The Rise of Skywalker is an uneven film because it feels like you’re watching two different movies.
The first half is an assault on your senses.
It does not slow down long enough to let you breath. Someone is always either running or yelling or speeding through hyperspace. The few minutes they are not, the camera is circling around or the special effects are always loud enough to remind you that you are not allowed to settle your brain and take things in.
I think even Michael Bay would have called for a time out to tell J.J. he’s moving the camera too much.
The basic plot of the movie is that Palpatine has announced his return to the galaxy by way of intergalactic broadcast. After Kylo Ren discovers his location, Palpatine sends him to find and bring Rey to him because she is his secret granddaughter and wants her to inherit his throne.
What the hell is going on is hard to follow because it’s so packed with info that you kind of give up following the plot. Lando shows up in the first act and gives some exposition, but I’ll be damned if I had any idea what he was talking about.
None of the characters are allowed to have a moment in the first hour of the film.
The second half is the opposite.
It starts to slow down and allows characters to have those moments. You can understand what is going on and it feels like a coherent film.
Once it reaches that point it starts to become quite enjoyable and fun to watch.
What’s going on with Rey and Kylo’s storylines then becomes really interesting. Kylo gets redeemed, that’s a nice scene. Rey can’t deal with being a Palpatine, also nice to watch.
Can you stick with it long enough to get to the good stuff though?
Rise of Skywalker’s biggest problem is The Last Jedi for two reasons.
First, many fans were so unhappy with it they decided they were not going to like Skywalker two years before it came out. It doesn’t matter what Disney puts out, they are going to go out of their way to not like it.
Second, J.J. Abrams makes it such a priority to retcon everything that happens in that movie in order to try to make those fans happy that it’s what causes the film’s first half failures.
Other than Rey and Kylo none of the characters develop during the film and therefore the entire trilogy. Finn is still the same he was when Force Awakens ended. So is Poe.
If J.J. did not spend so much time retconning then maybe these characters would of had time to go through some kind of personal journey instead of just being there to help move Rey along.
This is the last main saga Star Wars movie not because of franchise fatigue, but mainly because the filmmakers who made this trilogy could not develop characters that anyone would want to see again besides Rey.
The Emperor’s return
The thing I was most worried about going in was The Emperor’s return.
Palpatine coming back seemed like a desperate move because they needed a villain after killing Snoke.
But you know what? He works pretty well. He is such an iconic presence that you immediately get him. There is no need to build him up, he just slides in perfectly and does what he needs to do to move things along. Even the big reveal that Rey is his granddaughter works because he is such a strong bad guy.
He is introduced right away in the first couple of minutes, then disappears until the end which was kind of frustrating. He’s a master manipulator, it would be nice to see him working more of that in this film and actually see him using Kylo the way he says he has been secretly over the years.
He is also lit very darkly. You never really get a good look at him, which you want to because he has a different look than we are used to.
They don’t really bother explaining how it is that he comes back and survived dying on the Death Star. One of the characters says something about secret Sith cloning techniques because apparently the Clone Wars is a minor piece of galactic history very few have ever heard of and the science of cloning has been lost since. But other than that, Palpatine is back and that’s all you need to know.
The original cast
This is probably the movie where all the old characters come off the best. Luke and Han (yes Han is in it) only have one scene each, but they really shine in them.
Leia’a performance is of course cobbled together from old unused footage. It works pretty seamlessly, but every now and then you can tell they used a body double for a shot from behind or when they only show her in the shadows.
Even Lando’s return does not feel forced here.
The end of an era
This movie is not as bad as you thought it was going to be.
Is it great? Of course not, but it’s not awful or the worst Star Wars movie like everyone seems to want to think it is.
It’s better than the first two prequels. Easily.
I would say despite its first half problems once it settles in the second half is better than Force Awakens and Last Jedi.
But it’s an entire hour you gotta get through in order to get to the good stuff.
So yeah, it’s OK.
Not great. Not awful. Just OK.