Beware: there will be some light spoilers ahead. My social media feed is filled with people who didn’t like The Rise of Skywalker, and I don’t really disagree with a lot of the criticisms, but I still enjoyed the movie. I’m enormously fond of these characters and I cannot deny having fun watching them fly around the galaxy having adventures.
I’ll start with what I didn’t like. I’m a Rose stan and was bummed to see her get the Return of the Jedi-Lando treatment. Her heart and earnestness is a big part of why I love The Last Jedi. I wish she had more to do than just be there. Related to that is Finn whose story doesn’t feel complete. Finn is the focus of so much textual and subtextual shipping in the first two movies that it is frankly weird that none of it was addressed much less resolved beyond everyone having seemingly friend-zoned each other. I know Abrams has addressed the question of what Finn wanted to say to Rey during a Q&A, but, in my book, that doesn’t count at all.
To raise a plot point, revisit it later, but never resolve it strikes me as awfully sloppy storytelling. For a movie that spends so much time dwelling on other questions that don’t really need answers, it’s disappointing to see ones that should be answered left hanging.
If there were only one thing I could change, however, it would be Rey’s family revelation. I admit that generational conflict and bloodlines have always been part of Star Wars’ story, but I just don’t think it was necessary here. I think you could remove that plot point and still tell the exact same story.
That said, I don’t think Rey Palpatine invalidates The Last Jedi or its message; indeed Rey taking the name Skywalker regardless is, to me, a satisfying conclusion to her story.
I hate to try to read the minds of any filmmakers, but I do agree with the popular notion that J. J. Abrams stuffed into The Rise of Skywalker the two movies worth ideas of where he thought things would go after The Force Awakens, but he never quite squares things with what Rian Johnson did in The Last Jedi. Not since the Expanded Universe, have we really seen the visions of two authors with different takes on the same setting and characters bump up against each other like this. Do I think the goal was to make a safe, non-controversial movie? Absolutely, but I don’t think Episode IX is even remotely close to being the first Star Wars story to do that.
This movie is a shaggy dog and, in spite of its mess, I still like it. The four leads are strong, and their chemistry is engaging. Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley in particular are very good. The big set pieces are cool; the rain-soaked lightsaber battle was neat, and the space battle at the end was a blast. The trailer spoiled the reveal of the fleet, and that scene sure does feel like it cribbed from Avengers: Endgame, but I still cheered when Lando and the Falcon came to the rescue. I cheered when Rey handed the lightsaber off to Ben. And I cheered when she crossed the two blades at the end. I am on the record as someone who doesn’t think fan service is inherently bad, so stuff like Harrison Ford’s cameo (which I wasn’t expecting) worked for me, and the voices of the Jedi (which I were expecting) felt right on target. And Luke’s shit-eating grin after lifting the X-Wing out of the water was just great.
Finally, I think Carrie Fisher’s inclusion was handled well. While I wouldn’t call the integration of her old footage seamless, there were really only one or two shots that struck me as obviously CGI’ed, and I’d say they did a good job working in what dialogue they had into the story. I can’t imagine watching the movie not knowing that she is no longer with us, but I think it’s an appropriate tribute to Fisher and her importance to Star Wars.
I realize “Ah, I mostly liked it” is not the hottest of takes, but I’m not embarrassed to like something in spite of its flaws. Is the movie big, dumb and stupid? Probably. But I’m okay with that. Sometimes Star Wars should be those things.