On May 25, 1977, John Williams’ propulsive score introduced George Lucas’ sci-fi fantasy, featuring Luke (Mark Hamill), Leia (Carrie Fisher), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Darth Vader (James Earl Jones), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), Yoda and the indispensable droids: C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2.
While the Star Wars concept continues in various spin-offs, that era has concluded. After George Lucas sold the franchise to Disney in 2012, J.J. Abrams has masterminded the final three ‘origin story’ episodes, introducing desert scavenger-turned-Jedi Rey (Daisy Ridley) and First Order Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) – a.k.a. Ben Solo – under Sith Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid).
This installment begins a year after The Last Jedi. And while the First Order has quashed the Resistance, Stormtrooper-turned-Resistance fighter Finn (John Boyega) and spice-smuggling ace pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) have been sent by General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher) to search the galaxy for potential allies.
Obviously, J.J. Abrams’ greatest challenge was seamlessly integrating previously unused Carrie Fisher out-takes from Episode VII, The Force Awakens,”dumping the “ghosting” technique that revived Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One.
Abrams introduces Keri Russell as slinky Zorii Bliss, almost unrecognizable under a large brass-and-red helmet, along with Naomi Ackle as a bow-and-arrow wielding warrior astride an equine called an Orbak. And there’s a glimpse of Fisher’s real-life daughter Billie Lourd as a Resistance lieutenant.
Working with co-writer Chris Terrio, Abrams also pays homage to Billy Dee Williams as roguish pirate Lando Calrissian and other nostalgic surprises that I won’t ruin for you. While the convoluted, vaguely coherent plot’s a little vague, cinematographer Dan Mindel chronicles several dazzling battles and tense, lightsaber clashes.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a sprawling, satisfying 7, as familiar memories of flying on the Millennium Falcon continue. And – at least at Disneyworld – The Force will always be with you.