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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker review roundup: Does the Saga's ending satisfy?

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Dec 18, 2019

In just two days, paying audiences will finally get the chance to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the much-anticipated final installment in the sequel trilogy that began with The Force Awakens in 2015, and the final film in the Skywalker Saga that began with A New Hope all the way back in 1977. We've spent the last several months, ever since the first teaser arrived at Star Wars Celebration back in April, analyzing every piece of footage, every quote from the film's creators, and every hint in between. We've all spent time wondering exactly how director J.J. Abrams would bring the whole Saga to a conclusion while paying respect to every aspect of it along the way.

Now the film is almost here, which means the first round of reviews have just landed. So, did Abrams and company pull it off? Does The Rise of Skywalker live up to the hype? Are we sending off the Skywalker Saga in style or wishing we had one more hyperspace jump left?

Well, the good news here is that you'll be able to decide for yourself quite soon, because the film's critical reception so far has been rather divided. The film's Rotten Tomatoes score has been sitting in the mid-50s since reviews began dropping early Wednesday morning, low enough to keep it at "Rotten" status for the moment, though that could change as the week goes on. So far, appraisals of the concluding chapter range from glowing to scathing. There's ample praise all around for certain elements — the cast, the visual effects, and John Williams' triumphant score among them — but less agreement on the key tenets of the film's story. Still, that hasn't stopped some critics from anointing the film a success.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker might just brush the bad-faith squabbling away," Owen Gleiberman of Variety wrote. "It’s the ninth and final chapter of the saga that Lucas started, and though it’s likely to be a record-shattering hit, I can’t predict for sure if 'the fans' will embrace it. (The very notion that Star Wars fans are a definable demographic is, in a way, outmoded.) 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.)"

Many of the earliest Rise of Skywalker reviews took a decidedly mixed stance on the film, though they all seemed to agree that one of the reasons for this was that the film is absolutely jam-packed with story. For some critics, that created the sense that all the plot was there to distract from other shortcomings. Even if various story elements seemed to falter, though, the all-star cast kept the film moving forward for many of these reviewers.

"Here, though, the massive jumble of standoffs, near-misses, tense confrontations, narrow escapes and slick victories, while momentarily exciting, can lack plausible motivation and credibility," David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter wrote. "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 pile-up 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."

"Abrams certainly knows how to manipulate, but when he does it, you can see the strings," Alonso Duralde of The Wrap wrote. "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."

"If this really is a short-term farewell for Star Wars, it’s a bittersweet one," Matt Singer of ScreenCrush wrote. "It’s sad to say goodbye to these people in the first place, and it’s even sadder to do so in what’s by far the weakest installment of the trilogy inaugurated in 2015’s The Force Awakens and continued in 2017’s The Last Jedi."

"The Rise of Skywalker runs the gamut, with sequences ranging from scary to saccharine, from very cool to very corny. It’s just a whole lot of movie packed into a two-hour and 22-minute runtime (10 minutes shorter than The Last Jedi) but more doesn’t always mean better," Jim Vejvoda of IGN wrote. "The final act comes perilously close to playing like the finale of a lesser superhero movie or YA fantasy adaptation due to its reliance on overwhelming visual effects that do their best to drown out the more ham-fisted moments."

Then there were the critics for whom the film simply didn't work, whether because it was overstuffed or emotionally unsatisfying or both.

"The film plays like a 150-minute checklist of cool stuff and surprises designed to please as many fans as possible," Germain Lussier of io9 wrote. "That may sound great, but in the process, that densely packed highlight reel fails to tell a story that’s narratively interesting, thematically cohesive, or that builds any impactful stakes. It’s a film designed to tantalize and delight in the hope those things cover up its many shortcomings."

"The story concludes (sure!) the nine-part saga that famously began with a tax dispute on Naboo. The final act aims for tearjerkery with sincere appreciations of franchise lore. Don’t buy it," Darren Franich of Entertainment Weekly wrote. "There’s always been a secret cynicism underpinning Abrams’ Star blockbusters, which adrenalize the pop-est culture of his youth and avoid anything requiring originality or imagination."

"I found it hard to care much either way about Rise of Skywalker, neither betrayed nor sated. The movie is too determinedly on its sweaty course, heedless of actual audience interest in its tunnel-visioned quest to be broadly loved or, at least, Internet approved-of," Richard Lawson of Vanity Fair wrote. "The action set-pieces—a desert chase during an alien version of Burning Man, a rescue mission in a starship brig (unfavorably reminiscent of the one in the first film), an airborne melee full of radio squawk and explosions—all hurry along with perfunctory plainness. There’s a passion lacking in the movie’s big scenes (and, really, in the little ones too), as if Abrams was woken up in the middle of the night and told to rush down to the studio to put out a fire started by some intern named Rian."

You'll be able to decide for yourself if the film is a worthy conclusion or an underwhelming farewell when Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker hits theaters Friday. 


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