'Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker' Review: The Saga Ends With A Rushed, Disappointing Finale

There was so much promise in the new Star Wars trilogy. A young, fresh, likable cast of characters was brought in to interact with classic characters. The legacy lived on. The excitement was palpable, and even when missteps were made, there was a real sense that we were experiencing blockbuster filmmaking at its finest. And that makes Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker all the more heartbreaking. What started so promisingly with The Force Awakens and reached exciting heights with The Last Jedi ends in almost unthinkable disappointment. What should have been the big, triumphant conclusion to the Skywalker Saga has instead ended with plenty of sound and fury signifying nothing.

When J.J. Abrams returned to helm The Rise of Skywalker, there was some question as to how he would treat the events of the trilogy entry he didn't direct, The Last Jedi. Rian Johnson's Force Awakens follow-up famously refused to explore many of the dangling storylines Abrams set-up, instead trying to take the saga into uncharted waters. Leading up to the release of Skywalker, Abrams was asked again and again by interviewers: would he ignore The Last Jedi? Abrams swore he would not, and as it turns out, he was telling the truth. The Rise of Skywalker does take into account the events of Jedi.

But here's the curious thing: at the same time, the movie feels weirdly disconnected from not just The Last Jedi but from Abrams' own Force Awakens as well. The Rise of Skywalker is like its own little satellite, hurtling off through space on a chaotic orbit. Even though we spend the entirety of the film with characters we've grown to know and love, they all feel adrift, and worse, underserved.

When Avengers: Endgame, another huge blockbuster conclusion, arrived earlier this year, there was a true sense that the journey with these particular characters had come to an end. Sure, there will still be Marvel movies, just like there will still be Star Wars movies. But for all its flaws, Endgame felt like a well-earned final act – the big, celebratory curtain call that the saga deserved. There's nothing even approaching that in The Rise of Skywalker, which aims to be not just a conclusion to this new trilogy, but to the so-called Skywalker Saga as a whole. This movie should leave you feeling as if you've completed a spectacular journey. Instead, The Rise of Skywalker simply irises out to show Abrams' directorial credit, and you wonder, "Is that it?"

As Rise of Skywalker kicks-off, the Resistance is still struggling to stay afloat while the First Order continues to grow stronger. But there might be hope! There's a spy inside the First Order funneling info to the Resistance, which is good news. But there's bad news, too: the Emperor is back. The Rise of Skywalker announces the villain's unlikely return in the opening crawl with appropriately pulpy text, all in caps, crying out: "THE DEAD SPEAK!" It's exactly the type of silly-but-fun set-up the hard-to-swallow return of a clearly deceased character deserves.

Unfortunately, Skywalker tanks that goodwill rather quickly, rushing through a convoluted storyline that's painfully clunky, chock-full of eye-rolling exposition that's bound to give you a headache. There's an organic way to lay out all the details on display here, but screenwriters Abrams and Chris Terrio haven't cracked it. Instead, they have the characters shuttle off from one planet to the next where they promptly meet one new character after another who proceeds to give them a speech about just what the hell is going on. Naomi Ackie and Keri Russell make the most of two of these parts, but their characters are so woefully underwritten that they may as well not be in the movie at all.

What keeps The Rise of Skywalker from tanking completely is the cast. For the first time since this trilogy began, our main heroes spend most of the bulk of the story together. Jedi Rey (Daisy Ridley) is more powerful than ever, but her self-doubt is immense. Meanwhile, pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Stormtrooper-turned-Resistance Fighter Finn (John Boyega) are ready to hop in the Millennium Falcon with Chewbacca and fight. General Leia – the late Carrie Fisher, appearing here via archival footage that sadly always seems unnatural and shoehorned in – sends the gang on a mission to find what amounts to a glowing GPS that might as well be called The Macguffin Crystal.

Elsewhere in the galaxy, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is now the Supreme Leader, and he's hellbent on tracking down Rey. But like Rey, Kylo is conflicted. He may be fully engulfed in the Dark Side, but his connection to Rey has him flummoxed. These two crazy kids are drawn to each other, whether they like it or not. And how does the Emperor fit into all of this? You'll have to wait and see, but know this: it's not at all satisfying – or even that interesting.

What is satisfying: the performances. Ridley continues to be the MVP of this saga, bringing raw humanity to her part that makes Rey so likable. Abrams knows just how to frame Ridley's face, too, so that her very large eyes do most of the talking without the actress having to speechify. Boyega and Isaac make a wonderful pair, and the duo gets to trade barbs back and forth like they're in a screwball comedy. And Driver's Kylo Ren continues to be the most fascinating villain in the history of the franchise – he's like an exposed wire spitting sparks while his frame is somehow both lanky and hulking, his face a mask of conflicted anger.

Will Rise of Skywalker entertain the crowds? Probably! Its action is fairly non-stop, approaching Michael Bay levels at times, and that keeps the film from being boring. Plus there are several big setpieces that manage to thrill, especially a lightsaber battle on top of some space wreckage located in the midst of monstrous, crashing waves. But there's so much wasted potential here. As the story draws to its big, loud climax, and one fan-service moment after another arises, you begin to get the sense that Abrams is just checking off boxes and fulfilling a quota. There's no spark; no joy; no life. If this truly is the end of the Skywalker Saga, what an ignoble end it is.

/Film Rating: 5 out of 10