Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is red meat for the ravenous masses. It is a filet mignon of fan service, a film that checks every box. And ties all threads together for an epic saga; a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. It is anti The Last Jedi, for those who despised episode eight; a heavy infusion of nostalgia from the original trilogy, a slight nod to the maligned prequels, and a rousing finale to the Jedi versus Sith conflict. The Rise of Skywalker wants satisfaction for all. It comes close enough to be successful. A few cheers will erupt. A tear or two may be shed. You will certainly be glued to the screen for every second.
As Rey (Daisy Ridley) trains under Leia's (Carrie Fisher) tutelage, Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) faces an unexpected challenge. A voice, long thought destroyed, sends terror across the galaxy. Could Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) still be alive after all of these years? If so, how was he able to mask his presence? Why is he surfacing now? Rey, Finn (John Boyega), and Poe (Oscar Isaac) follow a mysterious clue left by Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). But Rey cannot hide, or ignore her connection with Kylo Ren. He's uncovered more information about her past. She is becoming immensely powerful. Their conflict setting the stage for the final battle between the light and dark side of the force.
The Rise of Skywalker is densely plotted with shotgun pacing. The screenplay by director J.J. Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio has an avalanche of exposition. The characters jump from planet to planet on their quest. New subplots are uncovered while existing storylines go much deeper. Taking a bathroom break for two minutes could leave you completely lost. The film is constantly revealing important information. Some of it is mind-blowing, others way too convenient. One of the flaws in The Rise of Skywalker is the reliance on an assortment of strange objects. They pop up throughout the film to propel the action. The use of devices is common in the Star Wars books and animated series. The search for Luke's lightsaber was the goal of The Force Awakens, but the gadgetry goes overboard here.
The relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren is the foundation for the current trilogy. Their journey is thoughtfully concluded in The Rise of Skywalker. I don't think Adam Driver gets enough credit for Kylo Ren and Ben Solo's complexity. His turmoil leads to a gripping resolve. The scenes between Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley are amazing to see. From insane lightsaber duels to moments of raw humanity, the primary leads enthrall. Fans will be dissecting their character arcs ad infinitum.
J.J. Abrams uses the existing Carrie Fisher footage brilliantly in the plot's context. Leia doesn't have a lot of screen time, but is absolutely pivotal to the outcome. Her presence adds the emotional gut punch to the film. It's great to see Billy Dee Williams again as Lando Calrissian. His part is also limited, but a fun treat. I suppose it's another example of fan service, but that's okay. Lando is a critical character in multiple Star Wars properties. He certainly deserves a place in the Skywalker saga finale.
The Rise of Skywalker has some head scratching, gloss over moments. Plot points and characters that were critical in the previous two films are brushed under the rug. A resolve to a key outcome from The Last Jedi makes sense, but is handled way too quickly. Supporting characters from that film are marginalized. Kelly Tran's character of Rose Tico barely registers on screen. It's obvious that the honchos at Lucasfilm are responding to the backlash. For the record, I thought The Last Jedi was great. It's understandable to smooth out the perceived negatives. J.J. Abram's uses an out of sight, out of mind approach. It needed to be handled in a more creative way.
Imagine a Star Wars focus group submitting a list of everything they wanted in episode IX. The Rise of Skywalker crams it all in with fervor. It's not a perfect ending, but fitting and definitely heartfelt. Most fans will be satisfied. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is produced by Lucasfilm and Bad Robot with distribution by Disney.