A film doesn’t have to make complete sense to me. I have to be able to know where it’s going and where it’s coming from, and if that works for me, I can put up with a lot.
The Rise of Skywalker is a perfect example of this to me.
Abrams is not a great storyteller, but he succeeds in giving his films an emotional and visceral flow that makes you (in the right mindset) completely willing to accept what might otherwise seem absurd on paper.
I enjoyed myself here as soon as the virtues of the people involved were allowed to come to light. The opening is extremely jarring, I agree-- There could (and I daresay, should) have been an extra ten minutes at the start of the film to ease more into the story. But the film’s insanity plateaus at a certain point, and the characters here feel like they have a far better bond and chemistry than before. That’s another thing Abrams understands, interactions between characters. Even Star Trek Into Darkness, which I did not like much at all, did this well.
I think the film had a sense of momentum. There’s a ticking clock feeling from almost the moment the story picks up, and it gives the film the feeling of constant pursuit and anxiety. After sitting through the prequels with my dad (who insisted we see all the films before going into this one), I can say that Abrams understands the worst thing a film like Star Wars can do is have a lack of momentum. Every scene feels like it serves its purpose here. I can see where many critics are coming from calling this film overstuffed, though. Many scenes are cut short and intercut in a way that it feels like a condensation of what likely could have been a much longer work as shot. Again, the first few minutes were the biggest offenders of this, but I feel like this improved as the film went on.
This film brings a lot of storylines to an emotional head. Adam Driver as Ben Solo continues to be one of the best performers in the series, and contributed to a scene which actually got me very emotional in the theater. Again, it’s a matter of the film being willing to sell us on its ideas. I think Ben’s eventual heel-turn felt very much earned, especially in the context of the previous two films. Abrams has been accused of “backpedaling” ideas from The Last Jedi. To an extent, I can see that. However, I think Ben’s arc is a very natural extension of where we saw him in the last film. He might be the standout from this whole trilogy, to me.
Rey is also improved greatly, I feel like. I didn’t dislike her in the previous films, but I feel as if the writers made sure to give her more of a personality in this film than in the others, and it really contributes to making the film more unpredictable. Her interest in training, and her interest in learning all she can from those around her, return her more to the wide-eyed curiosity and vulnerability that made her so endearing to me in The Force Awakens, and what I thought was lacking a bit in The Last Jedi. I find the people focusing on the reveal of her family name to be extremely in defiance of one of the film’s central messages. She has made herself her own person by the end of the film, and that is far more important than her heritage. Again, it was something I feel the film earned by the end of its runtime.
Finn thankfully has so much more to do here it makes it more egregious that he was so absent from The Last Jedi. The chemistry between him, Poe, and Rey is one of the things that makes the film so enjoyable through the runtime. From the outset, the three have an enjoyable rapport that injects levity but is also tested by the stakes of the story.
There is simply an energy that I feel when watching the film that makes me able to accept much more of what other critics are finding issue with. I came in wishing for an emotional experience, and I do think that’s what I received.