(director/writer: J.J. Abrams; screenwriters: Chris Terrio/story by Derek Connoly, Colin Trevorrow, Chris Terrio, J.J. Abrams/based on characters created by George Lucas; cinematographer: Dan Mindel; editors: Maryann Brandon, Stefan Grube; music: John Williams; cast: Carrie Fisher (Leia Organa), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Naomi Ackie (Jannah), Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux), Richard E. Grant (General Pryde), Lupita Nyong’o (Maz Kanata), Keri Russell (Zorii Bliss), Joonas Suotamo (Chewbacca), Kelly Marie Tran (Rose Tico ), Ian McDiarmid (Emperor Palpatine), Billy Dee Williams (General Lando Calrissian); Runtime: 141; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: J.J. Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, Michelle Rejwau; Walt Disney Pictures; 2019)

“It marks the return of the franchise to plodding films.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

J.J. Abrams (“Super 8″/”Star Trek Into Darkness”) helms the final episode in the original nine-film saga, an entertaining escapist film but one in need of a more creative script rather than aiming just for completeness and glorifying the old banalities. It marks the return of the franchise to plodding films like those George Lucas himself pushed on us in the second trilogy that were filled with dull intrigue, witless dialogue and tiresome heroism. The script was co-written with Abrams and Chris Terrio, who are working from their story with Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow. But if a Star Wars fanboy, the film probably caters to your needs and you’ll probably find it a fun film even if it’s still too busy trying to wrap up things that started four decades ago in 1977.

In the opening scene, we’re told “The Dead Talk!” It seems that bringing dead people or things back to life is the way of the franchise. As if telling us no matter what, there will be no possible end to this franchise as long as people want to see it. So I doubt very much if this is the last Star Wars.

We soon become aware that the evil hooded emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid, in a hammy performance), who died at the end of “Return of the Jedi,” didn’t die but has been hiding in the not located place of  Exogol all this time in a secret Sith lair, and is responsible for all the trouble that abounds of trying to smash the Resistance and bringing about a reign of terror. The story therefore revolves around Palpatine and the rise of the evil First Order.

Besides finding out what Palpatine has been doing since his return, we now must wrestle with what happened to the parents of Jedi-in-training Rey (Daisy Ridley) and how is she connected to patricidal Sith Lord Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Rey continues her Jedi training with the Resistance leader Gen. Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher, appearing from unused archive footage of Star War films).

The scarfaced Kylo Ren, Darth Vader’s revolting grandson, moves around in his tie fighter and is up to no good as he follows the commands of the villainous emperor. Meanwhile Rey, his telepathic lover from the past, has gotten over her affection for him and is busy at work with her rock-levitation practice and fighting for the Resistance. The tensions between these two results in their memorable lightsaber duel.

The good guys of the Resistance scurry around for answers when the news gets out that Palpatine plans to start destroying planets in less than a day’s time to bring about his “Final Order.”

Stopping Palpatine and his storm troopers onslaught is up to the Resistance fighters like the frisky Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), the bland ex-storm trooper Finn (John Boyega), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and the talkative android C3-PO (Anthony Daniels), who are under the command of Rey. After getting intel from a spy who infiltrated the evil First Order, the urgent situation calls for bringing back help from characters from other episodes who might not have appeared for quite some time, like the cameo of the smack-talking 82-year-old Billy Dee Williams as General Lando Calrissian -he last appeared some 36 years ago. What Rey and her Resistance team need to do is get their hands on a crystal that will show them the way to Exogol and thereby they can take out the despot and stop his Final Order.

In an obvious Trump reference, the Resistance movement is warned that it must not let the emperor’s propaganda make the Jedi feel alone in the galaxy and incapable of resistance when in fact they are in the majority.

What this Star Wars episode does well is offer some visually spectacular scenes, especially the one of a planet containing a massive fragment of fallen Death Star surrounded by hundred-foot waves. There also are some new characters introduced, such as a masked warrior/hacker played by Keri Russell.

It’s public knowledge that Lucas sold the Star Wars franchise to Disney in 2012, and that has led to speculation by some critics that the franchise has become too Disneyfied. The derivative Abrams, working for Disney, brings solid craftsmanship but no innovations to the franchise. But he shows an uncanny ability to clean things up and shows an eagerness to please the fan base by revisiting the same old things as a matter of nostalgia and even ending the saga by mysteriously resurrecting the evil emperor fighting the Resistance. I won’t argue if you say this theme has modern-day implications and its mythical story remains timeless, but I maintain it has lost some of the magic of the original Star Wars films. Enough is enough. I could do without anymore sub-par Star Wars films.

REVIEWED ON 12/21/2019  GRADE: C+