The Rise of Skywalker: A Disappointing End to the Skywalker Saga

It was Star Wars Day (May 4) on Monday, so I’ve been in a Star Wars mood this week. It seemed like a good time to go over the most recent entry in the franchise, The Rise of Skywalker.

I love Star Wars. I have since I was a kid. I was already a die-hard fan by the time the prequels came out; for all their flaws, I was always excited to go see them in the theater. When Episode VII came out (right around my birthday, no less), my friends and I went to an all-day, big-screen marathon of the entire franchise, culminating in the debut of The Force Awakens–an experience I still consider one of the best days of my life. I care a lot about this franchise, is what I’m saying. So, naturally, I was as excited as anyone to see how it (or at least the Skywalker-centric portion of it) would end.

Unfortunately, the ending we got didn’t live up to my hopes.

I should preface this review by saying a few things. First of all, I adore The Last Jedi. I know it’s divisive among the fanbase, but I love that it tries to shake things up. I love how Rey and Kylo develop; I love the introduction of Rose; I even love Luke’s self-imposed isolation, and his gradual realization that it was the wrong choice. I think the film took risks and was all the better for it.

Secondly, I’m a big fan of the new Expanded Universe. When Disney acquired the rights and announced they were purging the old EU (now branded Legends), I was excited. I had always been interested in the EU, but by the time I was old enough to get into it, it had already been going for decades. It felt too overwhelming to try to penetrate. A new EU, though? One I could jump into from the beginning? Heck yes, sign me up. I’ve loved the shows, comics, and books I’ve read in the Disney era.

More than anything else, it was these two things that led to my disappointment in Rise of Skywalker. It’s a film that desperately does not want to be the sequel to The Last Jedi, on top of completely disregarding the EU. Oh, and to anyone who says (as I have frequently seen argued online) that director J. J. Abrams “had no choice” but to do the movie this way because “there was nowhere to go after Last Jedi,” no. That’s a completely ridiculous argument. At the end of TLJ, the Resistance needs rebuilt, Rey has the Jedi texts and could theoretically begin gathering and training new Jedi, Kylo had become completely unhinged, there could be unknown repercussions to Snoke’s death… any one of those threads could’ve formed the basis of the next film.

Instead of exploring any of that, though, Rise of Skywalker takes an immediate wrong step by announcing in the opening crawl (yes, it’s not even a decent on-screen reveal) that hey, Palpatine is back! Turns out he isn’t dead (somehow) and he actually was Snoke, or was responsible for Snoke (somehow), and this whole trilogy has been part of his machinations all along (somehow). Don’t get me wrong, I love Palpatine as a villain, but this is a terrible twist. It’s executed poorly, it retroactively lessens the impact of Anakin’s redemption and sacrifice (I guess he didn’t kill Palpatine and restore balance after all, huh?), it’s boring (turns out the bad guy is… the same old bad guy we’ve been dealing with for decades), and it completely messes up threads the EU has been setting up for years–without getting into it too much, the EU establishes the First Order as being an Imperial fragment that is specifically opposed to how Palpatine ran things, with further implications that there were beings in the Unknown Regions that even Palpatine feared who may have had a hand in the First Order’s rise. But, uh… psych! It was all just an elaborate smokescreen by the Emperor, I guess.

The other frustrating thing about Palpatine’s arrival is that Kylo Ren–whose whole development last film was summed up as “Leave the past behind; kill it, if you have to”–immediately teams up with him to establish a new Empire. Sure, we find out pretty quickly that he’s trying to use Palpatine for his own ends, but… why? Seriously, the Emperor (and presumably his whole weird cult on Exegol) are Sith. The Sith actively encourage betrayal for personal gain. Why doesn’t Kylo just kill the decrepit old Emperor and take his fancy fleet? The team-up seems completely unnecessary.

Ah, but it does set up one of my least favorite things about the film: the reveal that Rey is actually a Palpatine! Not only does this completely undermine TLJ‘s ‘anyone can be a hero’ theme, it’s just… sort of lame. The hero secretly being related to the villain isn’t unique or interesting–it’s exactly what we saw in the original trilogy, actually. Sorry, kids–guess you can only be a big hero if your dad (or grandpa, in this case) was someone important!

Speaking of disappointing backstory reveals, what’s the deal with Poe having been a spice runner? This is another one of those EU-breaking reveals that frustrates me to no end. We know from Shattered Empire that Poe’s parents were Rebel pilots who served alongside Luke–that was all the explanation needed to justify his piloting skills and loyalty to Leia and the Resistance. What purpose does having him be a smuggler serve, except to make him marginally more similar to Han Solo? It doesn’t add to the story in a meaningful way, it doesn’t fit well with his established background, and it’s foreshadowed very clumsily in the film itself–Finn keeps alluding to Poe being ‘shady’ because he… knew how to steal a speeder? Something a talented pilot/spy/high-ranking member of an underground resistance movement would probably know how to do regardless?

On the topic of Poe’s weird new past, it’s got some other baggage in the form of two new side-characters, Zorii Bliss and Babu Frik. I’m just gonna say it: Zorii Bliss is a waste of a character. She’s got a cool character design and is played by a talented actress (Keri Russell), but her writing makes no sense. When Poe first shows up on her planet, she wants to kill him, and goes so far as to say, “All I want is to see your brains in the snow!” Then, about five minutes of screentime later, they’re sharing a heartfelt conversation and she asks him to run away with her. What? She also implies early on that she doesn’t care about the Resistance and resents that Poe left their gang to join it, but later makes a big deal about how evil the First Order is and how everyone needs to band together to stop them. It’s the kind of development that would work over the course of the trilogy (or even a single film, if she had enough focus) but seems ludicrous in the tiny amount of screentime she gets. Babu Frik isn’t quite as egregious (and is actually a fairly charming character on his own), except Zorii makes a big deal about the fact that “Babu Frik only works for the crew,” only for him to end up having Resistance contacts on Endor later in the movie.

Let’s talk about Endor, too, while we’re at it. Endor actually has one of the better elements of Rise of Skywalker: Jannah and her crew of former Stormtroopers. The fact that there are other First Order deserters is cool, and I love the implication that Force sensitivity seems to be a factor in turning Stormtroopers against their masters. The fact that Finn is beginning to realize his connection to the Force is awesome, and something I had been hoping for all trilogy. Jannah seems neat as well, even if I do feel like she got to have all the scenes that should have gone to Rose–a character who was sidelined hard by this movie.

Sidebar: I thought Rose was great in TLJ, and to minimize her as this film did is a huge disservice to the character and her actress, Kelly Marie Tran, who suffered a torrent of online abuse after the last film; it is an act of capitulation to the worst part of the Star Wars fanbase and by far one of the poorest decisions in Rise of Skywalker.

Another bad choice? A large part of the movie revolves around hunting down a Sith wayfinder that will lead the characters to Palpatine’s secret base. That’s all fine and good, but it’s handled so sloppily. The big macguffin for most of the plot is a knife that is inscribed with the wayfinder’s location, which… what? Why? Who made this knife, and when? Why does it still work? It points to a specific spot in the ruins of the Death Star, which are in an ocean–surely the tides would have moved them or they would have eroded enough to shift or something by now! It doesn’t make a lick of sense. Also, just to point out another wasted EU opportunity, there’s a running thread in a few EU works about a mysterious compass Luke recovers from one of Palpatine’s vaults post-Return of the Jedi; why couldn’t that have been the key to finding Exegol? It would’ve paid off an interesting plot thread and tied into the larger universe!

Of course, this movie doesn’t seem that interested in paying things off. Finn has something he needs to tell Rey? Eh, don’t worry about it (if you’re paying attention it’s not too hard to infer that he wants to tell her about his Force sensitivity, but it’s not hard to miss that, either). Knights of Ren finally show up? Eh, Ben takes them all out in a matter of minutes. Hux has turned traitor to take out Kylo? Whatever, just kill him off immediately so we don’t have to deal with that. Threepio has to lose all his memories in a poignant sacrifice? Haha, nah, he gets them all back!

Hey, that’s another thing about this movie: it loves to pretend to kill people. Chewie dies, except he doesn’t; Threepio loses all his memories, except he doesn’t; Rey fatally wounds Kylo, except then she heals him; Ben is killed by Palpatine, except then he’s fine; Rey dies fighting Palpatine, except then Ben heals her. It’s extremely frustrating, as is the fact that the only death that sticks is Ben’s last death after saving Rey. Seriously? The trilogy goes to all this trouble to set up a redemption arc, he finally gives up being Kylo Ren, and then he gets a handful of scenes and no dialogue before unceremoniously fading away.

Also, it drives me nuts that he fades away at all! It’s been established (again, in EU materials like The Clone Wars, though the implication is also in Revenge of the Sith) that becoming a Force ghost is an extremely difficult technique that only a handful of powerful Jedi have mastered. How does Ben know how to do it? More importantly, how does Leia–who gave up on her training pretty early (fun fact: she says in the novel Bloodline that she didn’t train as a Jedi and never wanted to, but hey, apparently nothing in the EU matters)–manage to pull it off? And several hours after she died, too! Her corpse just disappears along with her son’s, which… what?

Okay, okay, this has just turned into a rant at this point. Bottom line: this does not feel like a film that respects the franchise as a whole–not the EU, for sure, but not even earlier core films. Add to that the overall weak writing, storm of cliches (the big fleet arriving to save the day, the clumsy “Rey Skywalker” line at the end and its ham-fisted setup early on), and lack of engagement with its own characters (Poe and especially Finn have next to nothing to do until the very end), and you’ve got a pretty disappointing film.

That said, there are some bright spots. The action overall is good, with a special mention to the scene on the Star Destroyer above Kijimi–Poe and Finn’s firefight in the halls is great, and the Force Bond duel between Rey and Kylo is astounding. In general, the Force Bond is used extremely well in this movie; it helps carry forward Rey and Kylo’s relationship, and its ability to affect the physical world is one of the few decent payoffs we get.

The humor is also good, particularly the jokes involving C-3PO. I was pleasantly surprised to find the droid the funniest part of the film! Speaking of droids, the new droid D-O is adorable and I want to adopt him.

Leia was handled as well as could be expected (there was definitely some awkwardness, and her death was a bit anticlimactic, but given the circumstances that’s completely understandable), and I loved the fact that she became Rey’s master.

For the brief few scenes that we get him, Ben Solo is fantastic. Adam Driver completely changes from his Kylo persona, and it’s wonderful to watch. It’s a real shame that he dies before getting to develop further.

I have a lot more to say about this movie, but most of it is just more angry ranting. I just want to close by saying that, even though I really don’t like this movie… that’s okay. Do I wish it were different? Of course. Do I get kind of fired up about disliking it? Clearly, yes. But at the end of the day, it’s just a movie. I don’t wish ill on anyone involved in making it, and it didn’t “ruin Star Wars.” I’ve still got ten other great movies to watch (well… nine other great movies and The Phantom Menace). I’ve still got lots of EU stuff that I love. I’ve still got a ton of fond memories of the franchise, and I’m sure I’ll make a ton more as new movies, games, and books come out.

…Okay, one last complaint, though: that blue lightsaber was NOT Luke’s! It was Anakin’s! Luke only used it until he learned how to build his own lightsaber! Luke’s saber is the green one he used in Return of the Jedi!

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