Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the finale of the Skywalker Saga, and I have to say, it was in a lot of ways the most Star Wars of the 9 movies. There is a lot of Star Wars in this…like more than you might expect. And that is a good thing.
A quick warning. For those who linked in from Facebook, there are spoilers ahead. I will attempt to place them at least one screen down, and will add a note when they appear, but you’ve been warned.
So, first things first – I liked this a lot. It worked incredibly well as a closing chapter, and while it does leave a lot open for the future – including direct sequels – so did Return of the Jedi, and literally every concluding chapter of every series ever. So that can’t really be a complaint. It wraps up the current story nicely, deals with the death of Carrie Fisher nicely. And, in short, hits all the marks in needed to, and did so without being overly anything. Which is nice.
We begin with a flurry of ‘things happening’ scenes, crossing from heroes to villains, and no real explanation beyond what you see on the screen. Which is very much in the Star Wars model. We move on to the plot, which, as is the norm, has new places, old places, new
toys characters, old characters, and lots to see. There is a lot of well done fan service. And then a satisfying ending, which is good to have, again, after the recent backlash.
There are issues to address, of course, as well as some things I realized about this particular trilogy, and Star Wars as a whole, just before I saw the new movie.
Star Wars is most like 40’s movie shorts. It draws inspiration from those, and is designed to mimic them. Keeping that in mind is crucial to understanding Star Wars in general.
Below here, there be spoilers
Ok, let’s get the bantha in the room out of the way. In my opinion, this did nothing to ‘undo’ The Last Jedi. Nor should it have. It does ignore the worst parts, which isn’t quite the same. Let’s look at some examples…
In The Force Awakens, Finn begins his arc as almost a coward – he is all about running from the First Order. As TFA progresses, he becomes the reluctant hero – mostly due to his interest in Rey. Nevertheless, he does the hero things, and shows development as a character. In this, he is a sort of Han Solo analog…the guy who has no interest in the whole rebellion / resistance thing, but for his own reasons comes back to help save the day. He’s not the same as Han, but in a way is filling that role.
Then The Last Jedi happens. And Finn reverts to the coward with no explanation or warning. Finn is confronted by Rose, and she shames him into staying. He then does a hard turn to suicidal in the Crait battle scene, only to be prevented from killing himself by Rose. This is not the character we saw in TFA. Rise of Skywalker is proof to me that Rian Johnson completely missed the mark with Finn.
In Rise of Skywalker, Finn is, from scene one, the hero again. He is a leader, in the scrum, being the heroic character he should have been becoming in Last Jedi. In fact, a decent Last Jedi script would have built Finn from reluctant hero to leader hero, instead of the whiplash we received in both movies. In Rise, Finn’s Han Solo analog is even more pronounced – he is wearing similar pants to Solo, and a vest instead of Poe’s jacket. Finn has, to a large extent, become the new Han Solo. This is solidified with him leading the ground assault in the last battle as General Finn…very Return of the Jedi, no?
Poe’s arc is harder to see. Poe is one of the new generation of characters who have less of an arc than a line – like Captain Marvel, they start, continue to be, and end knowing they are the best. There is often a forced moment of doubt, but it’s fleeting and quickly squashed. Poe is like that – he is the super hotshot pilot with all the confidence in The Force Awakens. Then in The Last Jedi, he is the same, with an added arrogance (thanks, Rian!). But still he never questions his superiority or ability.
In The Rise of Skywalker, Poe is still the same dude. Poe still has not shown that he cares about the loss of bombers at the beginning of Last Jedi – or his outright mutiny later in the same movie. He’s back in everyone’s good graces. Like it never happened. And he’s out there leading the fight with Finn.
Until the forces of the Final Order begin spanking the Resistance around with their overwhelmingly superior firepower and numbers, Poe never shows a single doubt. He chokes out an almost-apology, and then Lando and the giant ragtag fleet show up to end that right quick. Poe ends as he began, and always was, the hotshot pilot who knows how good he is. No arc…just a line.
Rey combines Finn and Poe. She has in arc – in this case The Last Jedi didn’t screw that up – but not a full one. Her personality is more like Poe – no arc to speak of.
In The Force Awakens, Rey is very self-confident, no matter the situation, and knows how good she is. She is the exact same in The Last Jedi. And continues this in The Rise of Skywalker. Her requisite self-doubt moment is like Poe’s – not long enough to actually explore. Then Luke’s force ghost sends her off to confront the Final Order, and all is well again. From a character perspective, Rey has no development, no arc, no change. Rey in her first scene is the same as in her last.
What changes here is how others relate to her, and her force powers. There is actually development there. It’s uneven across all three movies, but it exists, and it flows from A to B to C, in order even. She begins as the Finn-like reluctant hero, and grows into someone the others listen to, and even follow. We do get to feel like there is development there, and of all the characters, she is the one with the least to ignore from The Last Jedi.
From here, we get into murkier waters. Rose Tico is, perhaps, the murkiest. She was framed in The Last Jedi as if she was meant to be a hero. Then the script made that impossible. Rose was poorly written, never quite one thing or another. Remember, Star Wars fans love characters who are not heroes, or are highly reluctant heroes at best (Boba Fett, Lando).
Rose could have been a hero – using her connection to her sister, for example. She was shoehorned into the main triad, admittedly, but that can work. It just takes work. Look at Lando – he was shoehorned in too, but he worked. Rose wasn’t given the chance. And then Abrams picked the worst possible path in The Rise of Skywalker.
He just demoted her to a slightly elevated background character.
This leads to, in my opinion, completely justified accusations of caving to the online screeching of opposing fan groups. Appeasement. Which satisfies no one. The anti-Rose folks wanted her just cut out completely. The pro-Rose folks wanted her elevated to main hero status. So neither got what they wanted. For the record, I think those extremes are both absurd. Rose, as Rian Johnson treated her, couldn’t really elevate to the fourth member of the main cast – he crippled her character too much. But he also made her too central to just erase too.
In my mind, Rose should have had more of a role – maybe even leading a group off doing things at the beginning – not just aide de camp to General Leia. Then off doing things at the end, not back at base studying Star Destroyer specs. This elevates her like I think Johnson intended, without making an unpopular character a central part of the story – it still tries to satisfy both sides, true. I just think it would have been a fairer treatment of Rose than we actually get.
And, as I say every time I talk about Rose…Rose is a fictional character with real issues in the scripting and how they wrote her. Kelly Marie Tran is a real person who has managed to do a rather nice job with poor material. Attacking her because you don’t like the character she played is stupid.
In every movie we see new force powers. Every. Movie. The new ones in The Last Jedi drew a lot of criticism, which I want to talk about.
First, the conversations between Rey and Kylo were brilliant – amazing acting from Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver. And the genesis of this was at the end of Empire Strikes Back, when Luke and Vader seem to address each other, although not in a full conversation. The added co-location of items is neat too. It’s interesting that there seems to be a limit that prevents one of them from just walking into the other’s space. That could have been fun.
The co-location is also used to excellent effect when Rey passes Luke’s lightsaber to Kylo in his battle against the Knights of Ren. Very nicely done.
The resurrection of the Emperor is also a callback to his discussion at the opera with Anakin. In that conversation, Palpatine mentioned transfering life force, and powers only available to the Sith. He mentioned them again in the amphitheater on Exegol. This also includes a sort of nod to the graphic novel Dark Empire – where the Emperor is a resurrected clone of the original.
The force is used in a lot of ways in this last trilogy, and it took me time to realize that they are viewing it as I used to. The force is a means to influence the universe around you. No more, no less. So, you can run, jump, levitate, and so on as you will – only limited by imagination and will. That is how Kylo stops blaster bolts mid-air, rips information from minds, and talks to Rey across the galaxy. And I like it.
So the beginning is a series of quick cuts as the mains do things – Kylo looking for the Sith wayfinder that will lead him to Exegol; Finn, Poe & Chewie meeting with a spy who has info on where the recently revealed Palpatine is; and Rey training under Leia to better her control. This is a lot of stuff at once – Kylo is cutting people down left and right to get to the wayfinder. The Resistance team shows what hyperspace skipping does – and does to the Falcon. There is comic relief, both with the guys playing Chewbacca at the holotable, and the Falcon returning to base on fire. Humor is a good sign – it was mostly missing in the Last Jedi.
We then have the trio plus Chewie head off to find more information on where they can find a wayfinder of their own, which leads to a neat alien festival, the cool scene where Rey flips over Kylo’s TIE fighter, and the apparent death of Chewbacca when Rey force lightnings a transport. We also get the return of Lando, and more about Rey’s parents.
But, of course, Chewie isn’t dead. So off we go to rescue him. This leads to another cool Rey / Kylo scene where they talk at a distance, and even seem to engage in combat. The team rescues Chewbacca, revealing that General Hux is sort of traitor. Hux wants to foil Kylo – not betray the Order. It’s also kind of funny, as he is really petulant about it. Anyway, everyone escapes, and then it’s off to Kef Bir – another moon in the Endor system, where Rey finds the wayfinder in the wreckage of the second Death Star. Then another well choreographed lightsaber fight between Rey and Kylo happens on the wave-swept wreckage. Rey impales Kylo when Leia used the force to say his name. Leia then dies, much as Luke did. Rey heals Kylo, and takes his TIE, leaving the planet.
Once again, we split the movie. Rey flees to Luke’s place, and burns the TIE, intending to stay in hiding. Force ghost Luke shows her where Leia’s lightsaber is, and convinces her to finish things. She takes Luke’s X-Wing, and hares off to Exegol. The heroes figure out a plan, and also hare off to Exegol, sending Lando and Chewie to find reinforcements.
Now it just gets awkward. Rey confronts Palpatine, Kylo – restored to being Ben Solo – arrives to help. Rey is about to surrender to Palpatine, when Ben arrives, and they fight together against him.
The Resistance fleet arrives, and is horribly outnumbered. Several of the side characters die in the battle, of course. We also get some fan-service in the form of Anthony Daniels as an X-Wing pilot. That was nice. Poe has his moment of doubt, when Lando arrives with a huge fleet to save the day. Things look up!
Then Palpatine rejuvenates himself with Rey & Ben’s life force, and force-lightings the Resistance fleet. In all this, Finn is on the command Star Destroyer, destroying a nav tower, then remaining to destroy the command bridge by hacking a cannon on the hull. Oh yeah – they are in atmosphere for this whole battle.
Rey wakes up, defeats Palpatine, and dies. Like Leia, she does not become one with the force. Ben wakes up, transfers his life force into her, and then dies. We then see Ben and Leia become one with the force.
Everyone rejoices, the end.
Ok, so there is stuff I left out, but that’s basically it. The whole thing is a lot of action, a lot of drama, and some well played emotional scenes. With a dash of well-placed comedy. Honestly, it’s like the humor in Endgame – it’s there to show that these are real people, not to counter emotional content.
Overall, I quite liked this. Hyperspace skipping was weird, appearing to change systems with second or two in hyper. But that could just have been a Firefly-like system with many planets. I liked the call-backs to other movies. This felt the most like a finale created by a fan of the franchise.
My main problem with the whole thing is that it was rushed. A lot of that can be due to the need to bridge the gap between it and The Force Awakens. We had to get Finn back into hero mode, mostly. Kylo had to get past questioning himself. Rey had to train up. And we really needed to fix the poorly written parts of The Force Awakens.
There are some nerd issues too. The fleet Lando brings to the last battle is more Battlestar Galactica than Star Wars. And included a couple of unarmed transports, which was weird. It still works, just made me go ‘hmm?’.
If you liked The Force Awakens, you might not be into this. It is much closer in execution to The Revenge of the Sith. Mostly action, with no real character building. People are just there – no need to explain. Likewise, the attempts at social commentary are gone. There is no romantic relationship for the main triad. Yes, one of the side characters is gay, but really, that’s very minor, and not worth the apparent ‘controversy’ some insist on.
If you like Star Wars, you should like this. It isn’t perfect, but it is good. Spend the money, I expect you’ll be glad you did.