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How universal is the Force?

The Rise of Skywalker reduces a powerful theological symbol to a family drama.

In the ninth installment of the Star Wars saga, The Rise of Skywalker, Rey, the most recent hero, and Kylo Ren, who is both Rey’s nemesis and soul mate, transfer lightsabers in a crucial battle. Many small moments throughout the film have paved the way, materially and spiritually, for this sleight of hand, and when it happens it is both obvious and breathtaking. It is an exhilarating vision of what could have been in an alternate universe. For a moment, we see that this moment of alliance is not the result of bloodlines and superior genetics, or of there being born heroes and born villains, but the product of subtle, free human choices. For a moment, the film appears to see beyond the tired tropes and family dramas it has so relentlessly pursued. The moment doesn’t last.

The Rise of Skywalker picks up where The Last Jedi left off: Kylo Ren, son of Leia and Han Solo, nephew of Luke Skywalker, and grandson of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, has killed his way to the position of Supreme Leader of the imperial First Order. Rey, who shares a mysterious bond with Kylo that allows them to communicate across time and space, is trying to complete her Jedi training and race Kylo to the hidden planet of the Sith.

As in all Star Wars movies, a small band of poorly resourced resistance fighters tries to defeat the imperial power against crushing odds and threats of impossible weapons. As Rey and her comrades zip across the galaxy, they meet new allies and many, many old characters, who show up for final goodbyes. They outwit foes, attempt daring rescues, and face near-certain destruction with witty dialogue and sincere camaraderie. They are a compelling band of friends with whom to face the end of the world. But the real focus of the movie is the relationship between Rey and Kylo.