The Rise of Skywalker simply didn't manage to win over critics. That's just the way it works sometimes. Star Wars, like any long-running franchise, has its critical low points. As the dust has settled, Episode IX now can lay claim to a rather unfortunate record, as it's tied with The Phantom Menace as the worst-reviewed live-action Star Wars movie ever. Though, the situation appears to be a bit more complicated than it may seem on the surface.
Both The Phantom Menace and The Rise of Skywalker have a lowly 53 percent approval rating from critics. In 1999, the world was incredibly excited about the fact that George Lucas had decided to revisit his beloved sci-fi franchise for the first time since Return of the Jedi with a series of prequels. Episode I was first up and, even though it went on to become a huge financial success and birthed the entire prequel trilogy, it remains, for many, perhaps the worst live-action Star Wars movie ever made.
Heading into The Rise of Skywalker, it was a very different situation. Lucasfilm was coming off of The Last Jedi, which was a big financial success, but audiences seemed to be divided on what director Rian Johnson brought to the table. J.J. Abrams, who also directed The Force Awakens, was brought in to guide the trilogy into port. The end result, for many critics at least, was messy and unsatisfying. Especially since this served as the conclusion of the entire Skywalker saga. It is interesting that the bookends, both Episode I and Episode IX, are now the two worst-reviewed entries in the series. That is, if we're not counting The Clone Wars animated movie, which sits at a 18 percent critic rating.
However, Rotten Tomatoes also accounts for audience ratings and this is where things get more complicated. The Phantom Menace has a comparably poor audience rating of 59 percent. Meanwhile, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has a rather solid 86 percent. With Episode I, critics and audiences, more or less, seem to be more in agreement. With Episode IX, there seems to be something of a divide. As another example, The Last Jedi has a 91 percent approval rating from critics, whereas the audience rating is at 43 percent.
The Empire Strikes Back is the highest-rated entry in the franchise, sitting comfortably at 94 percent. Both A New Hope and The Force Awakens have a 93 percent. Also worth pointing out in an attempt to end this on a positive note; the animated series Rebels has a perfect 100 percent rating. So, for those that have Disney+ and haven't watched it yet who may be looking for something Star Wars related to watch now that the movies are taking a bit of a break, that's something to consider. You can check out the full franchise breakdown over on Rotten Tomatoes.