It may not have been in a galaxy far, far away but it does feel like a long time ago that the Star Wars saga began with George Lucas’s 1977 space opera: “Star Wars IV: A New Hope.” Now, the whole story comes full circle with “Star Wars IX: The Rise of Skywalker.” I’m hoping, however, that the phenomenon that is Star Wars is not coming to an end. Like “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” showed, there are other tales to tell about the Rebellion’s fight to overcome evil in the galaxy. And this particular Star Wars fan will be on hand to see them whenever they come around.
The final installment in the Star Wars saga, “The Rise of Skywalker,” is a fitting end to more than four decades of storytelling. It has everything fans love. J.J. Abrams is back behind the helm as director and co-writer after Rian Johnson’s much-debated Episode VIII, “The Last Jedi.” Filled with epic battle sequences, old friends, new friends, and old enemies, “The Rise of Skywalker” doesn’t meet the memorability of “The Empire Strikes Back,” but it does leave the audience with hope and a rather shocking answer to a burning question left over from Episodes VII and VIII, namely, what are Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) origins? Hopefully, the answer will surprise you as it did me.
After the now-familiar, but, oh, so exciting, opening scroll, we find the rebels, always outnumbered and short on time, gathering resources to challenge the First Order and new Supreme Leader, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Poe (Oscar Isaac), Chewie (Joonas Suotamo), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and ex-Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) are out seeking information and allies to join in the fight.
Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac), and Chewie (Joonas Suotamo) in “The Rise of Skywalker” (Disney)
Back at base, Rey hones her Jedi skills under the watchful eye of General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher from archival footage). But there’s still something unsettled about Rey that Ridley’s performance manages to convey to the audience so much so that we can feel her ambiguity and ache with her as she struggles to discover who she is and what her ultimate purpose will be. Her Force-enhanced connection with Kylo Ren only confuses matters more for her. His invitation to join him leads her to set aside her training, much like Luke did in “The Empire Strikes Back.” Rey seems to know that within Kylo Ren, still lives Ben Solo, son of Han (Harrison Ford) and Leia, and she wants to bring him back to the light, especially for Leia’s sake.
And speaking of Leia, the way she’s woven into the story after Carrie Fisher’s death in 2016 using archival footage from “The Force Awakens” is seamless and doesn’t feel contrived like the digital inclusion of her younger self in earlier films. Kudos go to Abrams and co-writer, Chris Terrio, for making Fisher’s beloved Leia an integral part of this last Star Wars film.
The late Carrie Fisher (from archival footage) as General Leia Organa in "The Rise of Skywalker" (Disney)
There have always been spiritual undertones in all the Star Wars films, and “Rise of Skywalker” is no different. While the idea of the Force being an energy that connects all living things still smacks of New Age thought, we Christians know that it’s really God who is the all-powerful force in the universe and all created reality. Very strong in this film is the reality of self-sacrifice and redemption. Strong also is the hope that comes from knowing we’re not alone, so relevant in our society today.
I don’t know about you, but there have been times in my life when I felt like I was the only one experiencing some sort of suffering or uncertainty. Fear or pain often does that to us. Whatever is going on in our lives, we can convince ourselves that no one else could possibly understand what we’re going through. Loneliness and isolation follow. In her training, we hear Rey petitioning: “Be with me.” Being the last of the Jedi, it is natural that Rey would have felt alone and thought that no one could understand her suffering. So she prays, “be with me.” She pulls on the strength of the Jedi before her, especially Luke. Even in her darkest hour, she knows that she’s not alone in her struggle.
Knowing that we, also, are not alone can be lifesaving. No matter how alone we may feel, God is always with us. We are still in the midst of the Christmas Season, a time when we celebrate Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, coming to us as a vulnerable child to show us how much God wants to be with us. God never leaves us alone. It’s not clear to whom Rey addresses her “be with me,” but for us, we address that prayer to God, who responds to us: “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). In this assurance lies our hope.