Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has had fans anxious, excited, and curious all at once. Now, the movie is out.
The final chapter in the Skywalker saga is already proving to be polarizing.
You may love it, hate it, or somewhere in between. All that we can do is share our impressions.
Well, our impressions but also some ALMOST spoiler-free hints of what excited, what disappointed, and what made the entire audience laugh and cheer.
And by the way? If you haven't watched this week's excellent episode of The Mandalorian on Disney+ ... you may want to.
Let's just say that they timed that episode to air on the week of the film's premiere on purpose, but we won't explain why.
Check out our review below and decide for yourself if Episode IX is a worthy installment in the Star Wars saga.
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker had a lot of chatter, anxiety, and more even before it aired. I got very little sleep one night this week because I was having anxiety dreams about this film. Naturally, since my friends and I are relentless Star Wars nerds, we opted to go opening night, and I can now share my ALMOST entirely spoiler-free impressions.
The Rise of Skywalker had a lot of baggage
The superfluous definite article -- the word "the" -- continues to rub people the wrong way. Neither Return of the Jedi nor Revenge of the Sith included the word. It's a small, nitpicky thing, but it had fans already on edge before they went into theaters, worrying that it would not be faithful to the series.
Most seriously of all ...
The Last Jedi, a film directed by Rian Johnson rather than JJ Abrams, had many hardcore Star Wars fans unsettled due to serious problems with storytelling, characterization, and worldbuilding consistency. That said, it had at least as many passionate fans who consider it (and I am not making this up) "the best" Star Wars film ever made. And then, of course, there were spiteful red bill dudebros who hated it for all of the wrong reasons, which made the past two years of Star Wars discourse truly unbearable for both sides.
Before the review starts, let's clear the air
Any useful Star Wars review should lay out where the viewer is coming from. I did not enjoy The Last Jedi, despite my affection for Rey, Finn, and Poe. Star Wars: The Clone Wars is my favorite part of Star Wars canon. My favorite Star Wars films are Revenge of the Sith, Return of the Jedi, and Rogue One. It's always good to know where a reviewer is coming from.
First, a bummer
Rose Tico does not get a large role in this film, which is a shame because Kelly Marie Tran is a gem and Rose deserves her time in the spotlight. She had a large role in The Last Jedi, but like hte other characters of color in that cast, Finn and Poe, was sent on a fool's errand by inexplicable writing decisions. Kelly deserves better and frankly, so does Rose.
Rey remains a delight
Rey has been my personal favorite part of the Sequel Trilogy ever since I watched her turn the tables on Kylo Ren during his attempt at interrogating her in The Force Awakens. That affection is now stronger than ever.
The squad is together
In The Force Awakens, Finn has cool adventures with Poe and with Rey, but Poe and Rey do not meet. In The Last Jedi, the trio spent so much time apart that there were accusations of homophobia as the motive. In The Rise of Skywalker, all three of them get to spend a lot of time adventuring together.
Kylo Ren has not changed much
There appears to be only a single year's worth of time skip between The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker, which unfortunately means that Kylo has not had much of a chance to improve his mastery of the Force or combat. For a character hoping to emulate Darth Vader, Kylo continues to be unimpressive.
Kylo undergoes some pretty radical changes during this film. We won't get more specific than that, but his role as Supreme Leader is only a fraction of his story in this film.
There is another big duel
To be honest? The big lightsaber duel shown here kind of ... sucks. However, the pair have a much cooler tug-of-war, and it's not over a lightsaber. It was all that I could do to not cheer in my seat at that struggle's conclusion, and that's all that I will say about that.
Speaking of which ...
So, remember at the end of The Last Jedi, when Rey and Kylo had a tug-of-war with "The" Skywalker lightsaber, the one first forged by Anakin as a Padawan that was later passed to Luke and then wielded by both Finn and Rey in The Force Awakens? Well, due to constraints that they did not expect along with some production choices, that lightsaber is back. We can rationalize that Rey salvaged the kyber crystal within while Kylo was taking his Big Boy Nap and that she later rebuilt the exact casing for it. It's as good of an explanation as any.
There was one major limitation
The late, great Carrie Fisher passed away in 2016. As one of my friends said as we all sat and processed The Rise of Skywalker after we viewed it, the "seams" were very visible in Leia's scenes.
Carrie was a gift
The unused footage conveyed her presence, but it was clearly edited in so that her lines, originally recorded for The Force Awakens, could be taken wildly out of context to suit this film. We're not saying that it's good or that it's bad, but you will notice it when you see it. I miss Carrie Fisher every day.
Speaking of familiar faces ...
This may be Threepio's best film yet. C-3PO has always been somewhere between comic relief and annoying. In this film, he's almost pure comic relief. We still don't understand why his red arm vanished in the, like, 10-hour span between The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, but in The Rise of Skywalker, Threepio is one of the highlights. Yes, really.
Another welcome face
Lando Calrissian was a welcome friendly face in Episode IX, though his role was reportedly created in light of Carrie's passing. We will say that we were very concerned that a third character's storyline would be horrifically racist in conjunction with his, and momentarily tensed up, but were relieved that it was not the case.
Episode IX includes a Star Wars first
Star Wars has included LGBTQ+ characters before, and we don't just mean strongly queer-coded characters (like Luke) and relationships (like Kallus and Zeb). Doctor Aphra is probably the most beloved new comics character, and she's a whole lesbian. Episode IX features the first on-screen same-sex kiss in a Star Wars film, which is great! It is between minor characters, only one of whom is really recognizable, and if you blink, you miss it. Oscar Isaac and John Boyega both lobbied for FinnPoe, but fans had already resigned themselves to knowing that it wouldn't happen on screen.
Palpatine isn't just the best character in Star Wars; he may be the best fictional character of all time. At the very least, he's in the running. Seeing him in Episode IX felt like coming home. He's such a delight, and Ian McDiarmid NAILS this role as he has since Return of the Jedi.
His return was interesting, to say the least
Now, we won't say that all of our questions were answered or that nothing prompted new questions, but Palpatine (as usual) spells things out pretty clearly. He's a delight, as in every other appearance.
As absolutely delighted as we were to see Palpatine again, it did leave us with a few questions. Not about lore, exactly, or the mystical side of things, but some more practical questions that we hope will be answered in a novel or comics.
Some people had a real problem with seeing Kylo Ren immobilize people and blaster bolts with the Force in The Force Awakens. Others took issue with Leia surviving being spaced, or Snoke "bridging" the minds of Rey and Kylo (if that's really what happened). There is one Force power in THIS film that definitely rubbed some people the wrong way, even though it was lightly foreshadowed in The Last Jedi. Let's just say that if you're annoyed by what happens with the necklace, you're not alone.
No big exciting cameos
There were some new characters and some familiar ones, but if you saw the Ghost in the fleet (as in this gif) and wondered if Hera Syndulla or her son, Jacen Syndulla, might show up ... don't hold your breath. There are some voice cameos from some beloved Force users.
The space battles are ... fine?
The live-action Star Wars films have not seen a truly good space battle since the Battle of Coruscant in Revenge of the Sith. That's okay -- Star Wars tends to focus upon smaller, individual spacecraft like the Millennium Falcon and fighters. There's plenty of that.
We still have questions ... and concerns
Questions about Snoke (questions we never expected to have), questions about the Knights of Ren, and a number of other topics. This film tried to do a whole lot in a limited amount of time, and was perhaps hindered by the fact that Episode VIII included very little happening on the galactic stage. IX had to rush through some topics to get back on track, and it suffers for it.
The real highlights?
Aside from Palpatine and Rey both beng delights, a theory I've had since I pulled out of the parking lot in 2015 after seeing The Force Awakens came true. I also really like the very last lightsaber shot that we see. It really speaks to a character's personal growth. I also like that, as in The Force Awakens and unlike in The Last Jedi, Finn's obvious but latent Force-sensitivity comes up again, even though it's not explicitly spelled out. And again, Palpatine is just cool as heck. Love that dude. He's welcome in any movie.
Our final thought?
It's not the best Star Wars film, but it's a solid Pretty Good. Not one of my Top 3, but still a very enjoyable Star Wars film. That said, critics who praised The Last Jedi for, uh, whatever it was that they liked about it do NOT seem to like this film. And Reylos (that is, people who ship Rey with Kylo Ren) appear to be strongly divided, which is both surprising and understandable. We hope to see more from Rey and Poe and Finn one day, but not under Rian Johnson's direction. Episode IX is great for the Sequels but, like the two films that came before it, feels out of joint when compared to the previous six films. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is up to you.