It’s hard to write a review for this film without any major spoilers, so this might seem a little vague here and there. There will be very minor spoilers, primarily what’s revealed in the opening text crawl or the trailers, so not much, but if you want to go into this film completely virgin, stop here.
The film starts off with things already underway. A transmission has been sent out that contains the voice of Emperor Palpatine. Kylo Ren, now Supreme Leader of the First Order, goes to seek out Palpatine as a potential threat to his power. In the meantime, the Resistance is still in shambles after the events of “The Last Jedi,” and they are busy doing scouting missions and regrouping.
All of this is revealed in the opening crawl of the movie, which is where the problems begin. It violates a cardinal rule of storytelling: Show, don’t tell. It wouldn’t have taken much to have this done on screen in more dramatic and effective fashion. Instead, this has the effect of making it feel like we either missed something important or that we’re watching an entirely different movie with a different story. This makes things confusing. It doesn’t help that I was already thinking that J.J. Abrams probably needs to go back to Screenwriting 101 during the opening crawl. Not a good way to start.
Other things happen during the course of the movie that make no sense. Why does Kylo Ren reforge his helmet? We never really find that out. He just does. The Knights of Ren do appear in this film finally. Who are they? If you’re expecting an answer of any kind, you’ll be disappointed. Why is there this strange connection between Rey and Kylo Ren? One of the mysteries of the Force, I suppose. Characters who we don’t know appear from nowhere having been significant to the goings on even though we’ve never seen them before. Other characters take bizarre and up to now not even hints at character arcs. It becomes a horrendously confusing mess.
I liked some of the more controversial aspects of “The Last Jedi.” Rey being a nobody with no significant parentage? Great idea! The galaxy is a big place. Why does everyone have to be related? Well, this is adjusted slightly. I won’t go into details, but it was disappointing what they did, in my opinion. Leia’s story arc in this film is...weird. I’m going to allow that it’s due to the loss of Carrie Fisher and having to use archival footage (one scene that shows a young Luke and Leia using computer effects is freaky at best). But it’s off-putting and feels tacked on for convenience. It was nice to see Lando return, although even that felt more like throwing a bone to the fans. He could have potentially been replaced by any character with flying skills. Speaking of such, Wedge does make finally make an appearance, but it’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment.
Here’s how I would sum it up spoiler-free: As I said, I liked “The Last Jedi” a lot, including parts that many didn’t like or found weird as I stated above, but at the same time it was not a problem-free movie for me. “The Rise of Skywalker” is the exact opposite. It definitely has some really cool moments, but feels so sloppy and makes so many storytelling mistakes that, on the whole, I have to say that it’s a bad movie. I’ve said this about just about everything I’ve seen come from J.J. Abrams, that he’s great at coming up with interesting imagery. He gets these pictures in his head of something that would be really interesting to see on film, like flashes one might remember from a dream. For example, there’s a great scene near the end that finally corrects what many consider a great injustice done in an earlier movie. But couching these images in a cohesive story is not his strong suit. In fact, he’s downright terrible at it. This problem seemed to be going in full force in “The Rise of Skywalker.”
Were some of my complaints addressed in some expanded material? I don’t know, but even if they were it would still make it bad storytelling. Star Wars has always been fairly good about keeping things self-contained. Expanded material adds extra background to enhance the enjoyment of the main material, like adding seasoning, but shouldn’t be necessary to appreciate the meal.
Overall, you need to see this movie to close out the Skywalker Saga, but that’s really the only reason. Don’t go into this expecting a good or even decent film, or for every question to be answered. Ultimately, it’s a disappointing end to Star Wars, and I say this as a Star Wars fan.