Warning: There are spoilers in this review.
The biggest complaint I have about The Rise of Skywalker is that it shrinks the Star Wars universe. For the problems of some of the previous movies (specifically the really bad dialogue between Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala in Episode II) the one thing George Lucas has always been exceptionally good at is building a wider universe. There is room for many more movies, set both before and after the trilogy that just ended, with the lore Lucas established. This movie undoes a lot of that.
Before I get into that, I want to address the complains here and elsewhere that the “relationship” between Kylo Ren and Rey is a “toxic” relationship that glorifies men abusing their romantic partners. To which I have a very simple question: Did you actually watch the movie?
I did, and there is no hint of romance between Rey and Kylo until the very end of the movie. She sees him as an enemy throughout the movie, determined to defeat him and the First Order. He is determined to either turn her to the Dark Side or destroy her – just as Darth Vader did with Luke Skywalker.
Rey only expresses any affection toward Kylo after his face turn, when he is brought back to the Light Side by Han Solo’s force ghost (which is a little strange for a non-Jedi) and follows her to the Sith planet. Rey is mortally wounded defeating the Emperor, so Kylo pours his life energy into Rey – sacrificing his life to save hers. They kiss, and Kylo dies and vanishes into the Force. So what are these people talking about?
For what it is worth, I do not think having the two characters kiss was a good finish to the story. They should have hugged, as friends, and then he died. But I simply cannot see how this is an abusive romantic relationship. I mean, yes, he was violent toward her while they were enemies, but that is what happens in a war. Han Solo was violent toward Greedo, Boba Fett and Jabba the Hutt were violent toward Han Solo, the Stormtroopers were violent against the hapless Jawas, and so forth. Yes, the two most powerful members of warring factions were violent toward each other while they were enemies. So?
It is heavily implied that Finn loves Rey, and he wants to tell her so. He says he has something important to tell her, and never gets the chance. I assumed there would be a payoff at the end, which does not happen. The character arc for Finn was a good one, though, with him transforming from a coward in The Force Awakens to a hero who is willing to sacrifice his life to stop the Sith fleet.
Also, significant plot hole here: In a significant retcon, Emperor Palpatine is Rey’s grandfather. He wants her to kill him, at which point she will absorb all of the Sith powers and memories, and become the new Emperor. So Rey refuses, as Luke did in Return of the Jedi. The emperor fires Force Lightning at Rey, she reflects it back at the Emperor and… burns him to death.
Here is the plot hole. If Rey had sliced the Emperor to ribbons with her laser sword, she would become full Sith. So why didn’t that happen when she incinerated him with his own Force Lightning? And just how stupid is the Emperor to continue firing the lightning that is being reflected back at him? “Oh, it burns.” Then stop doing that!
Here is where the universe shrinks. Everything from Episode III onward has revolved around Emperor Palpatine. It is not outright stated, but it is heavily implied in Episode III that Palpatine manipulated the midichlorians in Shmi Skywalker to create Darth Vader. Palpatine is suddenly revealed to have had a child who was never mentioned before, and that child is Rey’s father or mother. (I am not sure which one was the Emperor’s child.)
This is very disappointing. The Star Wars universe was always a very big universe, with dozens of Jedi from all over the galaxy with various backgrounds and from many different species. Whereas Rey’s story was interesting as a “nobody” who is discovered to be force sensitive (like the younglings in previous movies) now she is part of the same family as everyone else. This significantly shrinks the Star Wars universe.
For all of my complaining, this is a good movie. There is plenty of fanservice for longtime fans, and the Emperor’s immense Force powers at the end are impressive. This is a worthy entry in the franchise.
Final Grade: B+