Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.

In 1977, writer/director George Lucas introduced the moviegoing public to a new story of heroes and villains; a story that took place a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.  Initially titled simply Star Wars, the first film became a runaway success, the likes Hollywood had never seen.  Soon thereafter, Lucas re-released the film under the lengthier title Star Wars: Episode IV – New Hope.  The new title signified that we had entered this world in the middle of a much larger story.  Lucas returned to the beginning of that story at the dawn of the millennium with the prequel trilogy and then handed the reigns over to Disney—and ultimately J.J. Abrams—to bring the central story, now affectionately referred to as The Skywalker Saga, to its conclusion.

Abrams reintroduced us to this world in 2015 with The Force Awakens.  That film brought back the iconic trio of Luke, Leia, and Han, but also introduced us to a new trio of heroes in Rey, Poe, and Finn.  They would be opposed by a new Darth Vader-like figure named Kylo Ren, who would soon be revealed as Ben Solo, the son of Han and Leia, lured to the dark side by Supreme Leader Snoke after training in the ways of the force with Luke.  In the next film, The Last Jedi, directed by Rian Johnson, Kylo would kill his master and take his place as the new Supreme Leader of the First Order.  And he may have wiped out the Resistance, too, had his old master not used Kylo’s hate for him as a distraction to allow our heroes to escape.

The Rise of Skywalker opens shortly after the conclusion of The Last Jedi, but suddenly Kylo is no longer the primary threat to the Resistance.  The opening text crawl informs us that Emperor Palpatine somehow survived his fall into the reactor shaft at the end of 1983’s The Return of the Jedi and is now creating an enormous new fleet of Star Destroyers, each with the firepower capable of destroying a whole planet.  Seeing the Emperor as a threat to his own power, Kylo seeks to destroy him, but is ultimately swayed by Palpatine (he’s quite convincing, you know) to first hunt down and kill Rey, whom the Emperor sees as the only true threat to his continued reign.  Kylo and Rey meet for a showdown atop the ruins of the second Death Star, where Rey’s true identity and destiny is finally revealed.

The Emperor’s return to the franchise is surprising to say the least, especially to those who did not watch any of the trailers for the film ahead of time.  The movie makes little effort to explain how the Emperor survived his fall or how he managed to escape the exploding Death Star and sneak off to the Sith home world.  This might prove to be the litmus test for audiences when it comes to The Rise of Skywalker: whether or not they are willing to buy into the Emperor’s return, no questions asked.  If they can, they may find themselves enjoying the simple delight of watching Ian McDiarmid ham it up in the role once more.  The Sith home world, constantly under fire from lightning, is also a dark, but fascinating new location for the franchise to visit.

The movie takes us to a few new locations, the most interesting of which is a moon of Endor where the ruins of the second Death Star stick out from beneath the ocean waves.  It is unclear whether this is the same moon of Endor on which the rebels celebrated their victory in Return of the Jedi with the local Ewoks, but even if it is, the ocean-side locale still feels new. It is here where Rey must confront Kylo and they have a fantastic lightsaber duel atop the ruins, waves from the surrounding ocean crashing all around them.  

The entire cast will ultimately have to confront the Emperor, and in true Star Wars fashion this will be done both on the ground and above it.  Whereas Rey must confront the Emperor face-to-face, Poe, Finn, and the rest of the Resistance fleet must do battle high above the planet with the fleet of Star Destroyers.  Fortunately, they have help, thanks to the largest gathering of Star Wars ships ever put on screen.  The space battle brings together the entire Star Wars canon and once this film hits home video, there will be lots of paused screens while fans seek to identify every ship from various Star Wars-related animated shows, comics, and video games.

This shot is clearly fan service and the whole movie is loaded with references that are designed specifically to delight a certain segment of fans.  I worry that this reliance on fan service may ultimately hurt, if not this specific movie’s reputation, then the reputation of the entire trilogy, especially since a lot of it directly undoes things that were established in The Last Jedi.  But because fan service is literally giving the fans what they want, it also contributes to the joy of seeing a new Star Wars movie for the first time.

The movie is full of the stunning visuals, exciting action, and goofy humor that we have come to expect from the franchise.  The youthful cast is just as exuberant and game as they were when we first met them in The Force Awakens and it is nice to get one more chance to say goodbye to all of our old favorites (though I really wish they could have found more for R2D2 to do in this trilogy).  Perhaps the most emotional farewell is that with Carrier Fisher’s Leia.  We were able to say goodbye to Han in The Force Awakens and Luke in The Last Jedi, now Leia gets her big send off.  Although Carrier Fisher died before production, the filmmakers were able to use unused footage of her from the previous two movies to create a new performance, and if there were seams in this process, they are not obvious.

The Rise of Skywalker is a lot of fun and feels like a satisfying, if flawed, conclusion to the Skywalker saga.  And although this may end the central, episodic storyline that George Lucas hinted at when he renamed the original film Episode IV, there are still plenty of stories out there in a galaxy, far, far away, just waiting to be told.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opens today throughout the Galaxy, including the AMC Kent Station 14, the AMC Southcenter 16, the Century Federal Way, and Regal’s Renton Landing.