If you thought Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker would bring fans back together after camps split over Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, you may want to temper your expectations. The first full critical reviews for the ninth installment of what has become known as the Skywalker Saga are in, and the general response, to put it as diplomatically as possible, is mixed.
J.J. Abrams returns to the director’s chair after helming Star Wars: The Force Awakens and many dubbed his second wind as “convoluted,” “reverse-engineered,” “a retreat,” and “a zombie.” That last distinction, from EW’s Darren Franich, meaning a “stumbling, bloodless conglomeration of What Once Was.”
On the other end of this spectrum are those calling The Rise of Skywalker “the most elegant, emotionally rounded, and gratifying Star Wars adventure since the glory days of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back.” What everyone can agree upon is that there’s a heck of a lot of ground to cover in this two-and-a-half-hour finale.
In the least spoiler-y terms, The Rise of Skywalker returns Daisy Ridley‘s Rey, John Boyega‘s Finn, and Oscar Isaac‘s Poe Dameron for a final battle against the First Order in this third Star Wars movie trilogy. There are more familiar faces, like Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico and the late Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa. There are new characters, like Keri Russell’s Zorii Bliss and Naomi Ackie as Jannah. There are surprise resurrections, like the already revealed Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid).
The first surface-level responses shared over social media seemed largely positive, but there’s a difference between those brief reactions, which came shortly after leaving the theater, to now when everyone’s had time to digest everything they saw on screen.
Read the reviews below.
Darren Franich (Entertainment Weekly)
“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. 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. Now he’s left grasping for source material he hasn’t already replicated — and one late montage even copies a sequence added into Return of the Jedi’s 1997 Special Edition. We need a new franchise designation for this stumbling, bloodless conglomeration of What Once Was. Rise of the Skywalker isn’t an ending, a sequel, a reboot, or a remix. It’s a zombie.”
A.O. Scott (The New York Times)
“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. The head coaches come and go, the uniforms are redesigned, certain key players are the subjects of trade rumors, and the fans keep showing up. Which is not entirely terrible. The Rise of Skywalker isn’t a great Star Wars movie, but that may be because there is no such thing. That seems to be the way we like it.”
Stephanie Zacharek (Time)
“Star Wars is for everybody. Star Wars is for the fans. If you’re confused about the correct answer, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker—also known as Episode IX, the final installment of the nine-part ‘Skywalker Saga’—isn’t likely to help. 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 fanfiction than the creation of actual professional filmmakers. A bot would be able to pull off a more surprising movie.”
Kara Warner (People)
“Directed by J.J. Abrams (The Force Awakens), Skywalker is a love letter to Star Wars itself, though a crowded one. In addition to a lot of story told over the course of the film’s nearly two and a half-hour run time, there are Easter eggs upon Easter eggs, and major set pieces that have become touchstones of the franchise. While thrilling to see, there’s a blink-and-you-miss-it feel to all the action, because of all the ground the film covers.”
Owen Glieberman (Variety)
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker might just brush the bad-faith squabbling away. 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.)”
Alonso Duralde (The Wrap)
“In Spielberg’s best work, even when we know exactly what’s coming, or when we in the audience know we’re being played, there’s still a delight in having our buttons pushed so masterfully. 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.”
Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter)
“To switch metaphors, he’s also a traffic cop; there’s more travel here than in Around the World in 80 Days, and it sure moves a lot faster, but half the time you don’t know either where the characters are or why they’re going somewhere else, which is virtually all the time. The dramatic structure owes more to a pinball machine than to a logically planned trip, but this doesn’t matter all that much, as most viewers will just be on board for a great ride and more than willing to go wherever the film takes them.”
Justin Chang (The Los Angeles Times)
“The more accurate way to describe it, I think, is as an epic failure of nerve. This Rise feels more like a retreat, a return to a zone of emotional and thematic safety from a filmmaker with a gift for packaging nostalgia as subversion. Still, let’s acknowledge Abrams for the proficient craftsman and genre-savvy showman he is. Like some of his other major pop-cultural contributions (two enjoyable Star Trek movies and the twisty TV series Lost among them), The Rise of Skywalker is a swift and vigorous entertainment, with a sense of forward momentum that keeps you watching despite several dubious plot turns and cheap narrative fakeouts.”
Richard Lawson (Vanity Fair)
“The movie is directed by J.J. Abrams, who kicked off this latest set of films with 2015’s zippily winning The Force Awakens, a retailoring of the Luke Skywalker story that had a pretty well-laid track to follow. Not so for Rise of Skywalker, which tasks itself with an exhausting double duty: tying up the strands of a scattered series in some satisfying fashion while also attending to fussier fans’ Last Jedi tantrums, an atoning for supposed sins. Abrams is a talent, but he’s no match for a corporate mandate that heavy—his sleek, Spielbergian whimsy isn’t enough to cut through all the tortured brand maintenance. But he thrashes away anyway, filling Rise of Skywalker with a million moving parts. It’s a turgid rush toward a conclusion I don’t think anyone wanted, not the people upset about whatever they’re upset about with The Last Jedi (I feel like it has something to do with Luke being depressed, and with women having any real agency in this story) nor any of the more chill franchise devotees who just want to see something engaging.”
David Edelstein (New York magazine)
“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 back-slaps, 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.”
Mike Ryan (UPROXX)
“J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the most convoluted of all the Star Wars movies. It feels like three full movies worth of plot crammed into one film. 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. It, instead, keeps us at arms length so it can use almost its entire first half as exposition. Just character after character explaining things.”
Germain Lussier (io9)
“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. The film plays like a 150-minute checklist of cool stuff and surprises designed to please as many fans as possible. 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.”
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opens in theaters this Friday.