Star Wars The Rise of Skywalker was, for me, a pleasant surprise. To say I'm not a fan of the sequel trilogy to this point would be an understatement, so I went into this one expecting to hate it, and guess what? I didn't hate it! I have some definite issues with it but considering the way the plot ping- pongs around, the fact that Rian Johnson was brought in to do Episode VIII and took some risks that were polarizing, with JJ Abrams brought back in to retcon elements of the previous movie- and wrap the entire saga up- this could have been a total train wreck. And in some quarters it apparently is considered a train wreck, judging from the reviews. But honestly- I think this is the best Star Wars movie of the sequel trilogy and the best Star Wars movie since Return of the Jedi.
This one picks up a while after the last movie, and by bringing the main cast together (Rey, Finn and Poe) the movie definitely takes a step in the right direction. Just as Luke, Leia and Han are the heart and soul of the original trilogy, you need the three leads here from the new generation to bounce off each other a bit. No more solo quests, no more splitting everyone up! Let the personalities gel and roll off each other. And thank goodness they finally used See Threepio to full effect. He has some of the best lines in the movie, has a seriously affecting scene where he really brings the emotion that always underlies the character, and is such a refreshing change from BB-8 just rolling around and squeaking.
Speaking of droids, the new one is a treat, and totally eclipsed BB-8 as well, at least for my money. The only misstep here is that Artoo Detoo is hardly in the movie, which seems like a crime. Still, I'm mostly happy with the droid work in this one, and while we're on the subject of returning characters, how about Lando? We didn't see a lot of him but he definitely carried the scenes he was in. And I was pleasantly surprised by how seamless the Leia scenes were as well. All in all, this movie surprised me again with character beats and genuine moments that made me feel like I was watching Star Wars. Whereas in the previous two installments I was frequently bored and mostly rolled my eyes all the way through.
I've been pretty critical of JJ Abrams and the general way this trilogy has been handled- I mean, honestly, going in without much of a plan and letting each director wing it seems like a poor way to handle a billion dollar franchise. But this one hits enough of the notes for me to be able to enjoy it, even though I did have a few eye rolling reactions to certain things. The plot itself is silly, in my opinion, and one thing that did not work for me was the return of the Emperor. I'm a huge fan of how gleefully evil the emperor is in Return of the Jedi, and I felt like his inclusion here, while it could have been awesome, just didn't work. I love the concept of an almost undead Palpatine wanting to drain Rey's life force to further his immortality- cool idea- but the execution just didn't work for me. Not to mention the ridiculousness of thousands of planet- busting Star Destroyers just hanging out in some unexplored region. Next.
So I just let go and let myself enjoy the movie without worrying about such nonsense and it worked for me. I'm really curious to see how I react after a second view. I hated The Force Awakens from the get- go, and even more the second time, and I did cringe every time it seemed like Abrams was calling back to yet another original trilogy moment- I mean, seriously, when the Millennium Falcon gets underway after hiding in an asteroid field and we see a ship following them. It's just excessive. But by and large, while I don't think this is a stellar conclusion to the Skywalker story, it's good enough- and sometimes that's enough.
Stuff I Liked:
Threepio. Like I mentioned above, they finally integrated him into the story and he made me laugh several times, just like in the originals. My favorite quote:
"What a dreadful situation. Is everyday like this for you people? Madness."
Now that's Threepio.
Rey has won me over. I've liked her since The Force Awakens but I also agree with those who say she's a Mary Sue. A little too powerful too fast, and they keep giving her powers that don't feel earned, but here we get the sense that she trained like Luke did on Dagobah, and honestly the idea of Leia training her? Golden.
Leia as a Jedi. Brings the whole Yoda quote about there "being another" full circle.
The visuals, especially the Death Star wreckage on the moon of Endor. The rough seas and rolling swells, the sense of exploring all the old wreckage, that all was awesome.
Finn worked for me here where he didn't in the last two movies. I can't even say why, he just seemed more real here. And I loved the fact that he found another refugee from the stormtrooper corps, and the idea that there are many such, not to mention the line about the Empire taking children to fulfill many roles.
Stuff I Hated:
Poe. Hate may be a strong word, but Poe was disappointing to me. I liked the Rey/ Finn/ Poe dynamic, and the addition of Zorri Bliss (she was awesome, by the way) to his story made it much more interesting, but I just didn't care for his trying-hard-to-be-a-rogue-with-a-heart-of-gold shtick. Not everyone can be Han Solo.
The Emperor, as I mentioned earlier. Just not executed well.