By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Walt Disney Co’s highly anticipated “Star Wars” movie “The Rise of Skywalker” divided film critics on Wednesday, earning more detractors than any film in the nine-episode saga since 1999 movie “The Phantom Menace.”
“Rise of Skywalker,” which debuts in theaters around the globe on Thursday, is the final installment in a story begun in 1977, when George Lucas introduced a young hero named Luke Skywalker alongside an enchanting collection of droids and otherworldly characters.
On the Rotten Tomatoes website, 57% of 157 reviews for “Rise of Skywalker” were positive as of Tuesday morning. That ranked as the second-lowest score among the nine films, ahead of only the 53% for “The Phantom Menace.”
Reviewers who praised “Rise of Skywalker” called it a satisfying conclusion to a beloved story, while critics said the movie directed by J.J. Abrams seemed to play it safe to please longtime fans.
Jack Coyle of the Associated Press called the movie a “scattershot, impatiently paced, fan-servicing finale that repurposes so much of what came before.”
Justin Chang of The Los Angeles Times described it as “an epic failure of nerve.”
“This ‘Rise’ feels more like a retreat, a return to a zone of emotional and thematic safety,” Chang wrote.
Abrams said at the movie’s London premiere on Wednesday that he expected the movie would be divisive given the strong and diverse views held by “Star Wars” fans.
“You have to just do what you believe at every step,” he said in an interview. “And I could not be more proud of what this cast was done, and this extraordinary crew.”
“We just wanted to tell a story that feels like it was the end of these nine chapters and we just told that story,” Abrams added.
The reviewers who praised “Rise of Skywalker” said it offered a fitting and thrilling conclusion.
“Epic it indeed is, full of magnificent set pieces – sprawling space battles and incandescent lightsaber duels – gripping performances and a number of truly stunning surprises,” said Soren Andersen of The Seattle Times.
Brian Lowry of CNN.com said the movie “proves highly satisfying as an end not just to this trilogy, but a saga 42 years in the making.
“Abrams has made a ‘Star Wars’ movie aimed at the people who love it best,” he said.
Fan reactions often differ from film critics’, and box office analysts expect audiences to buy around $200 million worth of tickets to “Rise of Skywalker” in the United States and Canada over the weekend. That would earn a place among the biggest movie openings of all time.
Disney has forecast a lower debut of around $160 million from Thursday through Sunday.
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Tara Oakes in London; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Richard Chang)