A frenetic, grandiose and mostly exciting effort that is about as good as anyone could reasonably hope for. But given the fact that it has no interesting characters, no worldbuilding, no coherent overarching plot, and the previous installments gave it no setup to work with, that’s not saying much.
Non-spoilers of things we saw in the trailers: The big reveal of the Emperor? First paragraph of the crawl. The big reveal of the super fleet of Star Destroyers? The second scene of the movie.
And that's Rise of Skywalker in a nutshell. It's trying to cram three movies' worth of plot development into the first 20 to 30 minutes of the movie, meaning it basically starts as a jackhammer of action scenes, barely pausing for any dialog or meaningful character development.
The protagonists then basically chase MacGuffins for the next hour, continuing to hop from action scene to action scene. As with JJ Abrams' prior Star Wars film, the plot doesn't have a "structure" so much as moving along on inertia, with the conflicts arising primarily from either complete contrivance, or "because this needs to happen." This isn’t surprising, because that’s the same way JJ Abram’s last Star Wars movie was.
Then the Third Act finally happens because the Bad Guys decide "It's Time for the Third Act" and the Rebellion has to stop them. What follows is a big dumb action sequence for the final forty five minutes or so, but without the polish and coherence of Rogue One's "Big Action Third Act." Just a bunch of spaceships flying around. "We need to destroy the thing. Oh no, we need to destroy this other thing. Dammit, they moved it again, gotta destroy this other thing!"
So, is it awful? No. Is it good? No. Think of Roland Emerich’s Independence Day, but without any interesting characters or a coherent plot structure, and no buildup. The Rise of Skywalker has no tension building. It starts high with the Emperor and a giant fleet and impending doom, and just stays there. It has no pacing, just a sprint to the finish. So it's exciting. Mostly because it won't stop to let you get bored. Or think about how basically everything happening is rushed and pretty dumb.
And perhaps that's not entirely its fault. The Last Jedi completely unraveled all the storybuilding from The Force Awakens, without leaving anything in its wake. And The Force Awakens unraveled all the worldbuilding from the original trilogy, leaving basically nothing in its wake. So imagine a movie that needs to piece together its entire back story in thirty minutes, so that it can finish a story that is 9 movies long.
Along the way, it tosses back in many of the abandoned elements from The Force Awakens, but not really explaining any of them, because it has no time. For example, are the Knights of Ren in this movie? You saw them in the trailer. Who are they? Some guys in black with large beatsticks that follow Kylo Ren around in a couple scenes then disappear for most of the movie. Rey has Luke/Anakin’s original lightsaber back despite the fact that it was destroyed in The Last Jedi, but doesn’t explain why or how. The Force continues the sequel trilogy’s tradition of that it just “does the things,” with some baffling new Force powers, as well as expanding on the Force Skype between Kylo Ren and Rey we say in The Last Jedi.
Positives? When it does make jokes, they aren't completely awful like “humor” of The Last Jedi. There aren't many good jokes, but at least Poe isn't calling up Star Destroyers making cellphone reception jokes and mother jokes. There aren’t tonally jarring physical comedy resolutions to dramatic scenes. The final lightsaber duel between Rey and Kylo Ren is exciting and well shot.
Fans upset by The Last Jedi will at least be relieved that the movie "redeems" Luke Skywalker, in that his demeanor is closer to what fans remember from the original movies, rather than the angry hermit Mark Hammill himself referred to as “Jake Skywalker.” But most will probably still be disappointed that he needed redeeming in the first place, and has very little to do because he's just a ghost. Carrie Fisher's appearances in this movie definitely feel conspicuously out of place, as the plot is dictated by what they had already filmed of her years ago.
And so the “Skywalker Saga” fizzles out, the sum of its three final parts a disappointing mess that did a disservice to the fans and to the characters of the original films, leaving nothing interesting behind. I don’t think many people will remember these characters even in five years, let alone forty, the way names like Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo and Darth Vader remain so evocative even today.
Our rating - 2 stars out of 4.
The Rise of Skywaker is neither terrible nor satisfying. It’s neither competent nor a complete disaster. I thought this movie was "fun," but I don't use that word with any affection. Just that it wasn't a chore to sit through. I don't think it will be as hated as The Last Jedi, but I can't imagine anyone's feelings on this trilogy will be improved by this installment either.