The following article contains major plot points from “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” Read no further if you would prefer to see “Episode IX” with all of its surprises and story elements intact.
Since her 2016 death at age 60, “Star Wars” fans have wondered and worried how the franchise’s favorite princess-turned-general matriarch’s story would be concluded in “Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker.” Or even if Leia’s 42-year story arc could be concluded.
When the film hits theaters Friday, fans will likely feel both relieved and rewarded by how director and co-screenwriter J.J. Abrams handles the end of Leia’s “Star Wars” saga, given the plot twist the real-life universe handed him.
There’s fresh footage of Fisher (some already in the can, along with some creative computer repurposing) and a surprising amount of “Skywalker” plot that focuses on Leia. There’s also fresh —and for many fans, revelatory — backstory provided for Leia Organa that will have fans talking (and possibly, debating) long after the final credits roll. Initially, in the sprawling two-hour and 21-minute spectacle, as Leia counsels Rey (Daisy Ridley) in her rigorous Jedi knight training, fans will hold their breath when the character first appears, as if each moment with our beloved Leia might be the last.
At one point, she tells her frustrated young charge, “Rey, never be afraid of who you are.” In the film’s smaller moments like this, the “Star Wars” franchise pays tribute to two generations of girl power in a genre of film usually soaked in Captain Kirk-like sci-fi testosterone.
And Rey picks up the mantle admirably. Ridley has a lot to do in this film as she finally unravels the lingering mystery of who she is. So much so, audiences will likely feel exhausted on her behalf by the film’s climax. “Beware,” one character warns early in the film, “she’s not who you think she is.”
Mirroring Luke Skywalker’s odyssey in the original film trilogy, Episodes VII, VIII and IX chronicle Rey’s journey, a path that, by the close of “The Rise of Skywalker” ultimately brings the 42-year franchise —and its fans — full circle in many respects.
Luckily for Rey — and for fans — she has a lot of help on her intergalactic 23 and Me identity trek. Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), R2-D2 (Jimmy Vee), BB-8 (Dave Chapman, Brian Herring), Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) and Lt. Connix (Billie Lourd, Carrie Fisher’s real-life daughter) are all back to assist in the final battle for the universe.
Longtime fans, especially, will be excited to see C-3PO — often sidelined in this current trilogy — back at the forefront for a sizable stretch of “Skywalker.” Or as one character complains, midway through C-3PO’s story arc, “Have we figured out where his volume control is yet?”
And to the delight of Disney-licensed toy manufacturers across the globe, there’s even a new droid, D-O, introduced, who basically resembles an air horn attached to the Energizer Bunny’s bass drum-accented body. Aside being the reason you’ll no doubt ruin your nephew’s holiday when store shelves inevitably run dry of D-O toys this weekend, the skittish new droid character actually contains some story-driving information in his memory banks important to the film.
Naturally, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Darth Vader’s villainous emo grandchild (and estranged spawn of Leia and Han Solo) is back for more angsty emoting as he contemplates his role in the destruction of the galaxy. And yes, he’s still creepily groping his grandpop’s melted, twisted mask. Inexplicably, Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), the evil dark lord of the Sith (who, notably turned Anakin Skywalker to the Dark Side in “Revenge of the Sith” and was later killed by his protege in 1983’s “Return of the Jedi”) is also back to wreak fresh havoc and to dangle a delicious plot point. Or three. While diehard fanboy “Star Wars” analysts will no doubt set social media on fire this weekend arguing about Palpatine’s return, the rest of us realize we’ve now invested more than four decades in this space opera. Just go with it.
In addition to a surprise nod to its past, in “The Rise of Skywalker,” the “Star Wars” franchise continues its commitment to representing a more diverse universe. There’s even a celebratory same-sex kiss that’s bound to get that Hallmark-loving Million Mom faction fired up to boycott all things Disney.
For devotees of the original 1970s and 1980s trilogy, there’s some serious fan service paid to longtime “Star Wars” viewers. References to old characters percolate throughout the briskly paced but epic length film, propelled along by a few new themes from “Star Wars” 87-year-old composer John Williams. But it’s Williams’ now trademark themes from all eight of the previous films, precisely dropped into “Skywalker” at key moments, that will trigger intense and sometimes emotional sense memories for viewers. And if it’s possible to become weepy about the return of a certain fighter aircraft, “Skywalker” manages it in one of the film’s key sequences.
Not every plot twist will satisfy every fan. A key emotional moment in the film at this week’s press screening, for example, generated guffaws from critics in Atlanta Tuesday, a reaction likely not intended by the filmmakers.
For most of “The Rise of Skywalker,” Episode IX’s title remains a mystery and when it finally snaps into focus, the message it sends to fans feels organic and a genuine part of the series’ 42-year, nine-episode examination of family.
Where 2015’s “The Force Awakens” focused on the story arc of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo and 2017’s “The Last Jedi” gave Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker a memorable exit, J.J. Abrams always intended for “The Rise of Skywalker” to be Leia’s movie. Fisher’s tragic 2016 death could have jettisoned those plans. But Leia’s powerful and emotional role in this new film, feels like a part of the new trilogy’s original storytelling blueprint.
And like The Force itself, one that will ultimately be felt throughout the “Star Wars” universe.
Above photo: Carrie Fisher and Daisy Ridley in “Star Wars: “The Rise of Skywalker.” Photo: Lucasfilm/Disney
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” opens worldwide in theaters on Friday, Dec. 20
Richard L. Eldredge is the founder and editor in chief of Eldredge ATL. As a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Atlanta magazine, he has covered Atlanta since 1990.