What a roller-coaster adventure the last two years have been for Star Wars fans. Fair or not, Rian Johnson’s “The Last Jedi” sparked all sorts of fan backlash, enough to prompt some to even blame it for the 2018 “Solo” movie’s disappointing box office numbers. Without question much of the outrage was over-the-top which caused many of the legitimate criticisms to be lost in the noise. But equally over-the-top was the critical praise, some of which heralded it as “the best Star Wars movie ever made”. Much of that was rooted in a needless lust for subversion and rabid contempt for fandom.
In reality “The Last Jedi” had problems but it wasn’t the franchise killing disaster some have painted it as. Actually, outside of about 30 minutes of wildly uneven (and arguably bad) storytelling, it’s a movie with an assortment of big thrills and exciting moments. More importantly it left the story in a promising place and gave the characters plenty to reckon with. It ultimately set the table for “Rise of Skywalker” and the return of director and co-writer J.J. Abrams.
Abrams clearly listened to the criticisms which has already triggered the predictable whines of “fan service” from certain critic circles. But Star Wars has always been about continuity and connection. Even the “stand-alone” movies are inherently connected to the films that came before them. So it makes sense that Abrams would try to rein in some of Johnson’s care-free creative choices. And as a movie tasked with wrapping up an entire four decade-plus saga, you almost have to expect some level of “fan service”.
Here’s the important thing, the “fan service” we get in Episode IX isn’t half-baked or intrusive. Most of it is entertaining, nostalgic, and ultimately satisfying. Cool callbacks of all kinds pop up throughout the movie, lots of it genuinely in service to the story while other bits are simply there for the fun of it. Do they go a little overboard? Perhaps. But whether or not it is a dealbreaker for you probably depends on how you’re approaching this film as a whole.
“Skywalker” gets off to a shaky (and frankly concerning) start. The first twenty minutes or so sees Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio bouncing us from one location to another while never letting us plant our feet. There is some snazzy scenery and a couple of decent action sequences, but they’re kinda lost in the film’s manic rush to get the story and the characters to where they need to be. But once the narrative pieces are put in place, the movie slows down a bit and gets into a more manageable rhythm.
The movie’s most captivating storyline remains the mysterious connection between young and raw Jedi extraordinaire Rey (Daisy Ridley) and tortured dark sider Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Rey works hard to hone her skills but is still haunted by questions of her identity. Kylo (who steals the movie) uses every ounce of rage he can muster to smother out the glimmer of light within him. Both Ridley and Driver approach most of their scenes with a steely intensity befitting of their characters and their inevitable collision course.
As for another big plus, “Skywalker” finally gives the trilogy’s heroes some meaningful screentime together. Rey, Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and of course BB-8 go off on a Sinbad-like quest (look that reference up kids) to find an artifact once sought by Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). It’s believed to contain the location of a Wayfinder that will lead them to a Sith planet where a new dark force has emerged.
It turns out Kylo Ren has a Wayfinder of his own and has ventured to the sinister planet. While there he discovers a way to turn his terrorizing First Order into a bigger and truly unstoppable force. But it requires that he kill his one biggest threat – Rey. So as the rag-tag band of heroes look for a way to the Sith planet, the First Order scours the entire galaxy in pursuit of them.
Despite the seriousness of their mission, there are always moments of levity especially between playful best bros Poe and Finn. But it’s C-3PO who turns out to be the biggest ham. He’s the perfect punchline for several jokes but he also has some cracking comedic lines of his own. It’s just a shame R2-D2 was left back at the Rebel base with practically nothing to do. The same could be said for Lando (Billy Dee Williams). Who wasn’t thrilled to see the good-hearted gambler returning to the franchise? But he just conveniently pops up with little explanation and then quickly fades into the background.
And as you might expect, we get several new characters entering the galaxy far, far away for the first time. Among the best, Keri Russell’s Zori Bliss, a shady old acquaintance of Poe’s. It’s not a big role, but Zori has a background fans will love to explore. Richard E. Grant is a hoot playing the sour and ever-serious Allegiant General Pryde of the First Order. Grant chews up his lines in classic imperial officer fashion. We don’t quite get enough of his story, but he’s a fun and interesting presence. And Star Wars knows how to do droids. New here is D-O, affectionately called “conehead” by Poe. Again, small role but tender and quite funny.
Abrams does do some patchwork to several of Rian Johnson’s more controversial choices: Rey’s parents, Supreme Leader Snoke, etc. The movie addresses them in a way that should please many of the fans while infuriating those who couldn’t care less about Star Wars continuity or lore. But let’s be serious, “The Rise of Skywalker” had no chance of pleasing everyone. It was a hopeless proposition. So, do you follow Johnson’s lead and kick more sand in the eyes of long-time fans? Or do you make a movie for the devoted fanbase and face the ire of scorned critics?
Sadly, an unnecessary chasm between critics and fans is all but certain and is already blazing across social media. The film will probably be held to a ridiculously high standard (by fans AND critics) and unhelpful comparisons to the original trilogy are all but inevitable. It’s a shame because “Rise of Skywalker” is pure entertainment – fun, at times thrilling, with a steady tinge of franchise nostalgia and an emotional punch at the end. It’s far from perfect. The story is messy, there’s enough plot to fill two movies, and some of its characters need more attention. But this is still very much a Star Wars film and will evoke many of those same old feelings of kid-like joy and excitement for those who allow it.
VERDICT – 4 STARS
I’m glad this worked for you, but I am so bitterly disappointed. I wanted so badly to like this and it sucks when something you love so much ends on a terrible note.
Awww, sorry to hear. I’m such a die-hard SW fan and I tend to digest these movies a lot differently than most. I had a really good time with it. My biggest gripe is that it had enough material for two movies.
All this fandom and whiney moaners is a bit bonkers, I’m not sure if the same thing goes on with the Marvel or DC movies, probably, but I don’t think it’s as vitriolic as the Star Wars mob. Jeez people, it’s just a godamned movie, 🙄🤣 glad you enjoyed it anyway, Sean over at Assholes had similar feelings as yourself about it, so am thinking it was mostly OK. One day, in a TV room far far away (well 12 feet at least anyway) I will watch the SW movies in order, have only seen the first three.
This has turned into a really weird thing partly because of tender-footed ‘fans’ and anti-fan critics. It’s really hard to have a rational discussion about this series these days.
I really enjoyed it. I don’t think it had as strong an impact as a closing chapter as it could have. I think Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith both stuck the landing a bit better. Yet I found it a blast. I kinda wish some of those early reviews didn’t seem to pit it as a Last Jedi vs the world situation. It felt like the knives were out just because it tried not to be divisive like The Last Jedi.
Yep, it’s unfortunate who the division over TLJ is actually showing itself in many critic reviews. My only real gripe on this one is that it felt rushed which left some storylines feeling underserved. My son made the comment that there was enough material here for two movies.
“So, do you follow Johnson’s lead and kick more sand in the eyes of long-time fans? Or do you make a movie for the devoted fanbase and face the ire of scorned critics?”
You do realize THAT doesn’t help ease the discourse right? I’m a long time fan since I watched the original trilogy in theaters, during the initial release of Return Of The Jedi. Well I loved both The Force Awakens AND The Last Jedi, but I still enjoyed The Rise Of Skywalker. How do I fit in your narrative?
It doesn’t sound like you do fit into my “narrative”. I too watched all of the original films at the theater. Loved them. Watched all of the prequel trilogy on the big screen. I like those films. Watched all the sequel trilogy including TLJ in theaters. Liked them too. So it sounds like I’m coming from the angle as you.
So I take it what you wrote there was done tongue in cheek then? Because it seemed Rian Johnson did write TLJ for the devoted fanbase. He actually covers themes and story threads that started in the prequels, and continued in Clone Wars and Rebels. He’s rewarding fans who are deep into Star Wars lore and history, by acknowledging what those entrees contributed to the whole mythology. How is that considered kicking sand in the eyes of long time fans?
Which is why I like the movie (even wrote a recent piece defending the Luke Skywalker depiction). But at the same time he also chose to be subversive in an episode titled Episode VIII and clearly did so with little thought of fan reactions. This was essentially reinforced by recent defensive comments about “pandering” to fans.
But my comments were framed in the form of two questions which (unfortunately) represents the two most vocal sides of the responses. As I’ve alluded to on my site and in the review, I don’t subscribe to either. I certainly don’t blame Abrams for going a different route. But also my problems with TLJ was more about storytelling flaws than what most ‘fans’ are still fussing about.
I’m seeing this tomorrow morning and I’ve already lowered my expectations (though I tend to keep it low). At least it’s not fucking Cats. The image of Rebel Wilson eating CGI cockroaches already made me throw up as I’m still dealing with flu-like illnesses in coughs, runny noses, and a sore throat.
Ya know part of me wants to see “Cats” just to witness its horror. But another part of me doesn’t want to give them a dime of my money. So we are watching Star Wars again.
There’s a self-abusive and fucked-up side of me that makes me want to see if I’m forced to watch that or… the new Michael Bay movie.
What if Michael Bay directed “Cats”?
My head will explode ala Scanners.
Haven’t seen it yet, but I did get the sense that at least some critics are just looking for a reason not to like it. Kind of like the last one hurt their feelings and they are getting even.
It does seem like Abrams didn’t have a chance with some critics. I had a lot of fun despite its flaws. Seeing it again tomorrow.
Had way to many get bent out of shape over something that is to be fun
Twitter is proff of this lol
The last jedi is my last liked of all the movies but that does not mean it is a dumpster fire
I do think if the could have worked out a way to keep ju on that would have prevented alot of this over react on both sides or we can eat ham in happiness
It definitely has sparked a ton of conversation. But it was bound to. Like I said, it had no chance of pleasing everyone.
I wonder what Finn was going to tell Rey? Weird that he felt her pass… Not sure what is going on with him.
(SPOILERS)))))))))That whole potential love triangle was weird and then just vanished. Was he going to tell her he loved her, that Poe loved, or what? TLJ ends with that odd Finn and Rose kiss, Poe seems to have feelings for Rey but they Zorii comes along and there is clearly a spark there, and then Rey has her kiss moment with somebody totally different. The three of them all hug at the end which I think is the best scenario – they are simply the best of friends.
Lots of loose ends and side roads that lead nowhere. Some one above mentioned how Revenge of the Sith, an Return to the Jedi both stuck the landing for their respective series and this one doesn’t quite do that, I have to agree. Rushed and patched together it meets fan expectations for nostalgia in several places, but that often leaves the story we should be following dangling. The last trilogy feels cobbled together, as if they had only the most general idea of where they were heading, and they tried to work it out as they went along. Emotional satisfaction was low for me, but as usual, the spectacle was solid. Maybe it will work better on subsequent viewing, but that is not the way I think I should have to go with a Star Wars movie.
That kind of speaks to one of my biggest gripes – there was enough material here for two movies. Obviously though, that doesn’t fit into the trilogy format. (SPOILERS))))))) Things like Leia teaching Rey in the ways of the force. That’s a pretty big thing that needs more attention than a brief flashback of Luke training Leia. Same with Rey’s parents. The revelation is interesting but it still needed more attention.
Anyway, I’m seeing it again in a few hours and I have a few things I’m specifically looking for.
To be fair, George Lucas made up the original trilogy as he went along, most long-term ideas scrapped.
He took three year between films to work out the kinks, these films tried doing it in two. Feels like a rush job.
Good review, Keith. I agree with your point, it’s messy but it’s enjoyable. I guess for me, it was not a good the end film for the franchise, but oh well.
I also wrote the film’s pros and cons. If interested, you can read here: https://meshthemoviefreak.wordpress.com/2019/12/20/pro-and-con-rise-of-skywalker/ 🙂
Absolutely will check it out. Thanks for linking.
IMHO this movie kicked more sand in the eyes of long-time fans and casual fans than TLJ ever did. They rendered entire story of Anakin pointless. It’s not just a sloppy movie with tons of things visibly cut out, it’s a disgrace of the franchise
Wow. Haven’t felt Anakin’s story impacted much at all by this other than it was his grandson and a new Jedi trained by his children who ultimately ended the Sith threat. Still, a better movie than TLJ for me.
Anakin’s whole reason to turn to dark side? Here Kylo and Rey can just heal the others, just like that. Anakin’s prophecy? LOL Emperor and all the shit is back. Anakin also helps this random chick and doesn’t help his own grandson. I’d say that is some impact.
Saving Padme was in Anakin’s mind but it was fed to him by Palpatine who then exploited it to his advantage. But in Episode III Palpatine alluded to these very powers we see in this film and even see from Baby Yoda. And I’m not sure how Anakin could help his grandson. He’s been dead since well before Kylo was born.
Man, you hear Anakin’s voice rooting for Rey. He says nothing to Ben. You have Luke literally lift a plane for her. Are you really not sure how he could help when you have force ghosts doing this? What’s the different that Palpatine told him about it? You now have two characters having that power out of nowhere for really no reason other than playing ping pong with life force.
Why would we think that Anakin’s force ghost would suddenly appear when the only time we’ve ever even seen it is standing next to Yoda and Obi-Wan in Return of the Jedi? He has literally zero presence other than in voices some of which were manipulations of Palpatine. As for Rey having her power, we learn she has many powers she doesn’t realize she has. Sith lightning anyone? I don’t know, to me them having healing powers doesn’t ruin things. It just speaks to the criticism I have mentioned, that there is too much material here for just one movie.
And the only reason for him not having presence is because the writers didn’t include him when they could and should. It’s the worst script for a blockbuster I saw in years. You have the Sith messing with Ben his entire life and the Jedi never intervening once when they all do for Rey in the end. It’s indefensible.
Luke (trying to rebuild the Jedi) was literally training Ben when he turned to the Dark Side. He was trying to help him. The ghosts didn’t appear to Ben after he turned but that’s not unusual. They never appeared to Vader either. I suppose they could have appeared to Ben before he turned. But don’t Force ghosts only appear to those they had personal connections with?
Was just … OK. Isn’t as good as Force Awakens, better than Last Jedi. It’s the best film ever created compared to CATS.
I’ve heard….interesting things about “Cats”. I kinda want to see it just to say I witnessed the train wreckage.
What a fantastic review, I can’t help but agree with you on how this film will most certainly not eliminate any grievances people have had since the beginning of the new era of films. Your review is honestly the most fair I’ve seen yet.
Thank you so much. Appreciate you checking it out. I just finished watching it a second time and I definitely stand by my score. It’s a strong 4 stars. I even liked it better a second time because I picked up on so many more things I had missed.
That’s what I’m hoping will happen for me too. I always feel that the best way to handle an opinion is by giving whatever it is a second chance.
The movie throws so much at you and it can be a little overwhelming on the first viewing. But this time I knew where the story was going so I could pay closer attention to the details. Picked up several things that gave me some clarity.
Nice! You’re honestly making me want to see it again right this second.
HaHa. Definitely give it a second watch.
Good thing next year’ll bring a better film selection
As a big fan of The Last Jedi who generally sides more with the Lucasfilm and their creative choices than with the more vocal fans… I absolutely love The Rise of Skywalker (just got back from seeing it)! An epic, satisfying, resonating conclusion to the Skywalker Saga and the Trilogy of Trilogies.
I had so much fun with it especially after a second viewing. Do yourself a favor and watch it a second time. You’ll notice so many more things you may have missed in the first viewing.
Oh, I’m almost definitely going for a second viewing! Such a lot of fun. Loved all the easter eggs/references to almost all of the previous movies.
Good. I guarantee more things will stand out that you didn’t catch before.
What was your favourite appearance? Mine was Han Solo.
Hard to say. Han did have an incredibly tender moment.
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Solid review mate. Have to say as a massive fan of TLJ I was disappointed by a lot of the storytelling aspects of this film, but I did enjoy it in the moment. My own review reflects my dismay at the seemingly offhanded way JJ and Co tried to tie up all the disparate plot points – the revelation of Rey’s parentage, while shocking, wasn’t given anywhere near enough time to bake into the audience’s brain, IMO – within the film’s lengthy timeframe. It’s also a shame at the obvious shade thrown at TLJ in such a snarky manner (the scene with Force Ghost Luke and the lighsabre, most obviously) which left me with a sour taste in the mouth. Performances were generally good considering: in my own review I write that the characters weren’t given dialogue so much as they were given exposition, the difference between the two being that dialogue allows the characters to grow, whilst exposition allows the characters to go. The latter, whilst important, robs a lot of character beats from the story and results in a thinner, less emotional film (again, IMO), and this is the crucial deficit the film has. That said, the visuals are spectacular, the sound mix astonishing (I think the subwoofers in the cinema I saw this in couldn’t handle the LFE Abrams threw at us, they were bottoming out) and the music again was among the highlights. Time will tell how the Sequel Trilogy holds up but for me Rise Of Skywalker was a disappointment compared to the relatively even-handed earlier two films.
Those are completely fair criticisms. I guess I didn’t really have a problem with Luke’s scene mainly because he is in such a different place by the end of TLJ than he was when he pitched the lightsaber. I could see him saying the same thing at that point in the previous film. It’s one reason I never had a problem with how TLJ treated Luke. You’re right, there is a lot of exposition. But I also felt it had several good emotional punches. And one reason I like it better than TLJ is because it doesn’t have any pointless and befuddling sequences like the Casino planet excursion. My biggest gripe (and you touch on it) is that several details in this movie needed more time and attention. You’re 100% right about the Palpatine revelation. Also the whole idea of Leia being trained in the force by Luke. That seems like such a major bit of information yet we get a brief flashback image and a few words from Luke and that’s about it. In their defense though, I saw an interview where Abrams said they had more planned but obviously with Carrie Fisher‘s death they were much more limited than they intended to be.
Reading that it fails to meet expectations if almost 176 m and of 300 global is a fail Hollywoods bar needs to be checked
Yep, but I’m sure the era of outrage contributed to it.
Great review as ever Keith. I appreciated your wider perspective of the film by trying to tie it to the perception of The Last Jedi and the almost impossible task that Abrams had.
I liked the film and would call it a good Star Wars film. This is mostly down to Rey’s arc and subsequent internal wrestle with her lineage. It feels so in keeping with the franchise and its themes.
Thanks so much. I’m glad you enjoyed it too. I know some people walked away disappointed but I had a lot of fun with it. Then again, I view all of these movies as a whole. Some episodes are better than others but they all come together to form something I always have and always will love.
That’s an excellent point. It’s a big story that’s split into different chapters. And with that comes weak and strong entries etc. Endings are especially tricky and I would have liked to have seen the social media reaction/general consensus for Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith.
Here’s my review, if you curious about to read more about my thoughts on the film. https://sgsonfilm.net/2019/12/20/review-star-wars-the-rise-of-skywalker-2019/
YES! I often wonder how movies like Return of the Jedi would do if it came out in the age of social media.
Much like some of the reviews at the time, I don’t think The Empire Strikes Back would be as enamoured if it were released during the era of social media.
Trying to digest everything that went down after seeing it , is like taking in too much pie and struggling to swallow it lol But I will say there was in my opinion much course correction going on from The Last Jedi . I was not a fan of that movie over all , although the performances were solid , Johnson made choices that I really disliked and it was clear JJ took to heart the anger of many fans . The first part was a bit muddled but once it got going , it was frenetic pace . They dealt decently with the death of Fisher limiting what could have been in this movie . I felt there where tons of fan service but I was quite happy with that . The scene that featured Han talking to Ben Solo/Kylo Ren had more impact and heart for me than it the scene in the Force Awakens. Plus it was great to see Lando back and to see Luke as a force ghost was great . Still not sold on the Emperor return and how that all went down but my I might need to see it again before I can rate it fairly . As it stands , my view still stands that this whole series of movies was unneeded but here we are . So without being too nit picky , a solid 7.5 .
Definitely see it again. You’re right, there is so much to follow and process during a first viewing. You spend a lot of time just trying to keep up with plot points especially during the first act. But my second viewing was really great mainly because I knew where the story was going so I could just focus on the details, characters, etc. It opened the movie up even more to me.
I get what you’re saying about Palpatine, but think of it this way. From episode one all the way to this movie this really is a saga of too powerful families, the Skywalkers and the Palpatines. All three trilogies have this in common. So I found it kind of cool that the final movie of the saga dealt with that story thread and brought it to a conclusion. Just a thought.
That is true and I thought that by Rey being saved by a Skywalker and her rejecting the name of her grandfather and adopting Skywalker, it brings a piece to the force. Just my observation.But I’m going again this weekend, and I also agree, the pace may slow down a bit so I will able to see the movie in a clearer light .
The pace issue made a world of difference. Being able to sit back and take in the details paints things in a new light. Hoping to see it one more time before it leaves the big screen.
I thought it was fine… a bit illogical in many places but I love Rey and Kylo Ren together so it was fun enough.
Great review Keith and I’m glad you enjoyed Rise of Skywalker. I liked it fine and was entertained but as the end of a trilogy and a saga it was a little weak – looking forward to the Mandalorian when we get Disney+ here in the UK at the end of March!
Oh gosh! I forget you guys are still waiting on Mandalorian! That’s just terrible. I’m sure there are things behind the scenes that I just don’t understand, but it stinks that there is such a huge gap between release dates.
Yeah, it’s seemingly all down to the various contracts/licensing agreements Disney has with different outlets worldwide, which need to expire before Disney+ can go live. Looking forward to it!
Can’t wait to read your take on it.