“The dead talk!” begins the opening crawl of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” the ninth and — apparently — final entry in the original “Skywalker Saga.”
The talking dead refers to evil emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who seemingly died at the end of “Return of the Jedi,” but has been hiding all this time in a secret Sith lair, orchestrating everything.
It effectively explains why 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” so closely mirrored the original 1977 “Star Wars.” They were designed by the same architect.
Wrapping up a 42-year-old series as popular and beloved as this one is no cakewalk, and, for “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” director-co-writer J.J. Abrams opts for completeness rather than pacing.
The movie is a bit busy, a bit flabby, and its momentum flags at certain points.
Without divulging spoilers, the story revolves around Palpatine.
Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) has gone on a mission to find Palpatine and kill him, thereby avoiding threat to his own rising imperial powers.
Getting to Palpatine’s hiding place requires obtaining one of two pyramid-shaped gizmos. Kylo finds the first, and a great deal of time and effort are spent finding the second.
Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) continues her Jedi training with Gen. Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher, appearing courtesy outtakes from “The Force Awakens” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”).
And heroes Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) are off getting intelligence from a spy that has infiltrated the evil First Order. The news isn’t good: Palpatine plans to start destroying planets in less than a day’s time, thereby establishing the sinister-sounding “Final Order.”
Stopping him requires jumping through many hoops as well as enriching each new character’s history, and making callbacks to almost every other character that’s ever appeared in a “Star Wars” film.
Happily, one of them is Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), as smooth and cool as ever. It’s his first time in the role in 36 years, since 1983’s “Return of the Jedi,” perhaps a record.
Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio (“Argo”), working from their story with Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow, come up with spectacular scenes, including a planet containing a massive fragment of fallen Death Star surrounded by harrowing, hundred-foot waves. There also are fun new characters, such as a masked warrior played by Keri Russell and a cute new droid.
But much of the running time is spent traveling, and there may be one too many lightsaber battles, leading to fidgeting and watch-checking after about 90 minutes.
Although “The Rise of Skywalker” is 11 minutes shorter than Rian Johnson’s 2017 “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” — perhaps the best of this trilogy, thanks to pacing, wit and smarts — it feels much longer.
“The Last Jedi” was infamously attacked by some fans, presumably for adding gray area into the concept of The Force and/or adding diverse female characters and the cute Porg. Abrams sidelines or smooths over those ideas in “The Rise of Skywalker.”
Still, this final movie concludes satisfyingly, with a mix of joy and sadness.
“Star Wars” creator George Lucas initially was inspired by old serials and movies about soldiers and cowboys, stories of scrappy underdogs charging into the fray, with plenty of cliffhangers to provide suspense. (Perhaps this is why the stories are set “a long time ago…”)
Like any great, long-running series, the identifiable, lovable characters — who in the audience doesn’t feel a misfit sometimes? — are key. And even if Abrams takes the long way around to eventually say goodbye to them, the goodbye itself is everything anyone could have asked for.
REVIEW: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker ★★★½
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver
Written by: Chris Terrio, J.J. Abrams
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Running time: 2 hours, 21 minutes