Earlier this week, we posted a review of Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker by Shani Valencia; here is another one from Checkpoint XP's Joseph Sloan.
Let me start this review by saying if you're looking for a totally unbiased opinion, look elsewhere. This is a review from a fan of the Star Wars franchise, for all its faults (Of which there are many). But let's dive into some spoiler-free thoughts on Episode 9.
The problem with no solution
The Rise of Skywalker is the quintessential fan movie. It doesn't surprise me to see this reflected in the reviews of the film. Critics are pretty mixed, while audience reviews are overwhelmingly positive. Director J.J. Abrams was presented with a problem with no good solution. "How do you create a movie that concludes a story that began in 1977?" The original target demo of Star Wars (now known as "A New Hope") is now over 60 years old, and the teenagers of today don't identify with the same themes that they did in the late '70s.
The solution, at least to Abrams, is to play up the nostalgia of the original trilogy with reverence while keeping the younger cast as the de facto heroes. And this is what Rise of Skywalker does well. It is not afraid to call back to iconic moments of the original trilogy but also keeps the focus on the new generation.
When The Force Awakens dropped, many people complained that it was just A New Hope all over again. Then when The Last Jedi came out, people complained that "it wasn't Star Wars." Whatever that means. This movie does seem to strike a better balance between things we're familiar with and things we haven't seen before.
Rey's journey in this film is one of the more in-depth looks we've gotten into the training of a Jedi, and the perils of the dark side. Think about that. The entire prequel trilogy was devoted to that exact theme with Anakin, and this one movie showed it better than we ever got in those films.
It's not all perfect
Now, all this isn't to say I don't have any complaints. I have two major issues with the film I'd like to address. The first is that the movie is painfully on the nose sometimes. Abrams would do well to remember that not every viewer is an idiot. We don't need the themes spelled out for us all the time. I don't think it's a spoiler to say the line "they're just... people" was an awful line. Yes JJ, we got it.
Second, the movie feels more like a standalone film than the conclusion of a trilogy. I know The Last Jedi took the film in a different direction than what Abrams imagined in The Force Awakens. However, rather than try to work with what had been provided in the film before, this movie too often just says "to hell with it" and does its own thing.
Now the problem with all of this is it screws up how the narrative is told. Since the film isn't really answering the questions set up in The Last Jedi, we get a lot of "here's a problem" immediately followed by "here's a solution." Our heroes are presented with a problem, go to a planet, have a cool action scene, joke with C-3PO, and then go to the next problem. Instead, they should be tackling the problems left behind in the last film.