Review: The Rise of Skywalker is a wobbly but enjoyable conclusion to the saga

Even if you didn’t wake up this morning and read all the wildly divergent reviews, it’s no surprise that The Rise of Skywalker is divisive. There’s just too much baggage for it not to be, and what Star Wars project ever manages to please everyone?

And it’s true that it’s not a perfect movie. It plays things far too safe. It has more MacGuffins than any given Indiana Jones film. It’s not as good as either The Last Jedi or The Force Awakens. But I can say that I enjoyed it, and think it manages to hit most of the right beats. Not all of them, but most.

Like The Force Awakens, the dynamic of the cast continues to be a huge highlight, and we get plenty of time with them together. They really do feel like a real group of friends. The plot of the movie is… Well, the buzz over the past few days is “a lot” and that’s true – it’s very fast-paced, and there is so much going on. Almost everyone gets their moment, but the heavy lifting, emotionally, is once again focused on Rey and Kylo.

That said, I do have a mild amount of side-eye for some of the revelations regarding Rey. They don’t exactly come out of nowhere – and a lot of folks are going to hang some lingering issues all over them – but I do wonder if the choices made were just a little too pat.

Poe gets a surprising amount to do, and the new cast members acquit themselves well, particularly Naomi Ackie as Jannah, who has some nice bonding moments with Finn. (Give her a Disney+ series.) Richard E. Grant’s Admiral Pryde is exactly what you’d expect, and as for Rose Tico and the Knights of Ren… Well, they show up a couple of times.

Ian McDiarmid is in fine form, and this is out-and-out the creepiest he’s ever been. HUGE props to the makeup folks: There’s a reason we haven’t actually seen more than a sliver of him in the trailers.

The Leia bits are hard, at times. There are some really great moments with Kylo that I can’t bear to say much about, at least not yet. The way his story interacts with Leia’s, though, is a big part of where the seams are showing, and they only just barely pull it off.

Some things don’t quite gel – the reveal of Poe’s backstory, for instance, is a bit of a head-scratcher. Ala The Force Awakens, it does lean a little too heavily on the nostalgia factor. It could use some time to breathe. And there are definitely quite a few questions lingering that will need answers – enough to support a nice chunk of TV, books and comics.

Still, quibbles aside, and as someone who sat through the whole prequel trilogy in real time without being invested in anything, I can’t be too hard on this film, or the sequel trilogy as a whole. Yes, we’re stumbling to the conclusion, but these films actually made me care about the new folks, and I still care at the end, which is more than I can say for a lot of Star Wars over the years.

For all the factors shaping The Rise of Skywalker, for it to come out as well as it does – and yes, as satisfying as it does – is a true accomplishment. And as crazy as fandom is going to go, as harsh as the backlash will be (same as always!) that’s not nothing.