Knee-jerk review: "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker"

1. As hard as we tried to go in with zero preconceptions, we did see a few early reviews.  Most of them were negative, so we bought our ticket with pretty low expectations.  It's easy to Google any number of "Why The Rise of Skywalker sucks" articles.
2. Let the record reflect that we were pleasantly surprised.
3. The first half is indeed a jumble, packed too full of plot and fun-but-needless set pieces.  The final hour, however, is mostly satisfying so long as you can swallow some of the movie's bigger twists without getting too hung up on plausibility.
4. The biggest one involves this giant secret fleet of enemy ships hidden in some extra-hidden pocket of the universe, all of them led by the return of the Emperor - last seen plummeting to his apparent death down an energy shaft on the second Death Star at the end of the Return of the Jedi.
5. On one hand, with this big of a turn, it would have been nice (as many have pointed out online) if the last two movies - The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi - had planted the seeds of the Emperor's return so it wasn't such a completely random, out-of-left-field twist.  This new trilogy famously - or infamously - didn't develop a master story plan upfront so they were sort of making it up as they went.
6. That said, let us remind you that George Lucas was also sort of making it up as he went along back in the 1970s.  As Obi-Wan told Luke in his Tatooine hut, Darth Vader was unambiguously not the same person as Luke's dead hero father in A New Hope and that Hoth Base kiss demonstrated that Luke and Leia were clearly not envisioned as secret siblings in The Empire Strikes Back.  Like it or not, this is a thing for Star Wars movies: offering up twists-for-twists' sakes that come of nowhere.
7. The fan backlash to the subversive The Last Jedi was equal parts pathetic and amusing, especially given how everyone complained (rightfully so) that The Force Awakens offered nothing new.
8. J.J. Abrams is not on our short list of great directors, but he usually delivers a few great moments (like that kick-ass lightsaber fight among the crashing waves) and this may be his most satisfying movie overall.  He still can't help his obsession with puzzles (a "Sith Wayfinder" gizmo? seriously?) but at least he mostly sticks the landing.
9. The final scene - as you may have heard - is a strong one. They always say end with a big moment that audiences will walk out of the theater talking about.
10.  This whole bit where the Emperor insists that if you kill him, he wins always seemed like an impossible scenario.  How are the heroes supposed to defeat the villain if righteous, vengeful murder won't work and only somehow gives him more power?  The solution here worked for us.
11. A great surprise guest appearance. We had something dusty in our eye.
12. The chemistry between Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver remains a central reason this new trilogy works as well as it does.
13. While we don't necessarily agree that this movie wholly rejects and undoes the events of The Last Jedi to appease those vocal fans who hated that movie so much, we also can't help but notice this movie doesn't exactly build on The Last Jedi either.

UPDATE: Upon further review, we foolishly overlooked the central tenet of The Last Jedi - that anyone can wield the Force, not just a few special families, which is why the kid with the broom at the end of The Last Jedi was so unusual.  The reveal about Rey's family in The Rise of Skywalker completely undermines that notion - it's a fun twist and it works well for her character, but it ignores the whole point of the kid with the broom.  Also, The Last Jedi worked hard to suggest that the myth of Luke Skywalker could be more powerful than Luke himself in inspiring hope and sparking a larger rebellion across the galaxy.  Cut to The Rise of Skywalker and the realization that our ragtag Resistance is still just as ragtag as when we last saw them.  Seems like the myth of Luke didn't really pan out the way The Last Jedi suggested - no one's stepped up to join the fight.  The more we think about it, the more irritating these choices are.  Did Abrams and Disney really bend to the demands of the vocal minority that whined and pouted about The Last Jedi?  Pathetic.

14. Sidelining the Rose character and leaving her completely out of the action seems particularly cruel.  Especially since she was set up as a possible romantic interest for Finn and in The Last Jedi and now in this movie Finn gets another, new girlfriend.
15. Funny how in this universe data transfer requires big bulky cables.  Apparently there is no wireless networking in a galaxy far, far away.
16. It's good to see Billy Dee Williams, of course, but Lando is completely superfluous.  That he's hanging out on some random planet our heroes happen to visit is pretty silly.  Also weird that the movie suggests Lando is the long-lost father to some random new character.
17. Also completely contrived and forced: the identity of the rebel mole inside the First Order.  This may be the one moment where we rolled our eyes.  We didn't buy it. 
18. Loved the twist with the forbidden Sith language and C3P0, but the cheesy inscribed Sith dagger business belongs in an Indiana Jones movie.  It's a ripoff of the Staff of Ra.
19. We've read online that a good number of plot points and backstory for this movie can only be found in comic books and other supplemental material.  If that's true, then we call foul.  Movies need to stand on their own without audiences needing to go to other media to fill in narrative gaps.
20. Dig Rey's new yellow lightsaber.
21. Is there anyone who sees this movie that might not know about the tragic death of Carrie Fisher?  The Leia scenes work as well as they can, we suppose, but we completely agree with the online comment we saw that said her scenes feel like the Steve Martin movie Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid where Martin was spliced into old movies and his dialogue awkwardly written to work with whatever old footage they were using. It looks like a conversation between him and the older footage, but it never feels exactly natural.
22. Weird that we never get to hear the broadcast that the Emperor sends out to the galaxy announcing his return. UPDATE: we have since learned the message was available to hear on Fortnite. Pardon us while we puke.
23. We mostly didn't mind the frequent last-minute rescues and reversals.  Remember, this is all based in part on those cheesy old Flash Gordon serials of Lucas' youth where the hero was snatched from the jaws of certain death by some pretty cheesy plot contrivances.
24. If you're looking to nitpick and watch the movie with your arms crossed, you're not going to like it.  This is a movie made by committee to maximize box office dollars, rather than the product of a singular creative vision in search of a truly meaningful narrative.
25. Even so, if you go in with an open mind, you'll have a good time.

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