Note: There are no spoilers in this article beyond what has already been shown or referenced in trailers, ads, and merchandise. (There are spoilers for previous Star Wars films, but not this one.)
1. Is it better than The Last Jedi?
Yes, though of course how much better you’ll think it is depends a lot on your opinion of that notoriously divisive film. I’m one of the seemingly-few people who neither love nor hate The Last Jedi (TLJ), and my overall thoughts are: The Rise of Skywalker (TROS) has a much more interesting plot, a lot more fun, and much better cinematography. They are very different movies, really, in many ways: chiefly, that much of TROS‘s story keeps Rey, Finn, and Poe together (considering that Rey and Poe didn’t even meet until the end of TLJ), and there’s no completely unnecessary, lengthy subplot like Finn and Rose’s Canto Bight trip. What I’m trying to say is, whether you like the new movie may not have a lot to do with whether you liked the last one, so don’t go in prejudiced one way or the other.
2. Will fans be happy?
I’ve been a fan since there was just one movie, and I liked TROS; I can’t say I loved it, but it was a good movie and it definitely felt like Star Wars. There was certainly a lot of fan service; on the other hand, there was a lot of fan service. You remember how you felt at the end of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, when the endings just kept coming? The fan service moments felt like that to me when one in particular happened near the end, and my 18-year-old daughter, who’s loved the movies most of her life as well, agreed. It felt like I was being pandered to at the expense of the story and the brevity of the film, and it was just too much. You may feel differently, of course.
As a lifelong geek, and one who’s seen the original trilogy more times than I could possibly remember, I was more than a little annoyed by the continued expansion of what powers the Force confers on its users. One new power in particular, which is absolutely essential to the plot, is so weirdly unlike any powers we’ve seen before that it threatened to (but ultimately didn’t) ruin the film for me.
I could definitely have done with a few fewer gags, and particularly the ones that relied on misdirection. Funny is good, but you don’t go to a Star Wars film expecting a comedy. Also, there’s way too little R2-D2—I like BB-8, but if you’re going to do fan service you really should have more Artoo.
3. But will they be satisfied?
I’ve considered this question a lot, and I have to say yes. It isn’t a great movie, and it leaves many things unexplained, but director J.J. Abrams knows how to end a movie (a skill too many directors lack), and this one both ends itself very well and feels like a true ending to the Skywalker Saga.
4. I’ve heard it undoes a lot of the developments from TLJ. Is that true?
Very much so, and I’m conflicted about it. TLJ spent a great deal of time pushing the notion that having Force powers was not something that was unique to these few people, that the Jedi were really no better than anyone else, that heroes could come from anywhere. TROS does a full-reverse on that: Rey’s past is retconned, and the kid on Canto Bight who used the Force on his broom at the end of TLJ is neither seen nor mentioned (and there’s more, but I’m avoiding spoilers).
5. Should I rewatch the previous movies before seeing TROS?
I recommend at least rewatching the previous three: The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi for obvious reasons, and if you’ve seen the trailers you can probably guess why Return of the Jedi would be smart to include as well. If you’ve got the time, you should start with A New Hope and go from there, because being bombarded with references to the previous films gets even more tiresome if you know you’re missing some of them.
That being said, and while there are references to the prequel trilogy, I can’t bring myself to recommend that anyone see those movies, ever. If you like or at least don’t mind them that much, and have lots of time available, it wouldn’t hurt to watch them as well.
6. Will my kids like it?
If they love Star Wars, then almost certainly yes. If they’re cool or lukewarm (sorry) about Star Wars, then they’ll likely be bored and/or confused by much of it. They’ll like the gags, though, I’m sure.
7. How do the scenes with Leia work?
Awkwardly, for the most part. Abrams does an admirable job working her into the story at all, really, and I’m glad he was able to, because Leia and the late, great Carrie Fisher both unquestionably deserve to be in the conclusion to the Skywalker Saga. But you can tell when they’ve added characters to her scenes, and some of what she says and does doesn’t make a lot of sense if you really think about the plot and how the character of Leia really should be acting. There’s also a flashback scene with digitally-young Luke and Leia that I really wish they hadn’t included, or if they had, they had kept their faces hidden (you’ll understand when you see it).
8. When’s a good time for a bathroom break?
TROS is about 2.25 hours long, so this is definitely a concern. In most of the scenes, it’ll be reasonably easy to guess whether it’s going to be crucial to the story. Any of the less action-oriented scenes with Rey, Finn, and Poe together is a good choice, particularly when they arrive on the planet Kajimi. When you see Rey fly off on her own late in the movie, that’s the last time you should take a bathroom break if at all possible.
9. Does Baby Yoda appear at all?
Sorry, no. But there is a very cute, funny little creature named “Babu Frik” who figures in the story and might not have been included only for merchandising purposes. However, the new little droid, D-O, is so both cute and unnecessary to the story that it could not be more obviously there just to sell toys.
Bonus question (added later): Is it worth paying extra to see the movie in 3D? In IMAX?
I’ve now seen the film in regular and 3D versions, and, while I think the 3D was well done, it didn’t add enough to counterbalance the extra darkness the 3D process necessitates. It was still plenty enjoyable in 3D, but it was better in 2D, and cheaper. I haven’t seen it in IMAX, so I can’t tell you for certain, but given how cinematically spectacular much of the film is, I’d be willing to spend a few more bucks to see it that way.
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker officially opens everywhere December 20, 2019, but everyone knows it really opens tonight, December 19. It is rated PG-13 in the U.S. and is suitable for anyone who’s seen any of the previous films in the series.
Disclosure: My daughter and I attended a free preview screening of the movie. All opinions expressed here are my own.
Images: Lucasfilm / Disney.