The Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) has returned from the dead, and has drawn Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) to him with the promise of total control of the galaxy and a massive fleet hidden away if he will destroy Rey (Daisy Ridley). With the help of Finn, Poe and General Leia Organa (John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Carrie Fisher), Rey must face Kylo Ren and destroy the Emperor's hidden fleet before it's too late...
It's hard to know precisely how 'The Rise of Skywalker' would have been different had certain things not happened. Namely, the massive backlash to Rian Johnson's 'The Last Jedi' and the passing of Carrie Fisher before production began. While one issue was addressed by using unused footage from 'The Force Awakens', the other was tackled by numerous writers - including Colin Trevorrow, Jack Thorne, Chris Terrio, as well as JJ Abrams himself.
The result? For the most part, 'The Rise of Skywalker' works as a testament to how familiarity can be both a comfort and hindrance. You're never more than five or ten minutes away in the movie from a knowing glance to the original trilogy, or an acknowledgement of 'The Last Jedi' and how this story is attempting to counteract and correct it. What you have, really at the core of all of it, is an attempt to blend two very different stories and ideologies together and heal the rift that's come about in the audience.
You could very easily argue that this is cowardice on Abrams' part, and that instead of embracing the bold strides Rian Johnson took in 'The Last Jedi', he's going back to what he knows will work for the audience. That's no bad thing, because let's face it, this is a blockbuster franchise. It's supposed to be aimed at as many people as possible for the widest possible appeal. In the end, there's just no pleasing some people, and 'The Rise of Skywalker' is surely going to split audiences down the middle once again.
Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac and John Boyega all put their best foot forward with what they've got, but they never really get a chance to shine when new characters are fired in on top of them with almost reckless abandon. Keri Russell's helmeted gunslinger, Zori Bliss, really only has a couple of scenes while Richard E. Grant acts as an accompaniment to Domhnall Gleeson's sniveling General Hux rather than anything else. Ian McDiarmid chews the scenery as the Emperor, while Billy Dee Williams laughs, smiles and chuckles his way through with ease. Adam Driver gets the big emotional moment in the movie and handles it well, but you get the sense that he's given all he can with the role and is instead content to give a physical performance instead.
In a sense, that's probably the best thing he could have done, considering just how action-packed 'The Rise of Skywalker' really is. There's not a minute wasted that isn't pushing the story onward, and the battle sequences littered throughout the movie are as pacy and exciting as you'd expect. While the trailers and teasers might have given a sense of what to expect from them, they're really only scratching the surface.
Like John Williams' score, 'The Rise of Skywalker' takes cues from all eight movies in the main saga and shuffles through them to produce something that's not even remotely original, but is still thrilling and compelling nonetheless. If you're indifferent to these kinds of movies and 'Star Wars' as a whole, there really is nothing here for you and the movie isn't trying to appeal to you. For those who embrace it, 'The Rise of Skywalker' is an earnest attempt to conclude a story that some never want to end.
Some people's earliest memories are going to see 'Star Wars' or 'The Phantom Menace' in a cinema, and 'The Rise of Skywalker' is a movie that tries to live up to that - and succeeds, for the most part.