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'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker' offers high-flying thrills

'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker' offers high-flying thrills

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"Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is one of the most anticipated films in Hollywood history — and will likely prompt a combination of delight and disappointment.

Delight, because fans of the space-opera franchise that began in 1977 can’t get enough of its fearless heroes, vicious villains and spectacular action. Disappointment, because how could the conclusion of the nine-film, three-trilogy storyline possibly satisfy such high-flown expectations?

That’s a lot for a film to live up to. But taken on its own merits, the latest and presumably last adventure of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is at once thrilling, imaginative and surprisingly poignant.

Once again, Rey and her companions are out to thwart the plans of the evil and oppressive First Order, which is threatening to become the Final Order. Longstanding questions are answered, with some characters dying and others turning up unexpectedly — including the main bad guy, who must remain nameless so as not to reveal a major spoiler.

Indeed, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” takes quite a few narrative turns that are better experienced than disclosed. Working from a screenplay that he co-wrote with Chris Terrio (“Argo”), director J.J. Abrams — who also helmed “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” — delivers a story that’s at once an expansion and a summing-up.

What Abrams lacks in poetry — one can only speculate as to what Alfonso Cuaron (“Children of Men”) or Terry Gilliam (“12 Monkeys”) might have brought to the Skywalker saga — he more than makes up for in sheer craftsmanship. Fans who griped about the liberties that director Rian Johnson took with “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” can relax: “The Rise of Skywalker” is the opposite of subversive.

But it’s also more than just a corporate cash grab. The storytelling is solid, and at a time when the CGI in some films is downright embarrassing, the special effects are superb. A sequence in which Rey defies massive ocean waves to get to a crucial destination is nothing short of breathtaking.

On the downside, Abrams is a bit too preoccupied with including references to previous films in the franchise. And it’s something of a cheat when a beloved character who has supposedly been tragically killed proves to be very much alive.

As usual, Ridley is immensely appealing as a born warrior with an indestructible sense of right and wrong. Her expressive face lends the fantastical goings-on an emotional resonance. Boyega and Isaac don’t have nearly as much to do, but they do it well. And Adam Driver all but steals the film as the conflicted Kylo Ren, whose allegiance to the dark side may be in danger of slipping.

For more than four decades, the “Star Wars” franchise has captured the imaginations of moviegoers who yearn for the kind of magic that too often eludes them in their everyday lives. Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia (later known as General Leia Organa) embodied that magic. And so have Rey, Finn and Poe.

May the box-office force be with them.

What “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” • 3½ stars out of four • Run time 2:21 • Rating PG-13 • Content Sci-fi violence and action

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