Did I enjoy Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker? Yes. Did I use the RunPee App to take a bathroom break? No. Part of that was because I was in the middle of a crowded aisle, but mostly it was because I didn’t want to miss anything. Did I look at my watch? No. That’s the most crucial test of all (I always wear a watch with Indiglo in case I get bored).

The movie looked beautiful, and it did that thing I love for Star Wars movies to do. It went to a lot of planets. Even Attack of the Clones did this cool sci-fi thing for me.

I mean, they were flying all over the place this time. Poe was “force-skipping” or some nonsense that kept putting the Falcon into spiky landscapes while being chased from the start! There were stolen skimmers, flights through icy comets, hiding in generally benevolent asteroid belts, navigating through star-forming nebulae to get to the Unknown Worlds, and so much more. Ocean worlds, jungle worlds, ice worlds, desert worlds. Pretty much the Star Wars gamut, finally, again, always.

Now Palpatine’s glowering new black Star Destroyers have sexy phallic canons hidden underneath (making them more like manta rays than ever), each one a planet-killer! I kept wondering what all the current residents of these worlds think of all the old tech Rey’s crew employs so often (they go to a fun festival of kites on one world, think Burning Man with magic carpet rides)? X-wings and relics like the Falcon, they probably use out of date weapons and communication devices too, right? This movie heaps on the nostalgia even more so we don’t just see similar items, we see Luke’s fighter plane, Darth’s helmet, Palpatine’s cloak, a “new” droid from the day Rey’s parents were killed, the downed Death Star from Episode VII, etc. All the old things are new again, and all the new things are more of the same.

Well, the Exegol locator box is very Dark Dimension-y, really, though Kylo treats it like a battery/GPS and plugs it into this engine to make his first visit to “the voice that’s always been in his head.” Yep, it’s Palpatine, and Snoke was more a less a construct (which explains a lot), one to lure fools like Ren and Hux to unwittingly further the Emperor’s very long-term plans.

Is it fan service to see Luke, Leia and Solo one more time? One’s a force ghost, one dies, and the third is but a memory, so we’re hardly seeing them in their Episode IV-VI glory. Time has passed, the world has moved in, and when we see Rey, Finn, Poe, Chewy (who’s aging is undetectable) and Lando (same) together in the cockpit of the Falcon, you know right then whether you’ve either accepted your next generation of Star Warriors or not. I’ve got no problem with how Johnson played with expectations in VIII, and I don’t mind the “resets” in IX either. To me they’re just the next beats in the ongoing story. As one of the writers has said, they weren’t seeking to deny, but to complicate the ideas of the previous installment. That’s how serial writing works. And Star Wars, after all this time, is just installments in a pulpy movie narrative about good vs. evil.

Of course Rey isn’t nobody (I never believed Kylo for a second), but she’s also somebody I didn’t expect. Of course Kylo regrets killing his father (and nearly killing his mother), but Leia and Han have already forgiven him. Of course Poe has a complicated past, and of course Finn has an unpredictable future, whether either end up with each other or Jannah, Rose, or Zorri. These weren’t distracting new characters for me, they were ways to flesh out the already expanding Star Wars universe, and to explore other permutations of the Force (including another female assassin like in the prequels, or some newly minted rebels who did the right thing, regardless), or any of myriad other possibilities that still remain active  and interesting for future story. Viva Babu Frik!

Some stories are done, though, and while it’s not the Skywalker finale one might have expected, it seems to be the end of the Solo line. Poe is no Han, but Oscar Isaac is as destined for the movie camera as the OG models like Erol Flynn or Montgomery Clift or any other talented heartthrobs of the past. Leia’s place in cinematic history is guaranteed, but it’s tragically time to say goodbye to Carrie, as much as we regret doing so. Harrison never took the whole shebang that seriously in the first place, but he makes every goofy word count. Adam Driver did everything one could do with a mostly underwritten, contradictory character. And he still managed to find his way to a believable bond with Rey, initially even more of a blank slate than he.

Their twynergy in the Force is the most consistent thread of all three movies, each step along the way goading each other to fascination, repulsion, manipulation and ever-growing displays of power. That they could transcend space and time not just with their minds but also with their bodies and sometimes objects they chose to bring along is a thrilling plot point in this finale. This is a skill that is unique to them, but it’s apparently how their Force connection works (something not seen in centuries!). Abrams picks up on their duet when Kylo killed Snoke from the last film, and carries it much further as both deal with temptations to grow, change, challenge themselves and sacrifice for the things they most believe in. Their story is a tragedy, but it’s also epic, intense and even funny (or at least charmingly petty) as they chase each other around. Rey’s skills as a healer are also shown, just as we see Kylo’s weaknesses as a leader and his singular obsessions lead them down an intersecting path. I knew the instances of her healing ability were spotlighted for a reason this time, though I didn’t know why. And maybe the tragedy is really all Ben Solo’s, as his life has been a series of Force-related cyclones that buffeted him at every turn.

Does it do more to entertain and enthrall than previous films? It takes us to sets that recall classic Expressionist films like Metropolis and Dr. Calagari, but there’s also all those other all too human settings (bars, planets, hovels, ship interiors, all those well-lit corridors) to compare to the gothic arena of the Sith world. Just as Kylo confronts himself whenever he tries to control Rey, Rey confronts a dark mirror whenever she doubts herself. The ending may be predictable, but it’s the beats along the way that get us there, and this movie does a good job of maintaining narrative clarity while briskly moving us along. As with parts 1 and 2 of the sequel trilogy, I enjoyed the ride.

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