest bit of political commentary to sneak in, although nothing as pointed as Lucas’s “Revenge of the Sith.” Mostly the story settles on standard heroes and villains, with the notable exception of Driver’s disheveled Kylo, who deserves a more ambitious scenario around him.
While playing it safe and keeping track of the legacy, Abrams lets the logic go slack. This is one of those films where characters blithely pop back from the dead, random chance saves the day, and supernatural powers (which would be handy if deployed elsewhere) emerge only when they will look the most spectacular.
Give Abrams credit for the chemistry between the actors — they really look like they’re having fun here — and for the usual impeccable technical excellence. Things generally go off without a hitch.
I enjoyed the movie, but then I don’t have especially high demands for these things. I don’t go into a “Star Wars” movie with the fear that my childhood will be ruined if the moviemakers give Boba Fett the wrong color headpiece, so for me “The Rise of Skywalker” (dumb title, by the way) played just fine as a sci-fi spectacle.
But the electricity that flared up in “The Last Jedi” is sorely missed — Disney won’t make the mistake of allowing their franchise to exhibit any wayward impulses again. In the meantime, this particular saga is at long last at an end, and it feels more like relief than exultation.
“Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker” (3 stars)
The nine-part saga that began in 1977 officially closes out with this very safe conclusion, in which the usual lightsaber battles alternate with surprises that aren’t especially surprising. Everything’s in place, and the cast is having fun, so credit director J.J. Abrams for steering the thing into a secure conclusion, despite the lack of giddy fun that its predecessor, “The Last Jedi,” generated.
Rating: PG-13, for violence
Opening Friday: Alderwood, Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Edmonds Theater, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood Cinemas, Meridian, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, Seattle 10, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Blue Fox Drive-In, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor Plaza