There are already plenty of reviews for Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker, most of them pretty bad. In fact, the movie has a pretty dismal 58% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, putting it barely ahead of The Phantom Menace, which, is to say, not good. Every film critic has an opinion about the last installment of the final trilogy that follows the Skywalker story arc--that is, after all, what they get paid for.
This isn't another review. Well, it sort of is. It's actually more of a "review of the reviews," because I think that there's an important lesson here about understanding your audience. And the Star Wars audience is large and diverse. For example, we took our four children to see the movie last night, and there were audience members of all ages.
Other than our family (who have seen all the films and are big fans), I don't know anything about any of the other people who were there. But, if their reactions throughout the film are any indication, Rise of Skywalker was a huge win.
Which is a big deal because let's be honest--there have never been higher stakes for a film. There just hasn't. Not only does Rise of Skywalker put the final period on a story that has spanned four decades, but it also sought to realign the direction of that story after several controversial deviations in The Last Jedi.
It's no small irony that critics loved that film. Many fans didn't.
As a result, Disney brought back director JJ Abrams, who had made The Force Awakens and has proven his storytelling chops over a career that includes Super 8, Lost, Mission: Impossible, Alias, and the rebooted Star Trek. The cast wasn't shy about expressing their relief that he'd be the one bringing the ship in for a landing.
Look, there is literally no way to make everyone happy--there are just too many stakeholders here. There's Disney, which not only is financially invested in the film, but is also all-in on everything Star Wars at its theme parks, streaming service, and retail stores. There's Abrams, who has a reputation as a top-notch storyteller and was hand-picked to shepherd the final trilogy.
Then, there are the fans, who have invested their energy into this story, in some cases for their entire lives. I don't consider movie critics to be stakeholders, though plenty of them might also be fans. But their primary job is to write about movies and tell us what they think.
As a film, yes, Rise of Skywalker tries to do a lot. It's very fast-paced, especially at the beginning, and at times it's a little hard to keep up. There are also plenty of moments and elements that border on the cliché, though that's often the point. They exist purely for entertainment purposes. Which, by the way, is the reason Star Wars exists as a franchise at all. It's entertainment, and Episode IX is nothing if not entertaining.
The biggest problem with The Last Jedi was that, despite being an extremely well-made film, it took itself a little too seriously, which Star Wars hasn't ever done. Rise of Skywalker, on the other hand, doesn't. It knows exactly why it exists, and it does exactly that, and nothing more. It's here to delight fans and put a nice little bow on a variety of characters and storylines.
There were plenty of gasp-worthy moments in the film, specifically because the film seeks to do exactly what its audience wants it to. I won't give away the details because there truly are a few moments that are much better when you don't know they're coming.
And that's the lesson. As a creator, your job is to delight your audience. Your job is to know what it is that they're looking for (even if they don't), and give it to them. Your job is to create something that makes viewers/users/customers gasp, and laugh, and cry for the right reasons--because they are invested in the story.
Which is exactly what we saw last night. Nothing more, and nothing less. And that was the point.