The third entry in the latest Star Wars trilogy just hit theaters, and while the film undeniably did well at the box office, critics felt that it lacked imagination and it prioritized appealing fans over advancing the narrative. According to Rotten Tomatoes, 86% of viewers liked the new Star Wars movie, whereas only 57% of critics gave it a positive review. This stands in contrast with the previous two entries in the series; both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi were well received by critics, earning a Tomatometer score of 93% and 91% respectively, though a majority of viewers disliked the second film, which has an audience score of only 43%. For the third movie, director J.J. Abrams set out to address what audiences perceived to be some of the problems with The Last Jedi; apparently, this effort succeeded with audiences but not with critics, suggesting that the movie sacrifices its artistic potential in service of providing audiences with a predictable spectacle.
Even director J.J. Abrams felt that critics’ assessments of the film were fair. During a Q&A session after a screening of the film, he was asked what he thought about critics’ and audiences’ differing perspectives. Abrams said that both critics and audiences were right, suggesting that much of the controversy comes from the differing opinions on what viewers want out of a Star Wars movie. The prolific director explained that during the production of the movie, he knew that many of the decisions he and his team had to make would please some and infuriate others, so he was not too surprised about the movie’s polarized reception. Abrams directed the first and third entries in the trilogy, and Rian Johnson directed the second movie; in the latest installment, Abrams decided to walk back some of the changes and developments that occurred in the second movie, causing much of the controversy that emerged in the wake of the film’s release.
One aspect of the movie that was universally praised, through, was its presentation. In particular, the special effects were well-received across the board, and critics and fans enjoyed the musical score, which was composed by series veteran John Williams. Much like the The Force Awakens, however, the movie’s writing was considered by many to be too derivative of previous entries and lacking in imagination.
Writing for NPR, Bob Mondello acknowledged the tremendously difficult task of satisfyingly concluding a story involving the nine films, the first of which was released in 1977, but criticized the director’s approach of doing so by recycling previously-seen story elements in an homage to the series that ultimately led to a predictable outcome. Matthew Rozsa of Salon liked the film overall, but acknowledged that it wouldn’t satisfy everyone, writing that people who disliked The Last Jedi would probably like The Rise of Skywalker, but people who liked The Last Jedi would probably not, though he conceded that “at times the plot does strain under the weight of its responsibilities.” And Brandon Katz of Observer opined that ending the nine-part series “in a universally satisfying conclusion simply isn’t possible,” but that at the very least Abrams gave fans “a swashbuckling adventure film that sparks the kid inside of you as it delivers a series of big movie moments ripe for broad appeal.”
In many ways, audiences felt differently. Reviews submitted to Rotten Tomatoes were positive, as viewers found the experience entertaining, praising the use of CGI, the exciting light-saber duels, and the music, though some people complained about the plot. Among the 36,000 reviews, a common refrain was praise for all of the movie’s elements except for the plot, which proved controversial; while some viewers enjoyed how well the movie ties up loose ends, others felt that the story was too convoluted, at times nonsensical, and failed to honor story elements established in the previous eight films. Whatever the case may be, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker proves to be an entertaining and fun Star Wars experience, as long as you can overlook some of the more divisive storytelling decisions.