"Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" is the third and last film of the third (and last) Star Wars Trilogy, completing the arc that begin in 1977 with Star Wars: A New Hope, and in 2015, with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Because Star Wars has such a powerful position in popular culture, all of the twists and turns that happened outside the story, the various attacks and counterattacks about how much Star Wars should change, are hard to describe. As part of our times, every minor casting choice and plot point of Star Wars has been debated endlessly on the internet. I am sure whoever is reading this has already read several years of Star Wars debate on the internet, so I will summarize it as people believing that 2015's "The Force Awakens" clung too heavily to Star Wars' formula, and that 2017's "The Last Jedi" departed too much from Star Wars' formula. That is just background to what I saw as I watched the movie. Also, this review will contain spoilers.
The first thing I noticed about this movie is that it was packed, to the point of having almost psychedelic changes of focus, scene, and feel, as the movie shifted from one location to another. It was hard to keep track of just why characters were doing what they were doing: there was a lot of McGuffin chasing, and a large part of the middle of the movie was filled up with the characters chasing a McGuffin that led to another McGuffin. Star Wars has always been more fantasy than science fiction and this movie leaned into that: we are transported between scenes of an alien rave, a misty underworld that looks like hell, a cavalry charge on the deck of a space ship, a hive of scum and villainy...the scene changes are dizzying, and in another film, might need more explanation. But this is Star Wars: the viewers know what they are looking at, and improbable landscapes are part of the charm. Leaps of logic and setting are a feature of Star Wars, not a bug.
But my own criticism of the movie, such as it is, is that after three movies, none of the characters in this third trilogy have managed to make it feel like Star Wars is their own. This is both an internal, and external, problem with the story. The three new characters introduced, Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron, are all well-portrayed by their actors, and are Rey, at least, has real character development. This film does away with much of the roll of Rose Tico, with her basically having only a few lines of dialogue. Kylo Ren, as a villain, gets some development, and is an interesting character in his own right. But this film keeps bringing back ghosts: Emperor Palpatine is revealed as the main villain. The ghosts or memories of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo show up. Princess Leia, despite her actress Carrie Fisher having died three years ago, is a prominent character. Lando Calrissian stops by to save the day. Chewbacca gets almost as much screen time as Poe and Finn. This movie, then, is about the original characters, with the new characters mostly being used to carry on their struggle. After Star Wars: The Last Jedi "revealed" that Rey was a "nobody", this film destroys that, instead revealing that she is the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine. The climax of the film is Rey deciding that her lineage doesn't define her, and that she can refuse to become like her grandfather.
At the same time as the movie gives this message to the characters, it gives the viewer the opposite: because this movie, and the entire sequel trilogy, is careful to not upset the careful balance of the Star Wars universe. As a cultural symbol and commercial franchise, Star Wars is beholden to its past. I am not grumpy enough to feel that Star Wars, a major marketing operation for Disney, is wrong to make centrist, commercially viable movies. And I enjoyed the film greatly while watching it. But after four years and three films, Star Wars has not truly developed any new characters or themes, and we are, overall, left in the same position as we were at the end of both Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith. The original Star Wars came out 43 years ago, in a very different world, but as it stands now, the Star Wars franchise has made very few allowances for the past five decades, at all. So while a good movie, a fun, dramatic, and enjoyable movie, I am left feeling just a little bit empty after "The Rise of Skywalker".