★★★★

J.J. Abrams is once again at the helm of the Star Wars franchise with The Rise of Skywalker, this time writing the screenplay with Chris Terrio as well as directing. This film closes the door on the Skywalker saga, and it does so with surprisingly good style.

The Resistance, led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), is all but broken. While it still has many of its mainstay heroes, the First Order has destroyed most of its forces. Now, with the specter of Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) rising again, any chance of victory seems lost. But hope is a potent modifier, and Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) refuse to give in… even as it seems that Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) has joined with the emperor to complete their destruction.

Abrams had a lot of weight on his shoulders as both director and co-writer when it came to bringing this more than 40-year saga to a close. The story and the characters have to be just right and portrayed in just the right way, or the entire thing can fall apart. Fortunately, he realizes this and takes great care in making sure the story is cohesive while bringing closure to the tale. In most cases, he gets it right. However, there are a few minor loose ends, as well as some rushed moments and events that would have benefited from just a little more time.

The actors by now are entirely familiar with their characters, so this film allows them to pour that comfort into an ease with which they interact. Even combative relationships like that of Ren and Rey flow smoothly as they evolve to the final confrontation. These encounters, in particular, are driven by the growing skill of both Ridley and Driver as performers.

The special effects are possibly the most spectacular ever seen on the screen, from CGI aliens to frenzied space battles that move at hyperspeed without being impossible to follow. Solid cinematography bolsters these moments, creating a spectacular realism to this fantasy galaxy. The script, acting, and effects are brought together by yet another John Williams score that never seems to waver in its ability to fit every moment.

There’s also a lot of nostalgia and fan goodies in the film, with many references to previous episodes that make Rise of Skywalker not only enjoyable, but a nearly perfect farewell to so many beloved elements of the Star Wars universe.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a film about the power of hope, loyalty, and determination—even when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. While certain elements may bother the most staunch supporters of Episodes IV-VI, fans, both young and old, can have new hope for the future of the franchise.