‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ an entertaining, but messy conclusion to the Skywalker Saga: Griffin’s score 6/10

Walt Disney Pictures

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” returns director J.J. Abrams, and Chris Terrio joins Abrams as co-writer. Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac are back as Rey, Kylo Ren, Finn and Poe for the final installment along with newcomers Richard E. Grant as Allegiant General Pryde and Keri Russell as Zorii Bliss. Billy Dee Williams also returns as Lando Calrissian and perhaps most notably, Ian McDiarmid joins the cast to reprise his role as Emperor Palpatine. After she passed away in December 2016, Carrie Fisher’s involvement in Episode IX was very limited but using footage that was previously cut from Episodes VII and VIII, Abrams was able to include her as Leia Organa in the new trilogy’s final chapter.

Starting on a positive note, Abrams has one again made a very good-looking film. There are lots of locations and new environments to see and nearly all of them are interesting to explore on screen. The action is also very well-done. The lightsaber battle between Rey and Kylo Ren with the waves crashing around them that we’ve seen in all of the promotional material is exciting and fun to watch but obviously it’s not the only conflict we get. There are chases, space battles, shootouts and plenty more to satisfy your appetite for action.

The dynamic between Rey and Kylo has been my favorite part of the new trilogy and whenever we see them on screen together, whether it’s to fight or to talk, I’m invested. Their relationship is a central part of this movie, similar to “The Last Jedi,” and they finish that arc in a mostly satisfying way. Since this is Star Wars, there are people who will hate what happens with some of the characters but in my opinion, the Rey and Kylo Ren arc is the strongest element these new films have had and it’s the strongest thing about “Rise of Skywalker.” We see Rey spending more time with Finn and Poe as well, and although the three actors are all charismatic and having fun together, it’s hard to buy their intensely personal connection with each other because we haven’t seen them together for more than a few moments before now.

That leads into what might be the movie’s, and ultimately the trilogy’s, biggest flaw. There are a lot of things that happen off-screen or before the events of the movie that we’re just kind of forced to accept and not question. From the first paragraph of the opening crawl, Abrams is asking you to get on board and not think too hard about how we got here or what came before. These three movies all have great things to enjoy individually, but they don’t fit together very well as a whole. While “The Force Awakens” was very much a soft reboot of “A New Hope,” Abrams raised some very interesting questions and set things up to be paid off in the future films that fans could be excited about. Rian Johnson, director of “The Last Jedi,” took the baton from Abrams and instead of running with it, he chunked it into the stands, not unlike Luke Skywalker’s decision to chunk his father’s lightsaber at the start of Episode VIII. “The Rise of Skywalker” feels like Abrams is running into the stands to find his baton, desperately trying to finish the race he started.

I don’t blame Johnson or Abrams for the inconsistent storytelling, it’s just very clear that after purchasing “Star Wars” from George Lucas in 2012, Disney did not take the time to establish a three-film narrative and just wanted to get the trilogy started as soon as possible. The easiest way to make a good “Star Wars” movie quickly is to remake the original, which worked very well for Abrams on “The Force Awakens,” but Johnson clearly wasn’t interested in treading old ground. He introduced some new ideas and a new perspective on the “Star Wars” universe, whether you liked that perspective or not, and tossed out some of J.J.’s. As a result, Episode IX spends way too much time patching or putting a spin on things that happened in “The Last Jedi” and not enough time telling a cohesive story. It almost felt like we the audience were forced to watch Johnson and Abrams waste time hashing out what they think is important about “Star Wars, and I think it’s because Disney has probably spent too much time listening to fans online.

There are several heavy-handed, meta moments of fan service that would be charming in a better movie, but they come off as borderline aggressive in “Rise of Skywalker.” When writing scenes, it kind of feels like Abrams and Disney were weighing out which events would irritate the fewest “Star Wars” fans, and as a result, most of the decisions just feel very safe and predictable. Say what you want about George Lucas, he made the movies he wanted to make the way he wanted to make them and did not care what fans were going to gripe about. The prequel trilogy has its fair share of problems, but I wouldn’t accuse those films of being too safe and loaded with fan service and they had a story mapped out from start to finish. Obviously, I’m steering clear of spoiler territory but the inclusion of the Emperor in this film makes this point clear. We’re given information regarding how he might be back or what he may have been up to and it’s another case of Abrams asking us to get on board and not think about it too hard. As a lifelong “Star Wars” fan, I’m always happy to see McDiarmid show up as Palpatine and he is once again having a great time playing this character, but for the sake of the trilogy, it may have been wiser to lean on Kylo Ren as the primary antagonist.

Overall, entertaining but messy is the easiest way to describe it. You will see plenty of online content telling you this movie is horrible but it’s still a well-made, fun, action-packed “Star Wars” adventure. It just fails to answer some questions or wrap up the wider story of the trilogy in a satisfying way. For me, the sequel trilogy will ultimately be remembered as three entertaining “Star Wars” movies that feature the same characters but don’t have a consistent arc, theme or narrative to offer. If you’re a passionate “Star Wars” fan, this trip to the movies is basically a requirement for you and if you’re a casual viewer, some of these problems may not bother you at all so certainly check it out.

Griffin’s score: 6/10

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Nick Griffin