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‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ displays the good (not great) side of the Force

Action-filled, plot-packed and unabashedly sentimental, Episode IX at times seems to be trying to satisfy every “Star Wars” fanatic in the world.

Whether together or far apart, Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) are often fighting for the upper hand in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”
Lucasfilm Ltd.

Pop quiz!

Which of these lines are heard in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”?

A. “I have a bad feeling about this.”

B. “I’m the spy!”

C. “Rey, I’m your father.”

D. “Not today!”

E. “You’re weak, like your parents.”

Answer: I’m not telling, other than to say some of those lines DO appear in the eagerly anticipated, already hotly debated, sure to be polarizing, guaranteed to gross hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars Episode IX of the space opera saga.

Directed and co-written by J.J. Abrams and featuring a twist and turn and surprise around nearly every corner, “The Rise of Skywalker” is an action-filled, plot-packed, unabashedly sentimental, cameo-heavy, rousing adventure.

The special effects are as fantastic as you’d expect them to be. The performances are earnest and, in some cases, emotionally impactful. (Alas, certain characters don’t get to do much other than roar with great joy and/or terrible disappointment when they witness something major happening just over … THERE.)

“The Rise of Skywalker” has some callbacks to previous chapters in the “Star Wars” canon, sometimes to cool effect. Just as often it feels as if Abrams and Co. are trying to right the ship, so to speak, for some of the perceived injustices and inconsistencies in the still controversial “The Last Jedi” from two years ago.

After the famous opening crawl and John Williams’ legendary theme song allow us to experience the traditional movie-opening goosebumps and settle in for the ride, we join the beleaguered and seemingly hopelessly overmatched surviving members of the Resistance, led by Gen. Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher) and the now well-established Next Generation of feisty, headstrong, loyal and brave freedom fighters:

• Daisy Ridley’s Rey, the scavenger turned Jedi in training who feels the power of the Force in a way few ever have.

• Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron, a Han Solo-esque Resistance pilot with a daredevil streak.

• John Boyega’s Finn, a former First Order stormtrooper who has become a valued and trusted leader in the Resistance.

And in this corner, representing the Dark Side, weighing in with enough family-related inner conflict to give Shakespeare a headache, we have Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren (formerly Ben Solo) — slayer of his father, Han Solo, and sworn enemy to his mother Leia and his late Uncle Luke.

If you’ve seen the trailer or read any of the online buzz, it’s no secret “The Rise of Skywalker” marks the return of heroic characters such as Billy Dee Williams’ Lando Calrissian (still smooth and uber-cool and reliable under pressure) and, most shockingly, the franchise villain of all villains, Ian McDiarmid’s Emperor Palpatine, long thought dead but maybe not so dead after all.

The ever-smooth Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) makes a return appearance in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”
Lucasfilm Ltd.

Now, in the “Star Wars” galaxy, there are all sorts of ways in which a characters whose arc has seemingly ended can resurface. One can be a clone, or a vivid memory, or something else. I’ll leave it to you, fine viewer, to discover how and why Palpatine resurfaces.

Much of “The Rise of Skywalker” consists of metaphysical dances of strength and will and character between Rey and Kylo Ren, who don’t have to be in the same room or even on the same planet to face off with one another. (This requires Ridley and Driver to do a lot of acting in which they hold their arms out and flex like gods of thunder and lightning, while grimacing to let us know they’re using all their might to ward off that attack or lift those rocks or shoot down that fighter plane.)

Rey believes Ben Solo still lives inside the deeply conflicted Kylo Ren, who talks a mean game and enjoys choking out mere human generals who dare question his motives, but still has a rather endearing pigeon-toed gait, fashionable hair and the sensitive, wet eyes of a Beat poet. (Not that Beat poets exist in this long-ago galaxy far, far away. Or maybe they do; we can’t understand all the languages all the creatures in these movies are employing.)

Kylo Ren tells Rey her lineage is more complicated than she thinks it is, and her rightful place is alongside him. Together, they can rid the galaxy of the Jedi warriors once and for all and take their rightful place as rulers of the New and Even Bigger and Badder First Order.

Driver is one of the best young actors in the world, but he’s more convincing playing conflicted than pure, bone-chilling evil. Ridley has an uncanny ability to hold the screen, even when the screen-filling, explosion-filled, CGI battles give way to close-ups of Rey, the weight of the galaxy reflected in her expressions.

It’s always great to see old friends R2-D2 (Jimmy Vee) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels). Even BB-8 (Dave Chapman) has grown on me. These ARE the droids we’re looking for.

Archival footage allows Gen. Leia Organa (played by the late Carrie Fisher) to appear in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”
Lucasfilm Ltd.

At times we see Leia Organa only from behind and hear the great Carrie Fisher’s voice as Leia talks to Rey, hugs Rey, advises Rey. The use of archival footage (and whatever CGI trickery that was required) is sparing and effective, and results in a lovely bit of closure for a beloved character.

There are a few moments when it feels as if this movie is trying to satisfy every “Star Wars” fanatic in the world — but that would be beyond the scope of even the most impressive Jedi mind trick.

“The Rise of Skywalker” rarely comes close to touching greatness, but it’s a solid, visually dazzling and warmhearted victory for the Force of quality filmmaking.