After 42 years and eight films, creator George Lucas and co-writer and director JJ Abrams close out the Star Wars series with a 142-minute crowd-pleaser.
It’s a challenge tying up a story that was first told in 1977 and has travelled forwards and backwards and then leapt ahead in time. Like the preceding episodes, this chapter too opens in a galaxy far, far away, but it quickens to a resolution. Rey (Daisy Ridley) is still on a quest to fill in the blanks about her childhood, parentage and purpose. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), lured more and more by the Dark Side and the ashen-faced emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), is on his way to planet Exogol, the lair for the Sith. Will Kylo, who is still overcoming granddaddy issues (Darth Vader, represented by his damaged mask), take over the reins of the Final Order?
By now Ren and Rey’s yin and yang are hyper-synced and they frequently intercept each other in parallel planes, crossing their respective red and blue light sabers. Get a room, you feel like shouting to them.
Carrie Fisher is alive (enhanced with special effects) as Princess Leia. But will fans get to say a last goodbye to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford)? Eventually who will live, who will die and will this really be the end game for Star Wars?
Set to pulsating music, including the now famous signature tune (because every character’s entry is to be rewarded), the film is fast-paced but not as glib as some of the previous ones. The dialogue and situations are often cheesy (brace yourself for a pep talk by Oscar Isaac’s Poe) and some resolutions are far too easy. Yet, Chapter IX is a must-watch for Star Wars fans because it gives closure.
If Ridley does not have the charisma for a leading lady though she throws her all into Jedi business, Driver makes up for it in his own brooding way. His depictions of Kylo Ren and his real self Ben Solo – two characters in one – is best seen in the scene where an unarmed Kylo gets hold of a lightsaber. A slight grin and a subtle jig shows how the son of Hans Solo and Princes Leia has dealt with the Dark Side. But this is not Ren’s story as much as Rey’s, though one wishes it was.
Abrams maintains a certain dated filming technique, reminiscent of the first trio of films, while adding modern-day computer graphics to breathlessly edited action sequences. While the script offers too many opportunities for homages, fans will be pleased to see almost every epic character make at least a brief entrance. A number of the old favourites return, including the droids C3PO, R2D2 and BB-8, besides Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian. There are some additions, such Stormtroopers with enhanced skills and a few new cutesy creatures, including the mini droidsmith Babu Frik and additional concepts such as lightspeed skipping and wayfinders.
At the end, even as Lucas and Abrams put a bow on it, you wish this wasn’t the final farewell to the space opera. Or maybe it isn’t.