For me, at least, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker brings the nine-movie/three-part trilogy to a strong, thrilling close. While some have called it a “course correction” for the divisive Last Jedi—or worse, an exercise in “fan service”—for me, of the current trilogy, the film was by far the strongest and felt most like a Star Wars film. It contained plenty of sentimental shout outs for longtime fans while offering plenty of unique enjoyments to stand on its own.
I grew up with the Star Wars films, with the first film (since re-named A New Hope) having been released when I was 13 years old. Empire Strikes Back came out the summer before I left home for college and Return of the Jedi while I was in college.
The Rise of Skywalker has a lot on its mind and a lot of characters and loose ends to tie up, while introducing a few new ones, and for the most part it succeeds. And even within its limited timeframe, it provides plenty of moments for most of the characters, old and new.
Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher all return and have touching movements—Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess (or rather General) Leia all have a chance to say farewell. (Fisher, of course, passed away before the filming began but with the family’s blessing was seamlessly integrated into the story’s plot using already shot footage.) Their appearances inspire and push the story along.
At the end of the day, however, the focus and heroine of this trilogy is the mysterious Rey, former stormtrooper Finn and dashing resistance fighter Poe Dameron—as well as new villain Kylo Ren, who are all front and center. For me, Daisy Ridley’s casting as Rey was a particularly good casting coup for the series and the key reason I felt invested in the new trilogy. While John Boyega's Finn has little to do here, Oscar Isaac’s Poe—who I found a little forced and problematic in the other films—finally gets screen time with the others and has some of his back story filled in.
SPOILER ALERT (spoilers follow)
One of the film’s key reveals is Rey as the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine, a villain who has loomed large in all three trilogies. (Demonstrating just how much ground this film had to cover, this reveal is made in the opening crawl of the film rather than dramatically during the movie). We discover that Palpatine has been pulling the strings from the shadows all along and amassed an army and armada large enough to crush the resistance once and for all as well as subsume the First Order that arose in the vacuum of the original Empire’s fall in the original trilogy.
I enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker because it celebrated and honored the entire series. While the Force Awakens played it safe by hewing close to the original film (some called it it a remake of the first film), the Last Jedi seemed to go out of its way to disassemble the core themes and ideas of Star Wars, asserting that the trilogy’s heroine, Rey, was a “nobody" (i.e., not a Skywalker or of any lineage burdened with manifest destiny). Indeed, the film implied that anybody could be strong with the Force. The Rise of Skywalker, however, seemed to have an equal measure of fan service and new thrills and ideas. It was a near impossible task to satisfy all fans, but I think Disney (and director and co-screenwriter J.J. Abrams) balanced all these elements well, resulting in an emotionally satisfying closure to the Star Wars/Skywalker story arc.