[Spoiler-free review] Two years after Star Wars: The Last Jedi divided the fan base, The Rise of Skywalker seeks to bring fans back together. It’s a thrilling ride with strong acting, an impressive score, dazzling special effects, and shoddy story-telling. Fans will love it — until they start thinking about it.
When I first saw The Last Jedi, I was pumped. I wrote an early review saying the film “takes the Force in an exciting new direction.” The movie did take the Force in a new direction, and some of it was good — but as I thought more about what happened, I became more and more unsettled.
The Last Jedi tried to do a few legitimately new things in Star Wars, but it did not follow through with the new ideas and it did bad damage to the franchise. The final lightspeed maneuver changed the dynamics of space travel and battles, raising important unanswered questions. Luke’s character — the beaten and resigned old man — could have worked, but it felt jarring and insincere. The plot meandered far too much, and the themes set up in The Force Awakens were subverted into irrelevance.
Some of the artistic decisions in The Last Jedi could have worked if the film had followed through on them. The claim that Rey’s parents were nobodies and the suggestion that the Force works through everyone — not just the Skywalkers, the Jedi, or the Sith — was fascinating and could have really changed the game. The idea that Snoke did not require a backstory and could be killed off without one was also novel for Star Wars.
I won’t spoil it, but The Rise of Skywalker does not follow through on these Last Jedi themes. Rey’s parentage does matter, and Snoke gets an explanation. These decisions to follow through with the promise of The Force Awakens should satisfy fans to some degree, but they will likely leave the fan base with a lingering unease.
The Rise of Skywalker is both more disciplined and more sporadic than The Last Jedi. The infamous meandering on Canto Byte from Episode VIII has no parallel sequence in Episode IX. Yet many of the flashy and inspiring story elements lack explanation. The central narrative thread that weaves the story together is surprisingly weak if audiences think about it.
Tragically, Star Wars seems to have undergone a serious devolution. The original trilogy did something unique at the time, and each movie stood on its own and carried the story forward. Even the prequel trilogy — for all of its bad acting and incomprehensible romance — fit together and told a coherent story. The political tragedy element of the prequels made them especially fascinating, even if parts of it were badly executed.
This sequel trilogy feels like a cash grab. The Force Awakens more or less told the same story as Star Wars: A New Hope, but without the political significance or the true novelty of the originals. When The Last Jedi tried to explore new themes, they flopped and the fans rejected them. The Rise of Skywalker largely ignores those new themes, turning back to safety to satisfy the fans.
The story in The Rise of Skywalker could have worked, but there is an enormous amount of lost potential in Episode IX. While the movie is fun to watch, it begs more questions than it answers and it will leave fans wondering why some scenes were less exciting and less meaningful than they should have been.
Fans will enjoy the film the first time they see it, but as they think more about it, they will experience the same disappointment I did with The Last Jedi. Prepare to have fun, and then be disappointed.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.