Best and worst of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker -- Our global review

The latest Star Wars movie is being dissected and debated around the world. From San Francisco to Sydney, what did CNET's editors think? (Warning: spoilers.)

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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CNET staff
Richard Trenholm
10 min read
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Audiences were split.

Walt Disney Pictures

Around the world, millions of fans are racing to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, including pretty much everyone in the CNET offices. No work's getting done as the corridors and cubicles echo with arguments about Reylo, that scene and whether The Last Jedi was amazing/trash.

To stop fistfights breaking out around the water cooler, here are a variety of opinions from editors around the world about the trilogy's momentous ending. Tell us what you think in the comments. Do you agree with any of these opinions or have we all missed the mark?

Be warned that spoilers are inbound like an armada of X-wings. Haven't seen the movie yet? Check out our spoiler-free review and prepare with our guide outlining everything to know about the film.


Classic fans will love this -- even if it's a retread

I'll give it to J.J. Abrams. He knows how to create a polished, exciting film that includes all the elements a  Star Wars  fan could want. The Rise of Skywalker is a relentless thrill ride, moving from one plot point to another, and offering plenty of fantastic set pieces and nods to elements of the original trilogy. Star Wars is back, I thought.

But here's the thing about Abrams' films -- they move so quickly you don't really have time to process everything that's going on.

After the excitement of another Star Wars film subsided, and I had time to think about it, I realized it hits many of the same plot points as Return of the Jedi. It's not quite the retread that The Force Awakens was, but there are enough similarities that you can easily see the parallel structure. For some, especially fans who hated The Last Jedi, that might come as a relief. The Rise of the Skywalker clicks into place a lot of the pieces set up in The Force Awakens. It's slickly produced and massively entertaining, even if it comes off as predictable.

-- Roger Cheng, New York

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Walt Disney Pictures

Nothing could save it

This was a weird experience for me. It was the first time since the prequels I walked out of a Star Wars film having not liked it. Thing is, I don't know if there was any way for me to have an overly positive feeling about this movie, since the two previous installments had done very little to get me to care about most of the characters or their plight at all.

There were some things I enjoyed: Multiple light speed jumps is a really cool concept, the Emperor looked disgusting and weird in all the best possible ways, and the "Rey Jedi support" scene was some really cool fan service. But at the end of the day, you have four really talented young actors giving committed performances that were failed by a nonsensical, convoluted script.

-- Eric Franklin, San Francisco

The best from the new trilogy

I approached The Rise of Skywalker with skepticism. I wasn't a fan of The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi. But this last Star Wars is more of a match for the original trilogy and a fitting homage to the galaxy far, far away. There's lots of humor from the increasing entourage of droids and Finn and Poe's bromance. There's a very tender Reylo moment. Han Solo has another "I know" moment. There are so many action and fight sequences, and horses ride on top of a spaceship! And Rey finally finds out her last name before choosing a much better one.

Now, when can I expect to see Jannah's quest to find out where she's from?

-- Patricia Puentes, San Francisco

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Jannah, played by Naomi Ackie.

Walt Disney Studios

The formula is strong with this one

The one thing I never expected to feel in a Star Wars movie is nothing. Especially the final Star Wars movie. Especially the movie with such a climactic cavalcade of cameos and spectacular moments that it's perhaps the most Star Wars movie to ever Star War. So while The Rise of Skywalker boasts some some huge moments and characters you probably thoughts you'd never see again -- and I knew as I watched that each of them was spectacular and cool and would delight a lot of people -- I just couldn't care. If only they didn't feel like ticking items off a list.

Whatever your feelings about The Last Jedi, you have to admit it showed that Star Wars films still have the power to surprise. The Rise of Skywalker has none of that boldness. Still, I recognise it will be a hugely satisfying finale for many dedicated fans. But for all the sound and fury, the safe and predictable The Rise of Skywalker is just rearranging the deck chairs on the Death Star.

 -- Richard Trenholm, London 

Big buffet, little satisfaction

I've been a fan of Star Wars since the 1970s, so it's always confusing to me when I don't love a Star Wars movie. And I didn't love The Rise of Skywalker, although it doesn't betray the franchise in any way. I felt better by reminding myself that while it's not a great ending for a nine-movie saga, it is the ending of the Disney movies that began in 2015. Each of the other two trilogies had their ending, and this is the final chapter of the third one. Lowering those expectations made me feel better.

I went into the movie wanting to digest and enjoy every second. I wanted it to be the dessert of a three-course meal. Instead, J.J. Abrams took me to a Las Vegas buffet: There were new and old characters, new and old creatures, new and old planets, new and old weapons; even new and old storylines. I had no time to consume any of them. The rhythm in this movie is relentless. There are no pauses that allow you to reflect on what you're seeing. At the end of this meal I felt stuffed, but I didn't feel satisfied.

You can read here my full review in Spanish.

-- Gabriel Sama, San Francisco

High highs, low lows

All I thought about when I was watching the movie was how difficult this entire thing must have been to make. Carrie Fisher died before they could focus on her in the final film, Colin Trevorrow was jettisoned from the project, the entire cast was put through the ringer by the internet after The Last Jedi, and somewhere underneath all that external turmoil, they had to close out a nine-film space soap opera lasting 40-plus years. It's an impossible task.

I walked out of the premiere feeling strange... like I enjoyed what I'd seen, but didn't feel fully allowed to do so. Because J.J. undid so much of what made The Last Jedi so interesting, and because "tHE diSCoUrSE" had been so toxic to Rian Johnson and the cast of TLJ after it released in theaters. I begrudge The Rise of Skywalker for this -- for being a movie that so clearly was scared to run with the wild, shocking ideas set forth in TLJ. In trying to reunite a divided fan base, Abrams unintentionally sided with the most toxic forces in fandom, and it's hard to overcome that disappointment and truly enjoy this instalment.

I think this movie is a perfect Rorschach test for Star Wars fans: It isn't really great or terrible at all, it only reflects your personal relationship with the franchise.

-- Ashley Esqueda, Los Angeles

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Kelly Marie Tran plays Rose.


It's bad. It's really, really bad

I'm trying to be self-aware about this. Trying to understand that given the negative reaction to The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker is a movie that could never exist in a vacuum, or separate itself from the culture wars that continue to consume all light and reason.

That being said, I thought this movie sucked and I hated it with every fiber of my being.

The Rise of Skywalker felt like a movie written, produced and directed by a really bad Reddit thread. A movie that unravels all The Last Jedi's most bold and subversive choices. Rey is a nobody, the daughter of drunkards who sold her off for booze money? Nah, bugger that, she's Emperor Palpatine's granddaughter. Poe Dameron's gung-ho heroism is a clumsy expression of toxic masculinity? Nah, he's Han Solo version 2. Snoke is dead, because not every Star Wars trilogy needs an Emperor-esque Wizard-Villain? Nah, let's bring back the ACTUAL Emperor somehow.

Beyond "big choices," The Rise of Skywalker is a frantically paced movie burdened with terrible dialogue, missing the poetry of The Last Jedi's best moments. Outside a few key moments it's utterly bereft of imagination. Even its best scene (Kylo Ren's redemption with a returning Han Solo) is ruined by this movie's insatiable need to cram in as many reference points as possible.

But perhaps the worst part of The Rise of Skywalker is Kelly Marie Tran's erasure. After being chased off social media via a targeted harassment campaign, Tran's sidelining in The Rise of Skywalker feels like a perfect metaphor for the movie's cowardice. Capitulating and pandering to the worst elements of your audience is not a "good thing" but it's what The Rise of Skywalker does for the entirety of its runtime.

I think that's enough Star Wars for me, thanks.

-- Mark Serrels, Sydney

May the focus group be with you

The Return of Skywalker was perfectly, unequivocally OK. It had a few laughs, some impressive battle scenes (Rey and Kylo fighting in the wreckage of the Death Star was my kind of sexual energy). But the plot was weak -- somehow overstuffed yet thin -- with a few too many Sith dagger McGuffins and Deus Ex-Wing Machina moments to truly soar.

The real issue? Just like I couldn't escape the loudly cheering fans in my cinema screening, Star Wars can't escape the weight of its own fandom. Die-hard fans and internet commenters lurked on the edge of my consciousness while I watched, like the hooded Knights of Ren stalking Rey through the frames of the film. "We're watching what you do here, Star Wars. Don't mess it up." The result is a film that felt like it was made by a panicked product development team who'd held too many focus groups. It tried to be everything and ultimately became nothing -- a series of moments that will either outrage or delight fans, all stuck together with a bland paste of forgettable filler.

Here's Han and Lando! They scored well on your joy matrix, didn't they? Didn't like Rose? Great -- she's been relegated to subplot busywork! Um… let's duct tape on some Porgs, two women kissing, and finish it with a droid that DEFINITELY looks like the Pixar Lamp (hello, Disney) and you've got a product that 78% of respondents agree is definitely a Star Wars film.

That said: Sexy weekend Kylo in a thin, boat-neck knit? 10 out of 10.

-- Claire Reilly, Sydney

Things to do instead of seeing The Rise of Skywalker

Go see Knives Out (directed by Rian Johnson) instead.

-- Nicole Archer, Sydney 

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

The gang together.

Walt Disney Pictures

Almost worse than Cats

I'm not a fan of Star Wars. I only half-watched the original trilogy on TV. But I liked The Force Awakens -- I loved seeing a girl go on an adventure, befriending a cute droid sidekick, tinkering with spaceships and slaying in lightsaber fights.

That innocent time is dead. Now Rey doesn't care about her friends. She gung-ho jumps on spaceships from planet to planet, on her own, GETTING IT DONE. I thought I'd like watching that.

But I didn't. The Rise of Skywalker is a dystopia, drenched in the cold, sterile light of Disney's franchise operating room.

-- Jennifer Bisset, Sydney

I'm out

(Insert the longest sigh I have ever vocalized.)

I'm exhausted by Star Wars. I'm so, so glad it's over. The New Trilogy really did provide a New Hope -- it had the potential to redefine what Star Wars was and what it could be. Instead, it capitulated under the weight of the Mouse Machine and The Internet Comments Section. TROS is far and away the worst of the new lot. An incoherent mess with a fetch quest in the first half, a soulless fan-service exercise in the second.

With many great movies coming out this year (Parasite, Marriage Story, Booksmart, Knives Out, Midsommar, Dolemite, Us), there's absolutely zero reason to waste your time on this one other than to finally achieve closure and peace. Which I have, I think. Now we just need to end Baby Yoda xo

-- Jackson Ryan, Sydney

Not with a bang, but with a stumble

I'm struggling to remember any redeeming features of The Rise of Skywalker. Or really anything at all. The only moment of emotional truth in the whole movie is the grief Chewie shows upon hearing of Leia's passing and we're kept at arm's length from it in a wide shot.

"They fly now" is a funny line and the diminutive engineer Babu Frik working on C-3P0's memory banks was good for a chuckle. Apart from that Rise has no real thrills, no sense of humour and no heart.

I'm done with Star Wars movies. I made it to the end and I'm not left wanting more. Maybe Babu Frik can open my memory banks and erase this film.

-- Drew Stearne, London

It's over. And I'm satisfied

For decades I never thought I'd see the true end of the Star Wars saga. And after The Phantom Menace, I had a few years not wanting to see the end. So when sitting in the theater waiting for The Rise of Skywalker to start, I felt all those years of doubt that Disney could bring home the story's conclusion. And in a year when another big series -- Game of Thrones -- showed how hard it is to land an ending, I was ready to be disappointed.

But I wasn't: The Rise of Skywalker is a dark, entertaining and mainly satisfying end to the nine-movie saga.

The film moves with a frenetic, breathless J.J. Abrams' pace -- best of luck to anyone trying to find a good time for a bathroom break -- and the story is burdened in parts trying to touch on each piece of the 40-plus-year story. Yet by the end, I was content. The movie ticks all the boxes, giving me the conclusion to the grand sci-fi story that for years I didn't think I'd get.

-- Clifford Colby, San Francisco

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Originally published Dec. 20.