[Note: I kept this review vague and only mentioned information revealed in trailers to be as spoiler-free as possible.]
I would be lying to your face if I told you that Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is anything other than an unmitigated disaster — an embarrassment of a movie that feels less like a movie than a series of random plots found on the side of the road and shoved into a blender in an attempt to appease Star Wars fans in the most lazy way possible, only to instead disgrace the foundations of the franchise at every turn.
Since you probably think I’m being hyperbolic or that I had some preconceived agenda against this movie, allow me to provide some context. I think that, up until The Rise of Skywalker, Disney had yet to put out a bad Star Wars movie. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of issues with these new movies, but each of them also has unique qualities that make them work, and as much as The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi present two radically different visions for the franchise, I appreciate both movies immensely. Heck, you could even argue that I was predisposed to be generous to this movie, as reading the negative reviews beforehand lowered my expectations to the point that I would surely walk out and say “Hey, it wasn’t that bad.” However, today I sit here and tell you that, yes, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is truly that bad.
Now, to describe the movie itself: where do I begin? Do I begin with the fact that this is essentially a desperate apology to fans that hated The Last Jedi? Actually, I’ll address that later, because to imply this is merely a bad Star Wars movie is to mask the tragedy of just how bad of a movie this is. Imagine you’re really tired but you keep repeatedly getting punched in the face to the point that you can’t fall asleep, and that’s basically the experience of watching The Rise of Skywalker. The movie begins at a breakneck pace with an opening scene that lacks zero context and makes no narrative sense whatsoever, and this is a trend that only persists as the movie goes on and shoves so many explosions, characters, lightsabers, and movies worth of plot down your throat that you’re probably going to choke. Its pacing is so rapid that it makes Infinity War feel like a Terrence Malick movie in comparison, and as a result there is practically no time to truly see these characters interact or establish emotional stakes behind the story when they’re not too busy chasing McGuffin devices that feel like uninspired video game side-quests. None of the action is remotely fun or interesting, as in the attempt to go bigger with its spectacle, the movie genuinely just wore me down to the point that lightsaber fights couldn’t have felt more numbingly boring. It’s not a movie — it’s a convoluted barrage of quick cuts that will desensitize you to anything happening on-screen, and I will pay somebody my college tuition if they can watch this movie once and thoroughly explain its plot; it’s that incoherent.
While The Rise of Skywalker is incoherent as a movie, it’s a disgrace as a Star Wars movie. I genuinely understand why some people hate The Last Jedi, but the lengths in which The Rise of Skywalker goes to actively disregard its predecessor’s themes and impact is flat-out embarrassing, leaving us with a trilogy that couldn’t feel more disjointed. Rian Johnson clearly took the story in a different direction than J.J. Abrams intended, but it at least felt like he used the foundation he was provided to create the bold, messy, and powerful Star Wars story he wanted to tell. Here, it feels like J.J. not only trampled upon the foundation that Rian built, but at times pretends that it doesn’t exist at all; if The Last Jedi is throwing the lightsaber over the cliff, The Rise of Skywalker is taking the lightsaber, throwing it into a rage of fire, and then trampling its ashes.
This whole movie not only feels like fan service, but a parody of fan service, as if I was to list all the most ridiculous things that a Star Wars fan could want from this movie in order to provide a sense of true “finality”. The only sense of finality this movie offered me is that my love for Star Wars was so horribly murdered that you couldn’t pay me to get excited about a new Star Wars movie if it came out any earlier than 2022 (even later, if I’m being totally honest). When I say I hate the fan service in this movie, I’m not being a soulless critic of the franchise who hates all the wonder and joy of Star Wars; I’m being a reasonable fan who doesn’t want to be treated like I can only be pleased by the lowest common denominator of storytelling. Nothing here feels earned or satisfying. The cameos, the callbacks, the revelations; everything holds the dramatic weight of a feather.
J.J. and Kathleen Kennedy have claimed that the Emperor was always going to tie back to this trilogy, which I find horribly concerning for two different reasons: either they’re lying and the Emperor was brought back as a form of course correction from The Last Jedi, or this abomination is quite literally some grand form of storytelling they’ve been building up for years. There isn’t so much of an attempt to explain the logistics behind the Emperor in this movie. Not even an attempt! For as much emphasis as this movie is “the conclusion to the saga,” it’s really just a sequel to The Force Awakens that happens to have the Emperor in it, and since that makes the Emperor a recurring character from all three trilogies, this somehow constitutes as actual storytelling? Laughable. Absolutely laughable.
Even the character of Rey, who I have defended since The Force Awakens, is absolutely destroyed by this movie. The most interesting part of her identity is stripped away from her, and for the people that thought she was overpowered in the last two movies? Just. You. Wait. She is essentially an invincible and uninteresting video game character, and the only redeeming part of her in this movie outside of Daisy Ridley’s performance is the continuation of the force bond between her and Kylo from The Last Jedi. You would honestly be forgiven for forgetting Kylo is in this movie because he basically has nothing to do and is only one of 10,000 moving pieces, and the same could be said for basically any other character. Heck, freaking Lando is in this movie, and I feel like nobody will walk out remembering he was in it, either.
The only positive things I could say about this movie is that the actors did the best they could and John Williams’s music is, expectedly, terrific. Still, even some of my favorite music cues ever weren’t enough to make me care about this movie in any way, shape, or form. Perhaps the more pressing question is who is to blame for this movie, or even this trilogy. It’s easy to blame Star Wars fans for having unreasonable expectations and not even knowing what they want from a Star Wars movie, but as true as that is, it still feels like a lame excuse. The reality is that this trilogy was rushed out of the gate without a definitive blueprint or outline for the three movies, and as much as I admire the heck out of The Last Jedi, it’s painfully obvious that Rian Johnson should have been left to build his own trilogy from the ground-up as opposed to making an Episode VIII that doesn’t leave much room for Episode IX. Still, even though I recognize that The Rise of Skywalker had a heavy weight on its shoulders, it absolutely could have done a better job of following up The Last Jedi and concluding this saga that we all love, or at least used to love at one point in time. I hesitate to say this after only one viewing, but I feel so passionate right now that I would be shocked if my opinion changed: The Rise of Skywalker is the worst Star Wars movie ever made. Yes, the prequels are bad, but at least they showed a sense of ambition and contributed to the universe of Star Wars, while also managing to tell a relatively cohesive arc over three movies. But this movie? What an absolute hot mess.
It’s time for Star Wars to take a break before it becomes a force ghost of itself, because with The Rise of Skywalker, it already has.