The Rise of Skywalker was supposed to give a four-decade-long saga a fitting end. Instead, we got a film that waxes poetic over its failure to “let the past die.”
For over four decades, fans of Star Wars’ Skywalker saga have been treated to a wealth of lore, sci-fi action, and a colorful cast of characters, making it one of the most iconic franchises in film history. So how does one close out the final chapter to such a storied series in The Rise of Skywalker?
For JJ Abrams, the method was to weave a not-so-thick smokescreen to cover up the controversial plot points and character arcs of its predecessor, which caused quite a ruckus with some members of the Star Wars fan base. And the result was a dissonant mess aimed to gratify with cheap pops and unearned turns rather than complete a rich story arc justifiably.
While it’s true that The Last Jedi split the fan base down the middle, the idea of turning the light-side-dark-side dynamic on its head made for compelling cinema, while the possibility of viewing the franchise beyond what was generally accepted as ‘good and evil’ was dangled before viewers by the end of the film. Would Rey join Kylo in his quest for change? How would good and evil be defined in this new context?
Well, viewers can toss those narrative lines in the bin. Abrams appeared to have wanted to create his own The Last Jedi, stuffing it within The Rise of Skywalker’s already packed storyline, causing a massive disconnect with the plot threads that were established. It would have been better if he had just directed the entire trilogy, or completely handed over the reins to Rian Johnson. Also, it would have been better to break the story into a couple of films, rather than serving us an overstuffed turkey for the holiday season.
But here we are, settling for a glorified apology riddled with cop-outs, asspulls, excessive bombast, and an overreliance on fan service as a send-off to our beloved Skywalkers.
I initially thought that re-watching The Last Jedi right before seeing The Rise of Skywalker might be a sound plan, but boy was I mistaken.
Here’s what happens. (Spoilers!)
To begin the film, the story leaps right out of the opening text crawl, with the now-Supreme Leader Kylo Ren swashbuckling his way to find and eliminate Emperor Palpatine, whom he perceives as an impediment to his power. Never mind that the threat of Palpatine is never hinted at throughout the trilogy, and neither were there any suggestions that he could be the dark figure pulling the strings all along. It just happens due to some previously undisclosed ability, and things are only bound to get worse from that point on. The filmmaker might have also forgotten that he’s supposed to be called Darth Sidious, but I digress.
With Palpatine being the new main threat, one might pose the question, “Who was Supreme Leader Snoke anyway?” The film answers it by implying that he’s a mere construct whose rather disfigured appearance in a tube is nothing more than a side-eye moment at best.
Meanwhile, Rey, with help from General Leia, is honing her skills in an attempt to gain enough control of the force to communicate with legendary members of the Jedi from the past, while Poe, Finn, and Chewie are out to pick up a message from a spy within the First Order’s ranks.
There is a lot of action in the first arc of the movie, as with many of the previous Star Wars installments, but somewhere along the rapidly shifting scenes, the emotional connection with the characters dissipates. Rather than building on the characters, their relationships, and their motivations, the film simply elects to thrust them from one precarious position to another, to the point where things seemingly happen with barely any rhyme or reason.
Soon, the paths of the aforementioned characters intersect as they face the common threat of Palpatines’s Final Order. Rey battles Kylo for much of the film until he gets distracted by his mother, General Leia, and nearly gets killed. Leia dies as she uses up her life force to create a distraction remotely, while Kylo is healed by Rey after she stabs him in the gut. Save for a few short moments to honor Leia, the scenarios have a matter-of-fact approach to them and breeze right by before your emotions can catch up.
Sensing the death of his mother, Kylo sees a vision of his dad, Han Solo, who encourages him to drop the evil act and become Ben Solo anew – to which he agrees. The scene, I have to admit, was heartbreaking, and could have led to tears, but prior to this – with the plot of The Last Jedi plot in mind – his internal conflict was to break out of the Jedi-and-Dark-Side dynamic and free himself from the humongous shadow cast by Darth Vader, before carving out his own path. He has guilt about murdering his dad, sure, but it was already implied that this didn’t much affect his decision-making process. Some scenes could have been added to fully establish that turn.
The same applies to General Huxley, who is revealed to be the mole within the First Order’s ranks. No clues are dropped in this or previous films that he has a strong motivation to turn on his superiors despite loathing Kylo Ren. But he does, and he gets killed unceremoniously when his plot armor has been discarded.
Moving on, Finn and Poe try to gather up forces, including Poe’s old flame and her group, but they don’t have much success. Finn meets a fellow First Order deserter and gets paired up with her for the remainder of the film, treating his refreshingly complex relationship with Rose in the previous installment as an afterthought. And then, from out of nowhere, Lando Calrissian appears and helps them get to the Final Order’s hidden enclave. It turns out that he had joined Luke Skywalker in a secret mission to locate Palpatine’s whereabouts. Oh look, another thing never once hinted at in the previous films.
Rey, on the other hand, receives help from Luke’s Force ghost and gets to Palpatine’s lair. There, she faces the biggest threat that she has ever encountered: the lamentation of not half but probably a majority of Star Wars’ global fan base. Palpatine reveals to Rey that she is, in fact, his granddaughter, and her parents shielded her from that knowledge, which led to their untimely demise. Crushed by that knowledge and the weight of the expectations from now-disappointed fans, she is helped by Kylo Ren as she musters up the combined power of the past Jedi to finally slay the villain. To finish off the Final Order, Poe and Crew are suddenly aided by the galaxy’s silent majority of resisters to autocratic rule.
Having beaten Palpatine, Rey gives Kylo an unwarranted kiss before his death. She then meets up with Poe and Finn and embrace like the closest of friends even though they were literally on different planets for a vast majority of their story arcs, which should make them a band of treasured acquaintances to be honest.
The movie ends with a shot of Rey burying the lightsabers of Luke and Leia, as peace has been restored in the galaxy. She takes the Skywalker surname as a way to signal that the saga ends with a Skywalker still standing, unfortunately coupled with the thought of what could have been had Abrams not refused to “let the past die.”
It’s not all bad.
Despite all its flaws, however, The Rise of Skywalker does have its bright spots. Adam Driver dished out a strong performance, as he did in the previous films, and gave Kylo Ren the emotional richness that he deserves. Daisy Ridley has always been brilliant as Rey while John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and the rest of the main cast worked well with what they were given.
Also, should one view the film without the weight of its value in the Star Wars lore, they’ll find a lot of amusement in its impressive visual effects and set pieces. The action scenes are a treat for the senses, while some of the plot’s big moments do evoke the desired emotional responses from its audience. It is, for all intents and purposes, a popcorn flick–and a good one at that.However, as the ending to the storied Skywalker saga, The Rise of Skywalker falls miserably flat. There’s only so much that visual spectacles and fan service can do to conceal its numerous plot holes and its dissonance with the lore laid out by its predecessor, The Last Jedi. No Jedi mind trick can erase that fact.