Closing out a 42-year-old saga was never going to be easy.
After harsh criticism over creative choices in "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," the final installment in the most recent Star Wars trilogy — the bookend of a nine-part saga — seems to have fallen short of expectations as director J.J. Abrams attempted to appease fans.
"Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker," which arrives in theaters Friday, currently holds a 57% "Rotten" score on review site Rotten Tomatoes from 156 reviews, as of early Wednesday afternoon.
"'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker' suffers from a frustrating lack of imagination, but concludes this beloved saga with fan-focused devotion," the site says of the film.
When Disney purchased Lucasfilm, the owner of Star Wars, in 2012, the company decided it wanted more creative control over the future of the franchise. It announced that the only canon elements to Star Wars were the six feature films and the animated series "Clone Wars." All other books, TV shows or comics were no longer the true continuation of the story.
This allowed Disney to launch a new trilogy in 2015 that was of its own design. While the company had Kathleen Kennedy at the helm of Lucasfilm overseeing the movies, it let its directors have heavy creative control over the story. So, after Abrams' "The Force Awakens," director Rian Johnson then took on writing responsibilities for the next film, which would become "The Last Jedi."
That movie was contentious, at best. It turned Luke Skywalker into a Yoda-like hermit living in exile on an island, cut off from the Force, it separated the main characters, much like "The Empire Strikes Back," and divided fans.
While some saw the film as an ambitious departure from previous Star Wars movies, others saw it as too different from past installments.
"Being a Star Wars fan has, of late, become weirdly factional," Jordan Hoffman, of the Guardian, wrote in his review of the film. "A small but extremely vocal subgroup have harassed Rian Johnson, writer-director of The Last Jedi, and some of the new actors his chapter brought in, namely Kelly Marie Tran. Their actions are upsetting and ridiculous, and it has understandably inspired others to protest in favor of the middle film."
The fan uproar over the movie led Lucasfilm to bring Abrams back to direct the third part of the trilogy, hoping to right the ship again.
However, the result also seems to have been less than satisfactory.
"Rather than making a movie some people might love, Abrams tried to make a movie no one would hate, and as a result, you don't feel much of anything at all," Sam Adams, writer at Slate, said in his review of the film.
For many critics, "The Rise of Skywalker" spends much of its time fixing issues fans had with "The Last Jedi" and adding characters instead of exploring the ones that were introduced previously.
Still, the reviews do have positive notes about John Williams score, the rich visuals and the performances from actors like Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley and Billy Dee Williams.
"I am glad, in a way, that this is all over now, and hope that, in time, that chatter will seem distant, and we can enjoy these extremely entertaining and marvelously designed films for what they are: rich, nerdy fun with very basic plots a child can follow," Hoffman wrote.
The film is expected to haul in around $200 million during its opening weekend domestically, a weaker start than previous Star Wars films in the last decade. Still, analysts foresee "The Rise of Skywalker" ultimately snatching between $1.4 billion and $1.8 billion globally.
Although the film doesn't open until Friday, "The Rise of Skywalker" is currently accounting for more than 70% of Fandango's daily ticket sales, the company said. Meanwhile, Atom Tickets said the film is currently selling nearly four times the amount of tickets as "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" and "Solo: A Star Wars Story" combined for the presale period.
Here's a rundown of what critics have said of "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" ahead of its opening:
Adams' review notes that "The Rise of Skywalker" hastily rushes to undo some of the things that made "The Last Jedi" so divisive. Rey, Poe and Finn are shoved into the same frame early on, Rey's heritage continues to be discussed and Emperor Palpatine is resurrected to replace the fallen Supreme Leader Snoke.
"The haste with which 'The Rise of Skywalker' rushes to undo its predecessor is almost comical at first, at least before its capitulation to the franchise's most toxic fans turns outright contemptible," Adams wrote.
Adams did not provide a rating scale in his review
"The Rise of Skywalker" gives people what they go to Star Wars for, but that's all it does — and worse, all it sets out to do. It's frenzied, briefly infuriating, and eventually, grudgingly, satisfying, but it's like being force-fed fandom: Your belly is filled, but there's no pleasure in the meal.
Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times felt that even with some of the plot pitfalls, "The Rise of Skywalker" was a "solid" film.
"Action-filled, plot-packed and unabashedly sentimental, Episode IX at times seems to be trying to satisfy every Star Wars fanatic in the world," he wrote.
He praised the movie's special effects and strong performances from Driver and Ridley, in particular. He gave the film 3 out of 4 stars.
Driver is one of the best young actors in the world, but he's more convincing playing conflicted than pure, bone-chilling evil. Ridley has an uncanny ability to hold the screen, even when the screen-filling, explosion-filled, CGI battles give way to close-ups of Rey, the weight of the galaxy reflected in her expressions.
Michael O'Sullivan of The Washington Post also noted that there are too many plot threads in "The Rise of Skywalker." The team is "set out on a life-or-death mission that leads them to video-game-like obstacles and dangers," he wrote.
For O'Sullivan, the film "panders wildly," and deserved 2 out of 4 stars.
Everybody wants a happy ending. But that doesn't mean that we should always get the one we want. It's fine, if also cliche, to be reminded that good will triumph over evil. But it would make for a deeper and more powerful lesson — one that, after nine movies, might leave a lasting dent in the heart — if the hero actually had to give up something, or someone, that didn't feel like a tiniest bit of a cop-out.
The final installment of the Skywalker saga "snaps together like a jigsaw puzzle," Jordan Hoffman, of The Guardian, wrote in his review of the film.
"And that, I think, is the overall message of 'Episode IX.' All the toys go back where they are supposed to go at the end," he wrote.
Hoffman gave the film 5 out of 5 stars.
Abrams's attempt, with this film, to tie all of Star Wars lore in a bow isn't perfect.
Like many other critics, Stephanie Zacharek, of Time Magazine, was quick to point out how overloaded the finale of the series feels. There's an overabundance of new characters and not enough for all of them to do.
She noted that many "interactions between individuals often seem like afterthoughts."
Zacharek did not provide a rating scale in her review.
This overloaded finale, directed by J.J. Abrams, is for everybody and nobody, a movie that's sometimes reasonably entertaining but that mostly feels reverse-engineered to ensure that the feathers of the Star Wars purists remain unruffled. In its anxiety not to offend, it comes off more like fanfiction than the creation of actual professional filmmakers. A bot would be able to pull off a more surprising movie.
Disclosure: Comcast, the parent company of CNBC, also own Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes.