Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker First Reviews: A Mixed Bag of Nostalgia, Jam-Packed with Story and Action

Critics say J.J. Abrams undermines himself in an attempt to please everyone, but still turns out a relatively entertaining movie to close out the Skywalker Saga.

by | December 18, 2019 | Comments

Whether it’s a series finale or the last part of a movie franchise, the ending of a popular media property is always going to have mixed reactions. Especially if it’s something that’s been around through multiple generations. While Star Wars as a whole is not finished, the primary saga begun in 1977 now reaches its conclusion with the release of its ninth “episode,” The Rise of Skywalker. Some fans will be satisfied, others won’t be, and that balance is reflected in the wide range of positive and negative reviews of the new movie.

Here’s what critics are saying about the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker:

Is this the ending we’re looking for?

“It’s an emotional, thrilling and satisfying end to the Skywalker Saga.” – Ian Sandwell, Digital Spy

“A breakneck adventure that carries the spirit of George Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy into a gratifying, delightfully bizarre denouement.” – Evan Dossey, Midwest Film Journal

The Rise of Skywalker provides about as competent an ending as one could hope for from such a sprawling, weird saga.” – Nick Johnston, Vanyaland

“As the final chapter in this saga, it should have been much better.” – Brent Hankins, The Lamplight Review

“With lazy conventions and convolution, puddle-deep platitudes and cheap nods to nostalgia, this saga concludes on a wildly unsatisfactory note.” – Courtney Howard, Fresh Fiction

“It should surprise no one that a mixed bag of a franchise ends with a mixed bag of a final chapter.” – Rob Hunter, Film School Rejects

Where does The Rise of Skywalker rank in the franchise?

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.” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“While this isn’t the best of the Star Wars franchise, it certainly fares better than Episodes 1, 2 and 3.” – Allison Rose, FlickDirect

“Rest assured that there’s nothing in this final Star Wars that would prompt the eye-rolls or the snickers of Episodes I-III.” – Alonso Duralde, The Wrap

The Rise of Skywalker is one of Star Wars’ worst films… Even the prequels had some fun and heart behind them.” – Robert Daniels, 812filmreviews

“The stories in the other Star Wars movies, even the Prequels, have a way of bringing a viewer into that world. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker never lets us in.” – Mike Ryan, Uproxx

Walt Disney Studios

(Photo by Walt Disney Studios)

What’s the movie’s relationship to The Last Jedi?

The Rise of Skywalker feels like a welcome course correction.” – Brian Lowry, CNN

“Abrams and company get around the Last Jedi fanbase blowback the easy way: by making a movie, a pretty good one, essentially pretending there never was a Last Jedi.” –  Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

“You have to wonder how much Abrams looked at fan reactions to The Last Jedi when he considered how to close the Skywalker finale.” –  Kirsten Acuna, Insider

The Rise of Skywalker has to deal some of with the anti-Lucas curveballs that director Rian Johnson introduced into The Last Jedi, and it may actually be a better movie for it.” –  Owen Gleiberman, Variety

The Rise of the Skywalker actually makes The Last Jedi stronger.” –  Michael Roffman, Consequence of Sound

How is J.J. Abrams in his return as director?

“The Force was strong with him. Very strong. The Rise of the Skywalker finds Abrams at his most creative — and original.” – Michael Roffman, Consequence of Sound

“Whatever controversy Abrams might have brewed up with his artistic choices, he still captures magnificently the soul of this series.” – Clarisse Loughrey, Independent

“Abrams is an exceptionally capable director of action and of actors, so the film goes down easy, even if you’re struggling with some of the plot’s maneuvering.” – Nick Johnston, Vanyaland

“This may well be the closest Abrams has come to showing some personality in one of his tentpole pictures, if only because he was forced.” – Evan Dossey, Midwest Film Journal

“The filmmaker commits the greatest sin of all: he co-opts his vision to appease first, and create second.” – Robert Daniels, 812filmreviews

Walt Disney Studios

(Photo by Walt Disney Studios)

How is the action?

“The battles are spectacular.” – Bill Watters, Aggressive Comix

“The action sequences, from large-scale space skirmishes to multiple close-quarter lightsaber clashes… are among the best of the entire series.” – Brent Hankins, The Lamplight Review

“There’s a lightsaber duel that’s pretty fantastic — not because of any unprecedented whirling-action whoa! factor but because of the emotions it channels.” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“The action set-pieces all hurry along with perfunctory plainness.” – Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

“The action lacks energy. These might be the worst shot lightsaber fights in the history of Star Wars.” – Robert Daniels, 812filmreviews

Will the movie please fans of Rey?

“Rey is once again the center of the movie, and she’s once again maybe its best part… Daisy Ridley continues to make it look all too easy.” – Germain Lussier, io9

“For the first time, Ridley’s performance is every bit as captivating and impressive as Driver’s, and it works to make the drama land.” – Rob Hunter, Film School Rejects

“We always knew Driver could deliver, yet Ridley matches him with her most mature performance to date.” – Ian Sandwell, Digital Spy

“I was moved by her performance… this movie does nothing to diminish Rey as one of the brightest stars in the Star Wars saga.” – Evan Dossey, Midwest Film Journal

“Rey is basically a leveled up Thanos with all the Infinity Stones… She is a suspense-free character as she’s never been truly tested in this trilogy.” – Jeffrey Lyles, Lyles Movie Files

Walt Disney Studios

(Photo by Walt Disney Studios)

How well does it handle Leia?

“One major highlight is the touching sendoff to Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia… Skywalker gives the star and her character several key shining moments.” – Kara Warner, People Magazine

“The character treated with the most reverence, unsurprisingly, is Carrie Fisher’s Leia… paying poignant tribute to Leia’s legacy both on and off the screen.” – Clarisse Loughrey, Independent

“It’s surprisingly organic and never feels like a gimmick, and seeing the Princess onscreen for the final time is sure to evoke a flood of emotions from the Star Wars faithful.” – Brent Hankins, The Lamplight Review

“[It’s] a technical accomplishment that nevertheless proves awkward and limiting.” – Brian Lowry, CNN

“It’s not enough for a full length role, which hurts and slights Leia from having a satisfactory arc worse than not having her appear at all.” – Jeffrey Lyles, Lyles Movie Files

What other characters stand out?

“Finn and Poe. They inject a playful radiance into this tedious string of events.” – Robert Daniels, 812filmreviews

“Credit must be given to Joonas Suotamo and Anthony Daniels for making Chewie and C-3PO the heart of this movie.” – Kaitlyn Booth, Bleeding Cool

“Two of the movie’s most moving moments belong to Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels).” – Alonso Duralde, The Wrap

“McDiarmid’s gravitas as an actor has been sorely missed… [his] chops haven’t faded, though, and his performance here and Driver’s are the best of this trio of films.” – Johnny Oleksinski, New York Post

Walt Disney Studios

(Photo by Walt Disney Studios)

Will the movie give fans what they want?

“There are many surprises and treats for audiences and moments of fan service that are sure to have fans cheering with delight.” – Amanda Keats, HeyUGuys

“If there’s something you always wanted to see in a Star Wars movie, but haven’t yet, odds are it’s in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” – Germain Lussier, io9

“[There are] crowd-pleasing payoffs that have been decades in the making. It’s fan service, but done in service of the plot and not just thrown in for the sake of it.” – Ian Sandwell, Digital Spy

“It felt like The Rise of Skywalker was put together by reading angry Reddit boards, just throwing in anything a fan might possibly want to see.” – Mike Ryan, Uproxx

“It feels cobbled together from notes stuffed in the suggestion boxes of Reddit and Twitter.” – Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

Should we just sit back and enjoy it?

“If you treat The Rise of Skywalker as an exciting visual experience first and foremost… you will have a fine time.” – Chris Taylor, Mashable

“Speaking purely on an enjoyment and entertainment level, the film hits every mark.” – Danielle Solzman, Solzy at the Movies

“It’s a flawed, messy film but it recaptures the spirit of adventure I love in Star Wars. There’s a corny innocence to the film… and it made me happy watching it.” – Rachel Wagner,

“It’s always been easy to make fun of and poke holes in a Star Wars movie. This one in particular, though, is just as easy to lean back and enjoy.” – David Bax, Battleship Pretension

“There are moments when this movie truly soars and, when it does, you’ll be reminded why you fell in love with this franchise in the first place.” – Kaitlyn Booth, Bleeding Cool

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is in theaters December 19. 

Adjusted Score: 79424%
Critics Consensus: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker suffers from a frustrating lack of imagination, but concludes this beloved saga with fan-focused devotion.
Synopsis: Finn and Poe lead the Resistance to put a stop to the First Order's plans to form a new Empire,... [More]
Directed By: J.J. Abrams

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