This article contains spoilers.
“I will finish what you started,” is Kylo Ren’s promise to Darth Vader’s burned mask in “The Force Awakens,” the seventh Star Wars film and the beginning of what has now been deemed “the sequel trilogy” by fans. In December, Disney, too, sought to finish what they started with their new trilogy set in George Lucas’s galaxy far far away. Did they succeed? On a statistical sense—yes and no.
The previous film, “The Last Jedi,” although incredibly well received by critics, was a flop according to fans. “The Rise of Skywalker” is the exact opposite. Critics bombed the film, while fans, although not astronomically pleased, were mostly happy with the finished product. What’s the cause for these huge discrepancies in reviews?
First the bad. From a critic standpoint, “Rise of Skywalker” isn’t exactly the epitome of clean storytelling, and most of this comes from the switch between directors in the trilogy. Many details were dropped from “The Last Jedi” or completely retconned. The spirited Rose Tico is almost entirely sidelined, and the reveal of Rey’s nobody parents is completely stomped on.
The major villain of the trilogy turns out to be Palpatine, and this sudden reveal seems to be the most jarring part of the film. How Palpatine was brought back isn’t explained very well; the film just throws us a feeble explanation about a Sith cult and a lab on Exegol. The reveal is also hard to swallow based on the fact that it wasn’t alluded to at all in the other two films of the trilogy and clearly a last-minute decision.
Among fans, disagreements about the film have ranged from disliking or even being offended by Rey’s Palpatine heritage, believing characters like Finn and Poe didn’t get enough love and being disgusted by the kiss shared between Kylo Ren, real name: Ben Solo, and Rey right before his death. Speaking of that death, it’s proved to be the most controversial part of the film from a fan standpoint. Kylo Ren has certainly become a beloved character in Star Wars, and many fans were extremely upset at his death—especially those that shipped Ben and Rey. Yet, while dealing with the death of a favorite fictional character is tough, Ben’s death makes sense, and really, was the only place to go with his character.
As Kylo Ren, Ben committed mass atrocities, and, in order to earn his redemption arc to the good side, he had to pay for what he’d done. Because Ben’s redemption came late in the trilogy, there was no time for him to pay for this the long way around. The only option was for him to die.
But enough about death and bad reviews! “Rise of Skywalker” was largely happily received by fans, and there’s a good reason why: despite some clunky storytelling, Rise of Skywalker was fun, action-packed and full of nostalgia. Disney wanted to make a film that appealed to as many fans as possible, and it shows. The sudden reveal of Palpatine and his relation to Rey is acceptable because it’s Star Wars, and crazy things happen all the time—also, it’s just kind of cool. The lightsaber fights and action sequences are stunning, as are the new worlds. Babu Frik is really funny, and ex-stormtrooper Jannah is an excellent female character.
The callbacks to both the original trilogy with the arrival of Lando Calrisian as well as the prequel trilogy with the voices of past Jedi encouraging Rey are artfully executed. Carrie Fischer is given a proper and beautiful send-off in light of the film’s inability to use any new footage of her. And, while not as well-developed as some fans would like, Poe and Finn both get incredible moments and do grow as characters and friends from the first film.
To sum up the pros: “Rise of Skywalker” just felt like a Star Wars film. It felt like coming home. Star Wars has always had its flaws, but at the end of the day, it’s a story about space magic that makes you feel like a kid again, and despite its shortcomings, “Rise of Skywalker” wholeheartedly achieves this.