After two viewings of this movie I decided to try and concise my opinion into one legible composition. When the amount of conflicted emotions didn't let me do that, I decided to write this review... Let me put it bluntly; no, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is not my favorite Star Wars movie. Yet, it's not as simple as saying I did or did not like it.
My journey with Star Wars is a simple one: As a kid I knew who Darth Vader was as a character, but understood nothing about the lore. That is until The Phantom Menace came out in theaters and my dad explained to me that the child in that movie was going to become the bad guy I knew of. This made my father realize I hadn't properly watched the original trilogy. So, in lieu of good parenting, he had me sit down and watch them. Understand that this ten-year old was invested, but at the same time was nowhere near a fan like most. I'm the guy who likes Jar Jar Binks, believed Hayden Christensen was a good actor, by now has filled his SW knowledge with story from the animated TV series, and considers The Last Jedi to be one of his top favorite movies.
To whoever is reading this, I'm sorry if this causes you grief. I'm not going to apologize for liking any of this and you can call me a "fake fan" all you want, but I understand feeling disappointed and I do try to see it from your point of view. Fast forward to now and do try to see it from my perspective:
I'm all about story. Give me a good story and I will forgive a lot. I think The Last Jedi had a good, comprehensive, sequel story and I loved most of it. Star Wars falls in an unfortunate quagmire though. Every piece to come out of it automatically becomes part of a larger story. If that piece doesn't fit comfortably with the whole puzzle then, in my opinion, you've got a crummy story. JJ Abrams started this sequel trilogy by accomplishing the imposible; The Force Awakens was both a rehash and a reboot. It honored nostalgia and it moved forward. Here, he tried to repeat the formula, but forgot to fill in the gaps Rian Johnson left. That made the overall story meandering. There's nothing inherently bad about this movie except how it picked at Rian Johnson's originality from the last movie like those veggies on your dinner plate that you don't really appreciate. We got all those questions answered: Who was Snoke? Some dude. Who are Rey's parents? Nobodies. What's up with the force? It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together. Yet, it wasn't enough. I'm not going to go into Spoilers, for the sake of the two people who haven't seen this movie that, for baffling reasons, are reading this review before watching the movie. Still, every story beat from TLJ gets undermined by expository and graceless dialogue that basically cancels out the last movie. Rather than building on the lore, this movie decides that the already set pieces need to be taken out to make space for, what is thought as, superior pieces.
I can't confirm that the decisions made for this movie have anything to do with pandering to the general fan who grumbled all of the last two years because Luke flung the lightsaber over his shoulder. It did feel like it though. And I understand, I didn't like it either! Yet, it was officially part of the story and I went along with it. Now you must be thinking: "Then why can't you just go along with this one?" Simple: Because when Luke humorously disrespected a Jedi's weapon he didn't cancel out history. They gave an explanation for it. Dude was tired, senile and hiding out because he spiraled into depression after making a mistake. Do I like it? No. The Rise of Skywalker didn't take swings to be bold, but it did have a revisionist vision to "fix" the past. I say to that: Leave the past alone and move forward!
This is not to say that the movie didn't have some natural progression. There are relationships cemented because these characters have now been together for a trilogy. Some of the relationships follow through in ways I didn't prefer, but that's not to say that there was no precedent for it. There was even minor "corrections" to the past that sounded natural; not by way of story trope, but by way of growth. A character in this movie apologizes for his previous decisions and admits to be wrong; displaying a normal human trait. Unlike other revisions where the characters "knew all along, but decided to keep it a secret until now". This latter one is lazy storytelling and the worst of pretexts that can be concocted.
Now, I don't want to just be negative about a film that brownnoses to the fan who complains about Leia pulling a Mary Poppins in a previous installment. Let me tell you what I did like: Poe Dameron is the MVP of this movie by consistently quipping his way through the franchise. Oscar Isaac doesn't get enough commendation for how charming he can come off, even when whining. His chemistry with John Boyega's Finn and Daisy Ridley's Rey is gold. The film is carried by the amount of interaction these characters seesaw. Speaking of good story beats, usually the best ones are those that can invoke emotion. The two times I genuinely was distressed were moments caused by the two characters whose actors' faces are covered. Kudos to Joonas Suotamo's Chewbacca and Anthony Daniel's C-3PO. Added to the great work of the cast, there needs to be recognition for great set design (I want more stories set in Kijimi), the great outfits (I especially liked one of Leia's), and great creatures brought to life (I claim Babu Frik as my spirit animal). Any other positives I'd like to add would stumble upon Spoiler territory so just know there was more to like about the force, the settings, and even the McGuffins.
In the end, I believe that this movie is a conclusion to a plot that the creators thought was worth fixing rather than progressing. When it does include minor progression; it lacks purpose. When this movie finds gems to highlight, it undercuts it with a backpedaling narrative that feels like indulgence for the "real fans". There is tons to enjoy, but don't expect transformative narration to close out these last 42 years of Star Wars.
PS. Good thing is we have three years to talk about this movie and its predecessors until the next time people on the internet want to prove what the characteristics are of "real" Star Wars fans.