By Brett Eitzen
About my review: If you’ve already seen this movie and like it, that’s great! I’m not here to tell you you’re wrong. The last thing I want to do is shame anyone for disagreeing with me on how much they enjoyed a movie, the only opinion that matters is your own. Without further ado, here is my opinion of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
The very worst way to start your grand saga finale is to retcon (or simply ignore) the entire previous movie. And that is exactly how this film begins, rather than saying “Yes, and…” to The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker instead resets multiple character arcs, and throws the previous themes under the bus in order to set up what might be the most unsatisfying final showdown in the franchise.
The best part of the sequel trilogy has been the cast. Despite the inconsistencies with where the characters left off at the end of the last movie, everyone really showed up ready to work. Driver and Ridley turn in stellar performances, playing off each other similar to their work in The Last Jedi. Their scene on the remains of the Death Star is my favorite part of this movie. Boyega, clearly excited to be back with his The Force Awakens co-stars, oozes energy and fun. Even if you don’t like how J.J. handles their roles, their acting is top-notch.
That said, this film does a total disservice to the Sequel Trilogy’s secondary characters. Rose Tico gets completely sidelined in order to introduce new characters/bring back old ones. The Knights of Ren are probably just some cosplayers who walked on set and didn’t get cut out (This is actually a real problem with secondary villains in Star Wars in general, so I’ll cut J.J. a little slack).
The most noticeable problem with this film is its pacing. Whether this is an intentional attempt to prevent the audience from thinking about the script, or a consequence of overstuffing the two and a half hour runtime, the plot ends up feeling like it’s a checklist pulled from Reddit. This is particularly egregious at the beginning of the film, as the first thirty minutes are essentially an attempt to reset as much of the story back to pre The Last Jedi as possible. However later in the film, great scenes like breaking Chewie out of Kylo’s Star Destroyer are lost because of this incredibly fast pacing as well.
The most egregious sin for me is the mishmash of themes. The Last Jedi (via The Force Awakens) set up this idea that the Force doesn’t belong to only a couple of bloodlines or even particular groups (aka the Jedi and Sith). J.J. plays with this a little bit in Finn’s character who “might be” trying to tell Rey he’s Force Sensitive, but that’s pretty unclear in the film. Instead, The Rise of Skywalker gives Rey a “royal” bloodline and has her do what Luke does in The Return of the Jedi: choose to not follow whatever destiny the Emperor has for her. That theme itself isn’t bad, but there aren’t any stakes because we never for a second believe Rey will go to the Dark Side. Ben completes his ultimate goal and becomes like his grandfather (I guess he couldn’t escape his family legacy?). This movie can’t decide how to handle elitism, it’s trying to have its cake and eat it too.
Then there’s the theme of Hope. Rather than have Luke’s legendary sacrifice be the motivating spark that ignites the galaxy’s hope in a life outside of the First Order’s control, apparently Lando’s offscreen pleas coax enough rebels to Exegol to finish off the new empire.
The theme that I really like that The Rise of Skywalker commits to (with mixed success) is the theme of unity. It’s not a new theme in Star Wars, but it’s one that’s important. Rey is searching for the Jedi of the past to “Be with her”, Poe and Leia are desperately trying to unite the galaxy (when Poe's not fetch-questing). And Kylo redeems himself and unites with Rey to face the Emperor.
Other Quick Points
Lightspeed skipping in the Falcon
Rey and Kylo
The confrontation on the remnants of the Death Star
Burying of Luke and Leia’s sabers
Return of the Emperor & his relationship with Rey
Resetting Poe & Finn’s characters
Replacing Rose and Hux with less interesting characters
Amount of reused Carrie Fisher footage
The lack of stakes
The final showdown
The need to explain everything (and thus reveal new questions in the process)
Ultimately I’m disappointed with this film. From how it handles its characters and plot to fan service, it misses the mark for me. Perhaps if this had come out pre-Avenger’s: Endgame I would have enjoyed it more. But in a world where the same parent studio put out a satisfying conclusion to 22 movies, this is a disappointment. The Rise of Skywalker is not the worst Star Wars movie, but it fails to even meet the average expectations set in the nine-film saga.