Note: This review is 100% spoiler-free.
We’ve made it to the end of the first ever trilogy of trilogies (I didn’t research this; I’m just assuming). It’s been a wild ride of good and bad, beloved and hated, and everything in between. At times, these movies had nothing in common except the lightsabers. So, the question is: how good is The Rise of Skywalker and does it truly honor the legacy?
I can answer that with a resounding meh. When I started seeing the critical reviews roll in, I was worried that it would be a failure of epic proportions, but it’s really not. It’s a competent enough movie, filled with the sort of nostalgia popcorn that J.J. Abrams is all about. It lacks the layers and subtlety of The Last Jedi, and can’t rely on being the first in a while like it could with The Force Awakens, so the movie was left in an awkward place where perfection was practically impossible, and avoiding failure was imperative.
I’d say it avoids failure, largely because of its quick pace and capable cast. Never before in the Star Wars franchise have the movies been staffed with such good acting. Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Adam Driver are such better actors than the original cast, that they don’t really need the script to be as good for the movie to feel as good as its predecessors. I had no difficulty believing that the three principals had become besties and that brings with it a lot of heart when they constantly save, pine, and fight for each other.
I’ve always liked the character of Rey, and I still like her here. She’s a believable Jedi, while also being her own character who isn’t bogged down by the sins (or even successes) of her forebearers. She’s a Jedi for the times, willing to question the status quo and do the right thing even if it crosses good sense or the established traditions of her people. She’s easily my favorite part of this new trilogy, and that’s good, because she’s front and center for the whole thing.
The biggest complaints I have with Rise of Skywalker all come down to its story, which can be meandering and overly retconny at times. The strange decision to not make this trilogy with a singular vision leaves its marks when it becomes clear that J.J. Abrams refuses to accept some of Rian Johnson’s choices from The Last Jedi. Thus, the movie spends a fair bit of time undoing some of what has been done, and creating new mysteries that surely Abrams would have liked to have worked into The Last Jedi instead.
That’s not to say that these retcons are done with a feeling of malice. Indeed, Abrams at least attempts to reconcile them with what’s come before. In the best of cases, a character reverses course for a reasonable growth or plot reason. In the worst of cases, everyone just pretends that something’s always been this way and they just forgot to tell the viewer. That can be jarring at times, but the movie clops along quickly enough that you’ll worry about it more when the credits roll than while you’re watching it.
It’s the end of an era. I’m sure we’ll have Star Wars movies right up until the apocalypse, but they’ll no longer be so closely beholden to a singular forty year old story that didn’t really have nine movies in it. I think the ending could have been better. Abrams could have worked harder on bringing back themes from the previous eight movies instead of creating brand new mysteries, characters, and arcs for his characters. He could have respected what Johnson had done a little more. He could have let us see Keri Russell without her helmet on.
In the end, The Rise of Skywalker ends up being a good movie on its own, but a mediocre end to the Skywalker saga. I wish it could have ended better, but I had a good enough time at the theater that I can recommend a watch. You won’t feel like you’ve gotten closure the way you might have with Endgame earlier this year, but I think you’ll still have a good time.
Should you watch it? Do you live in a cave? If not, watch it.
Should you take your kids? Standard Star Wars stuff. Some scary imagery as always, but nothing over the top.
What you should watch first: I’ve lost count. At least the eight Skywalker movies, but then maybe also the other movies and the TV shows and the comics and the novels and the fan fiction and…