‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,’ A Primer

If you haven’t seen it yet, there are no spoilers here. And also if you haven’t, here’s what you might want to know before you go.

Just in time for a holiday family outing, the latest and “final” installment of the Star Wars franchise is in theaters now. Despite what the most ardent critics

might have reported, The Rise of Skywalker is every bit as enthralling as the very first Star Wars film which premiered in this galaxy, far, far away and a long time ago–42 years to be precise.

So, before committing two and a half hours to a dark universe of suspended disbelief, you might benefit from a brief recap of the basic interstellar villains at war. Secondly, a word about the writer and director who was charged with bringing eight previous chapters to some formal conclusion. And, finally, without alert to the spoils of Hollywood, how does this final episode stack up to the others?

A Space Serial Begins

In the first Star Wars, (which, after its phenomenal success in 1977 became Episode IV: A New Hope in the trilogy of trilogies,) Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo and Chewbacca are part of the Rebel Alliance fighting against the Galactic Empire whose commander is Darth Vader. Obi Wan Kenobi, a Jedi Knight, insists on training a young Luke to become a Jedi too. Not until the second installment Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, in which Darth Vader again duels young Luke in a match of lightsabers, are we introduced to a new character, Emperor Palpatine, who watches the battle. Vader and Palpatine are Siths, a particularly reprehensible subcult of the Galactic Empire. The prequel trilogy, in which we are introduced to Anakin Skywalker, revolves around much of how Palpatine rises from Galactic Senator, to Darth Sidious, to Emperor. In Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, Vader seemingly kills Palapatine. Yet, as we begin this final episode, we learn that Palpatine has evaded death, and “lives” on the remote and hidden planet Exegol. If you haven’t just spent that last three days preparing for The Rise of Skywalker, this bit of exposition might be helpful to any but the wookiest fan.  

Star Wars Resolution

J.J. Abrams gets much credit for pulling the countless story lines and conflicts to a reasonable conclusion. This fulfillment, which any “final” episode must promise, is what most reviewers are debating. That die hard fans might not be 100 percent satisfied only speaks to the massive, intergalactic task at hand. Know that Colin Trevorrow, the director of Jurassic World acclaim, was first charged to write and direct The Rise of Skywalker. Trevorrow, however,  was replaced by Abrams just ten months prior to shooting principal photography. 

And speaking of which, Carrie Fisher, who died in 2016, reprises her immemorial role as Princess (now General) Leia in this 2019 production. Her appearance is the fortune bestowed by unused footage shot for Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Of course, judicious use of CGI may have helped a little, too.

Finally, as if each episode were to vie for best picture in a universe of only Star Wars films, the game is on for fans to select their favorite. Episode VI: Return of the Jedi and Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back seem to jockey for that position. But Hollywood—actually, Disney in this instance—is forever jockeying its latest installment, hoping that post holiday viewers pick up a pace that was projected to exceed $200 million for the first weekend. The Rise of Skywalker has fallen a bit short at $177 million. Still, it’s the third highest grossing film ever released in December.  May the Force be with you to see it soon.

Prentiss Orr is a Pittsburgh based writer who co-authored the book; Pittsburgh Born, Pittsburgh Bred: 500 of the More Famous People Who Have Called Pittsburgh Home.