[The following post contains MAJOR SPOILERS and a whole lot of FANBOY WHINING; consider yourself warned!]
The Rise of Skywalker improves significantly on second viewing. Without the burden of anticipation, the visuals become more spectacular, the emotional beats more resonant, and the character arcs more compelling. The Tatooine-set epilogue in particular is a lot more palatable once you’ve had an opportunity to digest its thematic subtleties; director J.J. Abrams’ talent for mythic symbolism is on full display: the twin sabers and twin spirits that were once separated are at long last reunited beneath the twin suns where the saga began. The only flaw lies in who delivers them to their final resting place: Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio make the newly-christened Rey Skywalker the custodian of the blades when Kylo Ren would have been the more logical choice.
I have no problem with the controversial “Redemption Equals Death” trope in theory, but I simply cannot deny that its execution here is somewhat... lacking. Ben Solo’s premature demise feels like a grievous waste of potential; he was the Sequel Trilogy’s most interesting character (despite his less-than-impressive debut, and quite contrary to his detractors’ insistence that he was a one-dimensional space Nazi/domestic abuser), and there remained ample opportunity for further exploration following his return to the Light Side of The Force. He’s coveted the lightsaber wielded by his grandfather and uncle since the series began in 2015; wouldn’t it be more appropriate for him to deliver the weapon to the world that they once inhabited, metaphorically abandoning his dark ambitions? Likewise, wouldn’t exiling himself to the most remote and isolated reaches of the Dune Sea (much like his namesake) be a fitting act of atonement?
Of course, such narrative blemishes are merely symptoms of the movie’s accelerated production schedule, and complaining about what could—or should—have been done differently is hardly constructive. Then again... it’s certainly not the only plot development that would have benefitted from a few more revisions (Rose Tico, for example, should absolutely have been the one to stay behind with Finn to destroy the Sith command ship, considering she was explicitly studying old Star Destroyer schematics during the substantial period of time she spent off-screen). I suppose the moral here is that studios should stop setting release dates before the screenplay has been finished; nothing good ever comes of rushing to meet an arbitrary deadline.