Five years ago, the future of the Star Wars franchise was hopeful, and optimistic, and as a fan of the franchise, I was as well. Now I'm just tired. It's not that The Rise of Skywalker is a bad movie, by any means, but I can practically see J.J. Abrams' regret in every scene of the film. He probably didn't expect to be making this movie, since Colin Treverrow was originally slated to direct, and I'm going to bet that J.J. wanted to see what he'd come up with coming off the Episode VIII script. I'm well on the record as not liking Episode VIII, and considering what J.J. had to do to even make this movie, it sure seems like he's losing his enthusiasm for it, as well. This film was put in such a bad position by easily correctable issues induced by the production of Episode VIII. For one thing, Princess Leia is the only character of the original trio who's still alive, despite Carrie Fisher being dead. This manifests as Leia having very little screentime, and her being killed-off rather unceremoniously. Normally, I'm not a fan of reshoots, but it wouldn't have been remotely difficult to edit Episode VIII to have Leia die, as she had a brush with death in that film, which, by all rights, should have killed her. It's not like the effects they used were bad, they hold up perfectly fine, and whoever they got to voice-double Carrie Fisher is spot-on (If , indeed, they didn't feed archive audio into an AI or just reuse said archive audio the way they have a lot of archive footage), but the fact remains that Lucasfilm had more than enough time between Fisher's death, and the release of The Last Jedi to perform the necessary reshoots. Indeed, that would have rectified one of the many issues I had with TLJ, that being, the Space-Leia scene. Instead, we have exactly what I feared would happen when they announced the plan to have Leia in the last film, most of her scenes are built around how they can use the footage they already had, leaving most of Leia's scenes fairly restricted in nature. Some of the footage of Leia appears to be something akin to a DeepFake face-swapping technology, complete with the same strange facial animation on turning heads that currently plagues the Cats adaptation. One would think that Disney would have enough of a budget to make this work well, and indeed, we've seen better effects in Rogue One, The Last Jedi, various Marvel movies, and even a couple of scenes in this film, as well. I suspect that any dodgy effects work may be down to the allegedly massive overhauls Episode IX has experienced during reshoots, as the film was rumored to involve time-travel at one point, and there have been numerous leaks of concepts and plot-points which appear to not have made their way into the movie which confirm some of my suspicions about the reshoots.
All of that aside, from a character and plot perspective, I like The Rise of Skywalker a hell of a lot more than The Last Jedi, although the two films share a handful of issues. The Force-Teleportation and other related powers introduced in TLJ have made their ways into this film, although Abrams makes better use of them than Johnson did. The Last Jedi was very uncreative in marrying its concepts with the film-making, and The Rise of Skywalker corrects that, allowing for proper integration of film and story. Episode IX is also paced a hell of a lot better than Episode VIII was, and doesn't send characters off on pointless quests that take up far too much screen-time. Additionally, the dynamics of the three leads are finally cast against each other, and their chemistry is brilliant. It's a shame that this is likely the last time Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, and Daisy Ridley will share the screen as these characters.
Daisy Ridley's performance as Rey, as always, is my favorite part of the movie. John Boyega's and Oscar Isaac's performances as Finn and Poe Dameron, respectively, are no slouches, but I like Rey, and I have since the start of this trilogy. Their chemistry as an ensemble is absolutely amazing, and it's really a shame that the previous films had the trio separated for so long, as the actors and characters bounce off each other in a way that I haven't seen done this well since Firefly, or the original Avengers movie. The First Order has also gotten their act together at last, finally feeling like a competent foe, as opposed to the bumbling, overly-enraged idiots they were in Episode VIII, or the practically cartoonish villains they were in Episode VII. Between Kylo Ren/Ben Solo (Played by Adam Driver)'s reforged mask, the set-construction of their conference room, and the cinematography of scenes featuring The First Order, they come off as competent and imposing, while not also feeling like they're ripping off scenes from the Original Trilogy. Then, they rip off scenes from the Original Trilogy, right down to stealing the OT's primary antagonist. Kylo Ren grabs a doubter by the throat during a conference and smashes him against the ceiling of the room, a much more violent and dynamic version of what Vader tended to do, but the additions do nothing to disguise the fact that it is blatantly ripping off a similar scene from Episode IV (As if they didn't do that enough in Episode VII.)
As far as inter-film plagiarism goes, though, it's not nearly as prevalent or blatant as it was in The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi, although there's one rather obvious scene lifted from the end of Episode VI that we'll get to later. The main plot of the film concerns tracking down and stopping The First Order from joining up with The Final Order in a final effort to conquer the galaxy. The Final Order (Surely they mean "Last Command?") is Emperor Sheev Palpatine (Played by Ian McDiarmid)'s new Imperial fleet. Yes, Palpatine's back. No, they never explained why. It's heavily implied that Snoke (Played by Andy Serkis) was a puppet of Palpatine, although I don't think it's ever truly explained why he's back, although, given this already happened over twenty years ago in the 14-issue series Star Wars: Dark Empire, and what we see in the film, and the preexisting technology in the Star Wars universe, one can easily infer that cloning was involved somewhere along the line. That's kind of this film's biggest problem, and one that it shares in common with Episode VII. Any Star Wars fan familiar with the Expanded Universe (AKA Legends) will be able to pick out the influences a mile away. There's Dark Empire, Knights of the Old Republic, The Force Unleashed, The Jedi Academy Trilogy, good god, it seems like we keep going back to most of the same old influences that they've been taking from since the start of this trilogy.
Anyway, apparently Palpatine's been using the Vader voice from the melted helmet Kylo keeps around to manipulate him, and why he thinks Kylo won't turn on him like he did Snoke is beyond me, but old Sheev decides it's a good idea to offer Ben a fleet of Death Star-equipped Star Destroyers in exchange for killing Rey, who's apparently his granddaughter. We finally get a good look at Rey's parents, and indeed, Palpatine's biological son. This could have been worse, but it would have made far more sense for her to either just be someone unimportant who rose to the challenge, or to just make her Luke Skywalker (Played by Mark Hamill)'s daughter or Obi-Wan Kenobi (Played by Ewan McGregor and Alec Guinness)'s granddaughter. Hell, you could have crossed the lines a bit, have one of her parents be a Kenobi and the other a Palpatine. There's more than enough chance that Obi-Wan might have had a kid with Satine Kryze back in the Clone Wars, although it's probably more likely for Rey to be a great-granddaughter than a granddaughter of either of them. Now, one might think "Doesn't that make Reylo incest?" but it's not. Palpatine is NOT Anakin Skywalker (Played by Hayden Christensen)'s biological father, and the original script for Revenge of the Sith is incredibly clear about this. Though that doesn't make their relationship any less strange.
After finding out Palpatine's still alive, the Resistance goes on a hunt for a way to locate him, heading first to some desert-planet that isn't Tatooine or Jakku, where Chewbacca (Played by Joonas Suotamo)gets captured by The Knights of Ren, and the gang finds a dagger and meets Lando Calrissean (Played by Billy Dee Williams). They have to wipe C-3P0 (Played by Anthony Daniels)'s memory to get him to translate the message on the dagger, then they rescue Chewie and go to Endor, where they find the thing they need to find Palpatine, some kind of holocron thing. Then Kylo Ren shows up and breaks it with one hand. Rey mortally wounds him, but uses Force healing to save him, steals his ship, and returns to Ach-To to live as a hermit. There, Luke tells Rey to stop being Jake Skywalker and pilot the goddamn
After Kylo and Rey's showdown on Endor, Han Solo (Played by Harrison Ford) shows up in Ben's imagination, and Ben decides the best course of action would be to throw away his Lightsaber. Meanwhile, Rey leads what's left of the Resistance to Palpatine so they can take down the fleet. Palpatine then proceeds to rip off the ending scene of Return of the Jedi by showing Rey all of her friends dying. Ben shows up, and is accosted by the Knights of Ren. This is a time when a Lightsaber might have come in handy, although, for the most part, Ben manages just fine without one. I'm baffled as to why the Knights of Ren use traditional melee weapons, such as a halberd, mace, broadsword, etc, instead of Lightsabers or blasters. Anyways, when it looks like Ben might lose, Rey teleports him the Skywalker Family Lightsaber, which he uses to kill the Knights of Ren, and joins Rey in fighting Palpatine. Rey uses Leia's Lightsaber to fight Palpatine, though he drains their life-forces to power himself up, anyways. Then, all of the Jedi give Rey a pep-talk in her brain and she gets up and kills Palpatine, all while Lando leads in a ragtag fleet of people which includes none other than Denis Lawson as Wedge Antilles. And then, Ben gets up from the hole Palpatine threw him down, and finds Rey either dead or mostly dead, uses Force heal on her, they kiss, then he dies and becomes a Force Ghost. Subsequently, his mother, who has been dead for most of the movie at that point, also disappears. Fortunately, they remember that you don't take your non-biological parts with you, unlike Rian Johnson, who apparently forgot Luke had a robotic hand. Then Rey takes the Skywalker saber to Tatooine with Leia's, and buries them in the sand, ignites her staff as a Lightsaber without having been shown to construct it, calls herself "Rey Skywalker" when someone asks her her name, and the credits roll. I skipped a lot there, but that's the basic summary.
All in all, the film's good moments ring hollow, and I should like it a lot more than I do. At its best, it's excellent. At its worst, I know it's working around the failures of The Last Jedi, but everything else just feels unearned. A decent chunk of the awesome moments of the film seem like they're just there, because this film is attempting to pick up the pieces of a trilogy shattered by its middle installment. The fanservice is a nice touch in most places, but does nothing to distract from the dumb choices the film makes that are entirely its fault and the faults of the people who made it, not the fault of Rian Johnson and Episode VIII. Attempting to follow Episode VIII was always going to present issues, but they could have fixed so much if, for instance, Ben didn't throw away his Lightsaber. Granted, they at least make it look fairly cool, but merely "looking cool" isn't an excuse. Honestly, this film reminds me a lot of The Empire Strikes Back, in a bad way. If you'll recall my rankings of the Star Wars films from a few years ago, I don't particularly like The Empire Strikes Back, partially because I see it as a "style over substance" sort of film, and The Rise of Skywalker is a textbook example of that. Not that there's no substance to be had. The characters are good, the dialogue is good, it's just the framework which the characters operate in that's the problem.
While a lot of problems could have been solved by changes to the preceding film, there are too many issues that could have been solved simply by writing this movie better. There are times when characters act dumb, there are times when they pull Force powers out of their asses, the Knights of Ren could have been replaced with random Stormtroopers for all the importance they have to the plot, the Resistance just so happens to have horses (or whatever they were) with them when they make their assault on the star destroyer that can disable speeders. It's all just so convenient, and it makes me sad and tired. I was hoping for better than this. I overlooked some of the conveniences in Episode VII, but it's just too late in the game to be relying this heavily on coincidence. There are also a number of interesting angles which barely get used, such as Finn's Force sensitivity, which was hinted at in the previous films, being finally confirmed. Granted, part of the problem with that is probably down to reshoots and deleted-scenes. Star Wars has this issue (an issue it shares with the MCU), where most of the deleted-scenes do nothing but improve the final film immensely, yet they're left on the cutting-room floor regardless, and I'm going to bet that with all the reshoots this movie went through, it's almost a guarantee that something was left out that makes the entire movie click. As it stands, I enjoyed the film while watching it, but after I was done, I didn't really care.
In the end, I give Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker a 4/10. Could be better, could be worse, but outside of some interesting cinematography and visuals, there's nothing much special here.
A side note, and this doesn't really matter much regarding the quality of the movie, but I'd just like to point out that they've been using the Chrono Trigger font throughout most of the posters of the Sequel Trilogy. A similar font was used for the originals, but it was mainly used for the cast and crew, and Star Wars has since gained a standardized title font, which the Sequel Trilogy has never used, to my knowledge.
Image from Impawards.com