‘Rise of Skywalker”

Mega-franchise finale leaves questions, appetite for more

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A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY – A long time ago, families poured into theaters around the world to witness an epic unlike anything seen in cinema before.

A dash of fantasy, a dash of sci-fi and a lot of heart turned Star Wars into a global phenomenon and that success only continued through the original movie’s two sequel additions. These three movies would later be dubbed episodes IV, V and VI of Star Wars and together, that trio sits at a total box office of nearly $1.8 billion.

Every once in a while, I have what I think of as an out-of-the-body experience at a movie,” famed movie critic Roger Ebert said of the original film. “When I use the phrase, I simply mean that my imagination has forgotten it is actually present in a movie theater and thinks it's up there on the screen. In a curious sense, the events in the movie seem real, and I seem to be a part of them.”

The franchise was dormant on the silver screen until a prequel trilogy would bring to audiences the story of how Darth Vader came to be in 1999. The first of those prequel movies, “The Phantom Menace,” was widely panned by critics and audiences alike, but it still grossed over $1 billion in its lifetime, which includes rereleases, despite the not-so-great press. Two sequels to “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” was released over the following six years to bring in a rough total box office of $2.6 billion.

Once more, the franchise was dormant for more than a decade but an end came into sight when Disney bought the company behind Star Wars, Lucasfilm, for what is now a measly $4 billion considering the company made that back in less than 10 years. And so, Disney would be the company to bring an end to the galaxy-spanning Skywalker saga started in 1977.

First came “The Force Awakens,” introducing new and old audiences alike to a returning cast of characters like C3PO and Leia and new characters to fall in love with like Rey from Jakku and Kylo Ren of the First Order. “Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi” continued the story of Star Wars Episode “Episode VII: The Force Awakens” two years after its release.

Those movies alone would gross over $4 billion for Disney, not including profits made from additional movies that take place in the Star Wars universe like Rogue One and Solo.

The Skywalker saga finally came to a close with the release of “Star Wars Episode IX: Rise of Skywalker.”

I saw this movie as early as I could at the Orange Park AMC theater on Thursday, and I witnessed the end of something so beloved, so integral to my life and who I am, in a theater filled with fans like me.

The movie had a lot of story to tell, some strange pacing because of it, a lot of heart, and like it or not, a finale that could easily be the true end of this era of Star Wars (although there’s plenty of room for a continuation a few years down the hyperspace lane). I left the theater more confused than anything else.

“Was this the movie I wanted?” I asked myself. “Was I satisfied with this conclusion to the Skywalker saga?”

Some people around me left the theater filled with rage.

“This might be one of the worst Star Wars movies,” theater-goer Ron Higgins said. “I can’t believe this.”

Others left the theater excited and ready for round two.

“I loved it,” one woman told me. “It had its problems, but it hit me in all the right spots.”

“I’ve been in love with these movies since I can remember and I think the way they ended it, it was really special. It’s not perfect, but it was never going to be. I’m a happy Star Wars fan tonight.”

It wouldn’t be until a second viewing of the movie a day later that my thoughts on the movie would come to me with clarity. This movie has problems, but like the original movies, it has heart and characters I love. Did it wrap up the saga in the way I had hoped it would? No, not necessarily. Did it wrap it up in a way that I can at least say I’m satisfied with? Yes, absolutely.

This movie isn’t my favorite Star Wars movie, not by a long shot, but after watching it for a second time, it was nice to know something I so deeply loved wasn’t butchered in a way similar to the prequel trilogy. It was nice to feel for these characters and fall in love with this universe one last time and that wouldn’t have been possible without the beginning created by “The Force Awakens,” the steps climbed by “The Last Jedi” and the climactic finale of “Rise of Skywalker.”

It’s not a perfect series – sometimes I think that there might be more movies I dislike than I do like in the franchise – but it’s perfect for me. It’s a series I will always cherish and my love for it is something I look forward to passing on to my children one day.

Until next time, Star Wars.

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