Minor spoilers throughout for The Rise of Skywalker.
When it came to concluding the Skywalker Saga, director J.J. Abrams faced quite the challenge. Following the never-ending discourse surrounding Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it’s not hard to understand why. For starters, Abrams, as a director and storyteller, has always been better at successfully launching (or relaunching) properties and beloved franchises — like he did with 2009’s Star Trek — than he is at ending them. The same can be said for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. While the film is filled to the brim with wonderful moments, it falls incredibly short in constructing a satisfactory and cohesive plot.
Having finally seen The Rise of Skywalker (or Episode IX, as it’s often referred), one thing is made perfectly clear: the collective trilogy lacked planning and Episode IX suffers because of it. The film is set not long after the events of The Last Jedi, though enough time has passed for Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) to broadcast his return to the galaxy. Surprise! Palpatine didn’t actually die in Return of the Jedi after all and his plan is to ultimately create the Final Order. Understandably, Abrams works to connect Episode IX back to the original trilogy and its prequels, and the way to do so is apparently by haphazardly bringing back its most wily villain.
Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), now supreme leader of the First Order, ventures off to the Unknown Regions to kill Palpatine, seeing him as a threat to his leadership and power over the First Order. However, before he can do that Palpatine tasks him with killing Rey (Daisy Ridley). Meanwhile, Rey, Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) set a course to find the wayfinder device, a compass-like object that exists to locate the uncharted location where Palpatine’s been hiding. And so begins the trio’s final adventure to save the galaxy once and for all.
The first half of the movie makes some effort to update the audience without being bogged down by exposition. It also reestablishes the core trio of the trilogy, their mission providing ample time for some bonding, humor, heroics, and adventure. Together, they seem unstoppable and, though they spend a good amount of time together, it doesn’t seem like enough, especially since their interactions were sorely missing from The Last Jedi.
Rey’s journey, though tied to Kylo Ren’s in some ways, is very much her own. She’s struggled with her past and her identity throughout the trilogy and The Rise of Skywalker finally offers up some real answers, but by working around the reveal that she was a nobody in The Last Jedi — a reveal made by Kylo, who used the information in an attempt to sway Rey to the Dark side.
The reveal of Rey’s lineage actually works to add to her backstory. In many ways, her journey has been a lot about her struggle against the Dark side. Episode IX continues in this vein, expanding upon the idea and theme that lineage isn’t truly important. Just like Kylo chose the Dark side despite his family lineage and history of choosing the light, Rey chooses the light in spite of the darkness calling to her from almost every direction. She is a part of a history littered with hatred and evil, but decides to choose her own path and family rather than have her bloodline dictate that for her. Thus, the end to her journey is fitting.
That said, Episode IX is far from a perfect film and its flaws are large enough to threaten the likability of the film. For all that the trio is front and center, Finn still gets less than what he’s owed, especially considering that The Force Awakens set him up as the leading male protagonist before his position was ultimately usurped by Kylo Ren. The Rise of Skywalker leaves a lot unexplored with regards to his story as a former stormtrooper, even though it’s still more than what he’s gotten before. However, the implications surrounding what drew him to defect from the First Order to begin with is incredibly profound and it’s why it deserved more screen time.
Abrams crams in a lot of storyline into the movie that it actually could’ve used the extra time. The main plot is simple, if contrived. Kylo Ren’s redemption is rushed and unwarranted and, while Palpatine as a villain makes sense, he also comes out of nowhere. His return could’ve used a lot more buildup from previous films.
However, in the same way Palpatine is a vestige of the old in a new setting, Abrams attempts to salvage pieces of the past to string together a new story that could have used a lot more work. The film isn’t bad, but since it’s meant to conclude a saga spanning nine films, it needed much more preparation to pull it off. As I mentioned earlier, the new trilogy was obviously not as planned out as many like to believe and Episode IX is the shining example of that.