review roundup

Critics Aren’t Fanboys for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

C3PU! Photo: Lucasfilm Ltd.

Each of the various Star Wars factions critics, Disney fans, anti-Disney alarmists, original-trilogy purists, fanboys, Last Jedi defenders and detractors alike thinks the other side is the First Order. Either Disney is the evil empire sapping all the creativity out of cinema, or the critics are dour villains imposing imperial rule on what people are allowed to enjoy, or fanboys are the orthodox extremists demanding their particular Star Wars needs be met with zero deviation from the Lucas-set standard. So the decades-spanning series’ ninth installment, J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker, has revived not only the decrepit corpse of Emperor Palpatine, but also its identical twin, the Discourse.

What do critics think of this culmination of the Abrams-Disney era, the grand finale to the trilogy of trilogies? Well, they compare it to a theme-park ride, a video game with a series of MacGuffin missions, and quite unfavorably to its predecessors. There are high points to be found, of course. Bad pizza is still pizza, after all. Critics seem to like John Williams’s score, the stunning special effects, and Daisy Ridley’s performance as Rey. You’re probably going to see The Rise of Skywalker either way. Read on to see what others thought of it.

“Under J.J. Abrams, The Rise of Skywalker hits its marks and bashes ahead, so speedy that no emotion sinks in too deeply. Abrams’s battle sequences (ship to ship, lightsaber to lightsaber) don’t have much spatial coherence or snap, but they look dazzlingly expensive, especially the lightsaber duel atop a sea that’s one titanic wall of water following another. The big battles end with infectious whoops and fist-pumps and backslaps, our heroes throwing themselves on top of one another and crying. Lots of tears in this movie. Lots of feelings, wo-oh-oh feelings. If you hated the drily witty The Last Jedi, you’ll love The Rise of Skywalker as much as I loved The Last Jedi and hated The Rise of Skywalker.” —David Edelstein, Vulture

“More often than not, one wonders not so much what just happened but why, and what was at stake. A plot like this, featuring so many characters, locations, and story dynamics, can by nature be confusing; so relentless is the pileup of incident that, at a certain point, one can be excused for checking out on the particulars of what’s going on at a given moment and why in favor of just going along for the amusement park ride.” —Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter 

“While Finn’s bond with Rey is repeatedly said to be important to both, they get no room to actually develop it. He’s too busy being introduced to new rebel Jannah (Naomi Ackie), a charismatic actress without much to do. It might have been more economical storytelling to just let Finn shack up with Poe — or to give Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) more than a few lines.” —Helen O’Hara, Empire

Rise of Skywalker isn’t even a movie in the traditional sense so much as the blockbuster version of a Jedi mind trick — a hodgepodge of cameos and callbacks, snazzy lightsaber brawls and shrieking TIE fighters — all glued together by John Williams’s exuberant score and calibrated to create the perception of the ultimate gratifying finale. But it’s more the idea of that thing than the thing itself, zipping along with enjoyable bits and pieces but reducing the big picture to an amalgam of half-hearted ideas.”—Eric Kohn, IndieWire

“Ultimately, Abrams spends so much of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker trying to give audiences what they want out of a Star Wars movie that it seems he forgot to deliver a good movie. There may be aspects of The Rise of Skywalker that surprise audiences, whether in Abrams and Terrio’s story or Abrams’s directing decisions, but nothing that has teeth, nothing that challenges viewers or subverts expectations.”—Molly Freeman, Screen Rant

“Abrams certainly knows how to manipulate, but when he does it, you can see the strings. How much or little you enjoy The Rise of Skywalker will rely almost entirely on whether or not you mind that every laugh and tear and jolt feels like it’s coming right off a spreadsheet.”—Alonso Durande, The Wrap

“What I can say is that The Rise of Skywalker is, to me, the most elegant, emotionally rounded, and gratifying Star Wars adventure since the glory days of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. (I mean that, but given the last eight films, the bar isn’t that high.)”—Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“I don’t really know how [Carrie] Fisher’s appearance was created. It looks like a very high-tech combination of unused footage, digital effects, and terrible writing. Her presence plus the Emperor’s shadowy appearance multiplied by other ghosts from the past equals yet another Disney-branded Star Wars looking ever backward, never forward.”—Darren Franich, Entertainment Weekly

The Last Jedi was about letting go of the past entirely, and accepting that the future is more important.

But The Rise of Skywalker is almost a meta-movie about how Star Wars is cool, and people’s memories of it are cool, and their ability to follow an endless string of references is cool.”—Tasha Robinson, Polygon

“Abrams is too slick and shallow a filmmaker to endow the dramas of repression and insurgency, of family fate and individual destiny, of solidarity and the will to power, with their full moral and metaphysical weight. At the same time, his pseudo-visionary self-importance won’t allow him to surrender to whimsy or mischief. The struggle of good against evil feels less like a cosmic battle than a longstanding sports rivalry between teams whose glory days are receding.”—A.O. Scott, New York Times

“They’re on one planet, then another. Now a ship. Now a speeder. Now Rey’s off. Now Rey’s back. Now someone is in peril. Now they’re OK. The film moves at a breakneck speed and, as a result, never spends enough time at any of these places or with any of the people. It’s all incredibly rushed and mind-bogglingly cluttered. You almost feel like two movies’ worth of story are forced in, pun intended.”—Germain Lussier, io9

The Rise of Skywalker is, for want of a better word, completely manic: It leaps from plot point to plot point, from location to location, with little regard for logic or mood.”—David Sims, The Atlantic

“This overloaded finale, directed by J.J. Abrams, is for everybody and nobody, a movie that’s sometimes reasonably entertaining but that mostly feels reverse-engineered to ensure that the feathers of the Star Wars purists remain unruffled. In its anxiety not to offend, it comes off more like fan fiction than the creation of actual professional filmmakers.”—Stephanie Zacharek, Time Magazine

Critics Aren’t Fanboys for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker