For much of its length, Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker resembles less of an elegiac conclusion to a much-loved series, and more something in need of a mercy killing.
Director JJ Abrams seems overly conscious of his role as curator of the Star Wars saga for whom the fans are shareholders. Accordingly, he structures the film around everything he thinks fans want to see on their last visit.
The result is as unstructured and cluttered as the Jungle Cruise theme-park ride in Disney World (which is now, through no coincidence, also Star Wars world).
I’s easy to see why Abrams lost sight of his need to deliver a story as well as a legacy. For Gen-X fans in particular Star Wars has become part of their cultural DNA over 42 years..
The series has more or less mirrored our life cycles. We gasped as teenagers at episodes 4-6. We took our children to episodes 1-3, their wonderment at the sound and fury making up (mostly) for our mixed feelings.
As we settled into middle-aged stiffness our galactic heroes did the same, and as our parents and friends started to age and die, sadly so did our favorite characters, onscreen and off.
But by servicing the fans Abrams did a disservice to structure and plot, and the first 45 minutes of The Rise of Skywalker serves up not a single new concept or plot advancement. Indeed, the first act more or less cross-references as many of the preceding films as it can.
Rey (Daisy Ridley) experiences frustration while undertaking her Jedi training on a jungle planet while Leia, standing in for Yoda, offers elliptical words of encouragement.
After some spirited Game of Thrones-inspired light saber carnage, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) discovers a plot to resurrect Emperor Palapatine. So we wait for these two plot threads to join up while the screen bursts with familiar galactic scenarios.
There’s even a speeder pursuit on a desert planet where Abrams appears perfectly content referencing the infamous pod race from The Phantom Menace, almost universally acknowledged as the low point of the entire series.
And that’s what we’re served up for almost two hours: key scenes from earlier episodes repackaged, climaxing with Luke the Force Ghost drawing forth his X-wing from the waters surrounding his tiny island on the planet Ahch-To.
Thankfully, it all comes together at the end, thanks in no small part to Ian McDiarmid who realizes the adrenalin shot the film needs is Palapatine running rampant. This he delivers in spades, hissing such lines as ‘May your death be the last word in the story of rebellion!’
Star Wars exploded onto screens in 1977 as an old fashioned Saturday matinee-style black hat v white hat adventure. The series’ architecture was never fully suited to epic Lord of the Rings-style scope, and Abrams may have sought to recapture this original, innocent spirit in Rise of Skywalker’s early scenes.
But you can’t put the genie back in the bottle, so at the conclusion he delivers what the fans are expecting: heroism, sacrifice, exploding imperial cruisers with shocked commanders still standing at the bridge and celebrations stretching from Cloud City to Endor.
Thankfully we are spared singing Ewoks – just.
Finally, we’re back on Tatooine, where it all began, in a scene of such irresistible nostalgic reflection one wonders why Abrams couldn’t display similar emotional discipline earlier in the film.
The conclusion works by acknowledging how the series developed as a parallel canvas to the lives of its fans. How then, will we adapt to a world without Star Wars? We won’t have to.
To borrow from Churchill, The Rise of Skywalker isn’t the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. If the fuss sounding Baby Yoda in Disney+’s The Mandalorian is any guide, following the deaths of key characters in episodes 7-9 we have now entered the rebirth stage.
By the time the Star Wars saga actually concludes I imagine those of us who queued at local cinemas in the beginning will have lived a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.