The final chapter in “The Skywalker Saga” is meant to bookend 40-years of a legacy that began on a galaxy far, far away and at the center was a farm boy, a princess, a scoundrel and an all-powerful Force that threw the galaxy into chaos.
So does the final episode represent the culmination of that epic struggle and now that The Rise of Skywalker completes that journey, is the Star Wars Saga complete? Has George Lucas’ story about good and evil come to an appropriate climax?
So after 40-years, this is how it ends. If you subscribed to the recent Star Wars sequel series, first ignited by director JJ Abrams Episode VII: The Force Awakens the Balance of the Force has been achieved. It was a concept of discord ventured upon in the anti-climatic Episode I: The Phantom Menace when Jedi Master Qui Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) had suggested that the discovery of a slave boy, born of immaculate conception on a barren desert planet on the Outer Rim could be the one mentioned in ancient Jedi prophets.
George Lucas, the creative genius behind the epic narrative has often suggested that the Star Wars Saga which began in 1977 with the release of Episode IV: A New Hope was indeed composed of 9 episodic installments. The Original Trilogy covered Parts 4 - 6 and returned to the worlds in 1999 with the Prequel Trilogy. Episode I - III covered the rise and downfall of Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), while the following stories elaborated on the character’s redemption at the hands of his son, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).
Though for all practical intentions, it appeared that the story ended in 1983 with the release of Episode XI: The Return of the Jedi. Luke Skywalker had completed his training and made good on his efforts to bring his father back from the precipice of despair that is the Dark Side, ended the Galactic Empire’s reign of evil and corruption, and saved the universe. At least that’s what audiences thought. In the decade (and some) that followed, the gaps were filled in with stories that elaborated on The Clone Wars and the lead up to the birth of the rebellion.
Until it would appear the Force got woke.
The Last Jedi?
When Disney bought Lucasfilms, Ltd. it intended to mine the universe created by Lucas and open up the world. Fans had proven that they had a thirst for more adventures set in the realm, and almost immediately the studio demanded a sequel trilogy, a follow-up, to the two previous trilogies, be fast-tracked into production. After all, Lucas had himself established that his story was 9-episodes in its entirety, but exactly what the “next chapter” would be was anyone’s guess. JJ Abrams had been inducted to “reboot” the franchise and discussed his ideas with Lucas.
The next trilogy would take place 40-years after the last Battle of Endor as the newly established Republic continued to struggle to put itself together, unaware that deep in the darkest corners of the universe, the dying empire was emerging and ready to retaliate as The First Order. The Rebellion gave way to a Resistance determined to prevent the order from gaining a foothold, but there was the question of whether or not a Balance in the Force had been established — and what exactly would that look like.
In the lead into Episode VII: The Force Awakens we learn that the last hope for the galaxy, Luke Skywalker has given up on his determined purpose and abandoned The Force choosing instead to hide away from the chaos and war about to engulf the worlds of the galaxy. A new generation of heroes emerge to battle alongside the legends that have fought before, and a great deal of expectation is put upon a young woman, a lonely scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) who has a mysterious kinship with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) an emissary of the Dark Side.
Immediately longtime fans began to theorize: are Rey and Kylo Ren — who is also the proper heir of the Force (he is the nephew of Luke Skywalker, and the son of Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and the rogue smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford)) before succumbing to the corruption of the Knights of Ren, archaic worshippers of the Dark Side — in fact a dyad that will bring about the balance that Anakin Skywalker failed to ignite? Many suspected that would be the direction this story was heading toward.
When Rian Johnston took the reigns for the penultimate installment Episode VIII: The Last Jedi audiences were thrown a slight curveball that opened the door to several unexpected turns of events, among them that Luke Skywalker had given up any hope of reconnecting to the Force and didn’t care which way the galaxy went, towards the Light or Dark. There was also the deeper and darker revelation of Kylo Ren’s burning ambition to usurp control for himself at any means and perhaps turn Rey toward the Dark Side himself, to serve his own ends.
The most profound revelation of all (and perhaps the one that slid in under the radar) is the capitalization and profiteering from the war that was going on through the galaxy. There were factions or perhaps one organization that has been selling hardware and technology, ships and warships, funding militias to both fronts whether it was the Resistance or The Force Order. Exactly who was benefitting was never fully examined, at least not by the conclusion of Johnson’s film, which left many fans scratching their heads.
When the “final episode” was set in motion, Abrams was instructed to return to steer the ship back on course, hopeful that after one of the most complex and dense narratives in the epic failed to instill the fan reaction the studio was hoping, JJ Abrams would be able to bring it all back to the familiar tones and themes that made Star Wars such an enduring franchise. Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker would be expected to answer the most serious and confusing aspects established from this third trilogy, but mostly it needed to prove that it mattered!
The film begins by actually retconning most of Johnson’s previous endeavor and appearing to begin in the middle of another story already in progress. Audiences are (re)introduced to The Emperor (Ian McDiarmid), the Dark Sith Lord that has been pulling the strings behind-the-scenes since the first film. The Emperor reveals that he’s been closely watching Kylo Ren his entire life and has been stockpiling a fleet of dreadnought Star Destroyers for his Final Order. The Emperor also reveals that Rey is in fact his granddaughter and the true heir of Sith Order.
The rest of the picture is a prolonged series of exaggerations and circumstances that have proven themselves titular in the scheme of the Star Wars franchise. The heroes return to the scene of the debris field left from the second Death Star from the Last Battle at Endor, an armada larger than any ever assembled is brought together for the final act, and Luke Skywalker is seen lifting his water-logged X-Wing from under the crashing waves of where the ship had been settled for the last several decades so that Rey can fly it to her fateful reunion with the Emperor.
At the end of it all Rey and Kylo Ren (now referred to as Ben since leaving behind the contraptions of the Dark Side) face off against the Emperor who plans to resurrect himself all-powerful in the form of whoever emerges victorious in the final battle to bring him down. Rey turns to her training and instead invigorated with the power of generations of Jedi is able to beat back the evil Sith Lord and in the end, restores balance sacrificing herself, but if not for Ben’s intervention to heal his onetime adversary, the circle would not be complete.
As Episode IX comes to an end, Rey returns to a familiar farmstead on the desert planet of Tatooine, and it is there that she reintroduces herself — now a master of the Force, and as a Skywalker. It’s a long peril to get have gotten there cinematically, and in the end, it feels rather clunky and unsophisticated at points, but The Rise of Skywalker attempts to elicit in its audience the same feeling of hope that was prevalent throughout the Original Series. It doesn’t do it as authentically as fans might have wanted it to, but it replicates the sentiment to some degree.
Would it have been preferable to have let the story concludes at Episode XI and perhaps chart brand new territory — perhaps, but that’s not what has occurred. Instead, now we’re left to fill in some blanks, elaborate on what has been established and maybe we’ll get a better picture, after all, this is a story that has always been up for interpretation — depending on where you see it, who is telling it — it becomes the stuff of legends, over-extended mythology, always evolving from a certain point of view.
STAR WARS The Skywalker Saga | on 4K Ultra HD | Exclusive Boxed Set available at Best Buy | $299.99 | individual 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital Combo Packs retail for $34.99.