The grand finale to the Skywalker Saga barely sticks the landing due to its strong cast but does not provide a wholly satisfying conclusion.
2019 was a year filled with a lot of film and media franchise conclusions: Toy Story, X-Men, and the highly successful Avengers Endgame, but also concluded the Skywalker Saga with Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. Given the polarising status of the previous movie, The Last Jedi, many had hoped that The Rise of Skywalker would be able to reunite fans of the franchise. However, the film garnered mediocre reviews, 52% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes and 6.8/10 score on IMDb, and earned less at the box office than its previous two sequel trilogy counterparts. The film follows the protagonists Rey, Finn, Poe, and the Resistance, as they seek to stop the First Order from conquering the galaxy. The movie begins by revealing Emperor Palpatine’s return, who enlists Kylo Ren’s help in exchange for a massive fleet of Star Destroyers. The Resistance has 16 hours to find Palpatine’s hidden planet of Exegol before he deploys the fleet. They embark on a series of adventures to find clues that lead them closer to Exegol, meet new and old characters like Lando Calrissian, Zorii Bliss, and Jannah, and discover the truth about Rey’s lineage. Rey meets the spirit of Jedi Master Luke Skywalker while Kylo Ren is redeemed after an encounter with his late father’s spirit, and the two of them rush to Exegol to confront Palpatine and save the galaxy once and for all. Ultimately, The Rise of Skywalker manages to tie up enough loose ends to conclude the Skywalker story, but generally leaves the audience wishing for a better planned conclusion to such a massively beloved film franchise.
Admittedly, The Rise of Skywalker does try to unite the fanbase and succeeds in tying up multiple plot threads. The previous installment in the saga, The Last Jedi, shifted the plot in a rather unexpected direction, and some consequences of those decisions are present in The Rise of Skywalker. The film resurrects Emperor Palpatine after fellow villain Supreme Leader Snoke was unexpectedly killed in The Last Jedi, and, in doing so, partially explains both Snoke’s backstory and Rey’s mysterious lineage. The movie also addresses Kylo Ren’s struggle with the dark and light by featuring his foreshadowed redemption. However, paying off said plot threads do take a toll on the movie, as the film moves at a breakneck pace, jumping from plot point to plot point to tick off all the boxes. Furthermore, the film does not completely succeed in tying up all plot threads–Palpatine’s return, the central point of the movie, is not really explained, and the mysterious Knights of Ren are woefully underutilized. Ultimately, the film learns from the criticisms of the previous Star Wars movies by going out of its way to resolve plot threads; but sacrifices some narrative effectiveness in the process.
However, the film does have several flaws which it suffers from. The return of Emperor Palpatine is the central important plot point of the movie and one that the entire film revolves around. Unfortunately, the movie never truly explains Palpatine’s return, instead leaving it shrouded in mystery. This does not craft a successful foundation for the movie as the entire premise the movie relies on–a resurrection of a previously demised character–is never fully explained. Furthermore, many of the emotionally impactful moments, in particular one scene involving Chewbacca and another involving Rey, are immediately undone in the next scene, thus draining any emotional impact the scene had. The film also awkwardly reverses many decisions made in the previous film, from Rey’s parentage to ignoring Supreme Leader Snoke’s background. This causes the overall plot arc of the sequel trilogy to shift awkwardly in one direction before shifting back. The Rise of Skywalker may have had several redeeming moments, but it also does suffer from many core flaws.
On the whole, The Rise of Skywalker is an enjoyable but flawed film. Many core story elements are glossed over, and there is a frustrating lack of emotionally impactful moments, but the movie is entertaining overall. Furthermore, the film does seem to try to correct some criticisms of the previous movie, bending over backwards to change story arcs that received backlash. While it may not be the most artistic film or the most well-planned conclusion, The Rise of Skywalker is a good enough popcorn flick that can entertain an audience for a couple of hours.