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‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ Underwhelms Critics as ‘Convoluted’ and ‘Safe’ Finale

J.J. Abrams film has just a 56% score on Rotten Tomatoes from an early roundup of reviews

Critics are underwhelmed with “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” saddling the finale to one of the biggest franchises of all time with just a 56% on Rotten Tomatoes. They called the film a “safe,” “sour” or even “convoluted” end to the Skywalker saga.

It’s still early, and the score could change, but the review embargo for the film broke just after midnight on Wednesday, and with 119 critics reporting at time of writing, the current score places it below not just the previous “Star Wars” films “The Last Jedi” and “The Force Awakens,” but even behind “Solo” and “Rogue One,” though it’s just ahead of “Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” which has just a 53% score.

“Rest assured that there’s nothing in this final ‘Star Wars’ that would prompt the eye-rolls or the snickers of Episodes I-III; Abrams is too savvy a studio player for those kinds of shenanigans,” TheWrap‘s Alonso Duralde wrote in his mixed review of the film. “But his slick delivery of a sterling, shiny example of what Martin Scorsese would call ‘not cinema’ feels momentarily satisfying but ultimately unfulfilling. It’s a somewhat soulless delivery system of catharsis, but Disney and Abrams are banking on the delivery itself to be enough.”

Many of the reviews pointed out that the film’s first act is loaded with exposition as a way to reunite the three main characters and tie up many of the film’s loose ends. Some reviews called it “incoherent” and added that many of those plot threads fail to satisfy in the end.

“The gang’s all here–every new and old favorite character one could imagine–for an experience so convoluted and overstuffed that I wondered whether the whole cast would board a flying kitchen sink for the final battle,” David Sims wrote in The Atlantic.

But much of the discussion has centered around Rian Johnson’s “The Last Jedi.” Critics have said Abrams’ film works as something of a course correction for fans who were outraged at the direction of the previous film, undoing some of “The Last Jedi’s” main and best ideas.

“The haste with which ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ rushes to undo its predecessor is almost comical at first, at least before its capitulation to the franchise’s most toxic fans turns outright contemptible. Mad that Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe (Oscar Isaac) didn’t spend enough time together in the last movie? Let’s shove them into the same frame from the beginning and throw in lots of forced banter to remind you that they’re pals,” Sam Adams writes in Slate. “Didn’t like when they killed off the pale evil guy with the misshapen face? What if we brought in another? And that whole thing about Rey being ‘no one,’ suggesting a radical rewrite of the idea that Jedi knights are made and not born? Well, you’ll have to see what happens there for yourself.”

“He’s made what feels sometimes like a glorified apology for his successor’s choices,” A.A. Dowd says of Abrams in The A.V. Club. “Remember in ‘Last Jedi’ when fallen son Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) smashed his Vader-esque helmet to bits as a symbolic rejection of the past? It takes him all of 15 minutes to weld it back together in ‘Skywalker,’ the little red cracks across its surface evidence of a “mistake” that’s been mended.”

See more reactions from critics below. “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” opens in theaters this Friday.

Alonso Duralde, TheWrap

Abrams certainly knows how to manipulate, but when he does it, you can see the strings. How much or little you enjoy “The Rise of Skywalker” will rely almost entirely on whether or not you mind that every laugh and tear and jolt feels like it’s coming right off a spreadsheet.

Mike Ryan, Uproxx

J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is the most convoluted of all the Star Wars movies. It feels like three full movies worth of plot crammed into one film. The stories in the other Star Wars movies, even the Prequels, have a way of bringing a viewer into that world. “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” never lets us in. It, instead, keeps us at arms length so it can use almost its entire first half as exposition. Just character after character explaining things.

A.O. Scott, The New York Times

At least since “The Return of the Jedi” (1983), the point of each chapter has been consolidation rather than distinction. For a single film to risk being too interesting would be to imperil the long-term strategy of cultivating a multigenerational, multinational fandom. “The Rise of Skywalker” — Episode IX, in case you’ve lost count — is one of the best. (It opens Friday.) Also one of the worst. Perfectly middling. It all amounts to the same thing.

Sam Adams, Slate

“The Rise of Skywalker” gives people what they go to Star Wars for, but that’s all it does–and worse, all it sets out to do. It’s frenzied, briefly infuriating, and eventually, grudgingly, satisfying, but it’s like being force-fed fandom: Your belly is filled, but there’s no pleasure in the meal. The movie feels like it’s part of the post-“Last Jedi” retrenchment, when Disney jerked the leash on “Solo” and killed plans for future spinoffs by insisting that filmmakers stick to the established playbook. It’s of a piece with the pointedly unambitious “The Mandalorian,” just good enough to get people’s attention but fundamentally terrified of rocking the boat. Rather than making a movie some people might love, Abrams tried to make a movie no one would hate, and as a result, you don’t feel much of anything at all.

Jake Coyle, Associated Press

Not much has caused a disturbance in the “Star Wars” galaxy quite like Rian Johnson’s “The Last Jedi,” an erratic but electric movie that, regardless of how you felt about it, was something worth arguing about. The same can’t be said for J. J. Abrams’ “Rise of Skywalker,” a scattershot, impatiently paced, fan-servicing finale that repurposes so much of what came before that it feels as though someone searching for the hyperspace button accidentally pressed the spin cycle instead.

David Sims, The Atlantic

The gang’s all here–every new and old favorite character one could imagine–for an experience so convoluted and overstuffed that I wondered whether the whole cast would board a flying kitchen sink for the final battle.

A.A. Dowd, The A.V. Club

But in the case of this ninth official episode, the batting-cleanup responsibilities are compounded by the expectations of a fanbase on the cusp of mutiny. “Skywalker” wants desperately to please them, a potentially impossible task it tackles with transparently ingratiating caution. This is a space opera animated not by joy but insecurity–the anxiety, evident in almost every moment, that if it’s not very careful, someone might feel letdown.

Brian Truitt, USA Today

It’s a treat when Rey, Finn and Poe finally get to the adventuring, not only because there are tons of Han, Luke and Leia vibes when they’re together, but also because their taking on flying First Order goons in a wild, banter-laden “Mad Max”-esque speeder chase reminds why these movies are a hoot.

Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times

There are a few moments when it feels as if this movie is trying to satisfy every “Star Wars” fanatic in the world — but that would be beyond the scope of even the most impressive Jedi mind trick. “The Rise of Skywalker” rarely comes close to touching greatness, but it’s a solid, visually dazzling and warmhearted victory for the Force of quality filmmaking.

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

It wraps up the trio of trilogies begun in 1977 in a confident, soothingly predictable way, doing all that cinematically possible to avoid poking the bear otherwise known as tradition-minded quadrants of the “Star Wars” fan base.