• Joel Ryan

The Twin Suns Set on the Skywalker Saga with "The Rise of Skywalker"

Updated: May 20



As a conclusion to the wonderful and wildly inconsistent Skywalker saga, The Rise of Skywalker bids farewell to the characters we’ve made the jump to lightspeed with over nine films and three trilogies. Forty-two years later I can’t help but feel a little sad to be saying goodbye.

We know this isn’t the end for Star Wars, and if The Mandalorian is any indication of things to come, there’s plenty to get excited about. However, any new stories told in a galaxy far, far away will probably be far removed from the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and Rey (and that’s not necessarily a bad thing).

Let me start off my saying that in my review of The Rise of Skywalker, I have nothing but gratitude and admiration for the entire Skywalker saga. Without the Battle of Hoth, X-Wings, Cloud City, podracing, and lightsaber battles of all nine films, I probably wouldn’t be the storyteller I am today.

We can single out individual moments, characters, and even entire episodes of the saga that we’ve enjoyed more and have worked better than others, and there are plenty of troublesome spots to discuss with Episode IX as well. But as a whole, I walked away from The Rise of Skywalker feeling grateful, inspired, and satisfied by the journey I’ve gone on with these characters. And I’m proud to say that I am just as much of a Star Wars fan today as I was before.

SPOILERS AHEAD if you haven’t seen The Rise of Skywalker yet.

Everyone will have their own opinions, and it’s likely that The Rise of Skywalker will divide Star Wars fans once again. But it’s okay to like a movie even if it’s critically unpopular. It’s also okay to love the Skywalker saga even with its problems. And it’s okay if you enjoyed the bumpy ride that is The Rise of Skywalker.

A lot of the criticism you’ll hear about The Rise of Skywalker you’ve probably heard before. Director JJ Abrams, producer Kathleen Kennedy, and Disney played it too safe or relied on nostalgia (once again) instead of taking bold, creative risks in the final chapter in the Star Wars saga.

In The Rise of Skywalker, nods to lines of dialogue, story beats, and original trilogy characters attempt to honor the fans who’ve been with Star Wars from the beginning. These cameos can feel shoehorned in at times, but how can you not smile seeing Lando back in the Falcon, Wedge Antilles back in the fight, composer John Williams cameoed as a cantina bartender, and almost every Jedi in the Star Wars saga back (at least vocally) to empower Rey in her final fight against the Emperor.

Too much of the same? Not enough? Maybe.

But wasn’t it the same fans who were upset that The Last Jedi took too many risks and flew too far from the proverbial Star Wars twin suns? Is this just a case of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t? Maybe.

Here’s another thought. Individual episodes aren’t the problem. We’re criticizing individual chapters in a book that ultimately lacks a cohesive vision. Bigger moments from previous films didn’t pay off, and many characters and subplots didn’t have anywhere to go by the end of The Rise of Skywalker, that or the filmmakers just didn’t know what to do with them.

As far as plot goes, The Rise of Skywalker reintroduces Emperor Palpatine returning from the grave through some combination of mad cloning science and dark Sith magic reminiscent of Voldemort’s return from the dead.

Having amassed a fleet of planet-killing star destroyers on the hidden Sith world of Exegol in the Unknown Regions of the galaxy, Palpatine plans to unleash the “Final Order” and install Rey as the ultimate ruler of the Sith, following her turn to the dark side.

As Kylo Ren seeks out the ultimate Star Wars big bad to remove any threat to his own supremacy, Rey, Finn, Poe, and Chewie, travel across the galaxy to find a Sith wayfinder that will lead them to Exegol. There they hope to ignite the Resistance and destroy the Emperor, his fleet, and the First/Final Order once and for all.

Here’s where The Rise of Skywalker reveals one of the trilogy’s biggest issues.

Learning that Emperor Palpatine is not only back but the one pulling the strings this entire trilogy is a pretty big reveal. Okay, it’s a little derivative to have our heroes battling against Palpatine… again (this goes back to what I was saying before about more of the same), but the fact that Palpatine was the who created Snoke and the First Order, seduced Ben Solo, and was the grandfather of Rey is a lot to dump on us.

Looking back, there are a few hints at Palpatine’s influence/return and Rey’s connection to the Palpatine lineage going back to The Force Awakens but not enough from The Last Jedi to sustain the mystery. Snoke (the supposed big bad of this trilogy) was unceremoniously killed off and the mystery of Rey’s parents was squashed? We’re not sure.

Episode IX tries to resurrect (no pun intended) these plot points. Sometimes it works, other times it feels more like a patched-up cloning experiment gone wrong.

We learn that Palpatine has returned from the dead IN THE TITLE CRAWL of The Rise of Skywalker! WHAT? It’s just stated and we’re off and running.

Yes, The Rise of Skywalker keeps the story moving, but the Emperor’s return is a big enough and shocking reveal that should come as an inevitable payoff that’s been set up throughout the trilogy. That didn’t happen, or at the very least, not enough to make it feel earned.

The Rise of Skywalker feels like an ending that could have been planned as early as The Force Awakens, but then The Last Jedi happened and smashed or discarded a lot of that set up in the same way that Kylo Ren destroyed his helmet or Luke tossed his lightsaber over his shoulder.

As a result, The Rise of Skywalker spends a lot of time tractor beaming the story back from where The Last Jedi had taken it, patching holes along the way. Unfortunately, a lot of coure corrections came too late in the game.

As Luke’s Force ghost tells Rey on the planet of Ahch-to, “I was wrong.”

This feels like Kathleen Kennedy and the creative team at Lucasfilm taking ownership for The Last Jedi as much as anything, acknowledging those fans who felt betrayed by some of Episode VIII’s narrative choices and the choices

I’ll be straightforward. I am not a huge fan of The Last Jedi. But I also don’t think it or its director, Rian Johnson, deserve the hate they’ve received from fans either. Many people believe that Episode VIII is a really good film by itself, and that’s probably true. The problem is, the saga films don’t exist in isolation.

The Last Jedi ignored or discarded significant story beats and set ups from The Force Awakens to take the franchise in a different direction. We can discuss whether that was the right direction for this trilogy or not, but in a saga in which episodes act like chapters in a larger story, it’s really difficult to change course mid-trilogy and still create a cohesive three-part narrative when all is said and done.

I’m all for taking creative risks, but those kinds of risks should have been taken or established in the tone of The Force Awakens, not Episode VIII. And abandoning or disregarding story set up just to do something different is a risk that doesn’t always lead to the reward of audience satisfaction.

For example:

· With The Force Awakens, Finn was easily one of my favorite characters. With The Last Jedi, however, he quickly became one of my least favorites. As a defected stormtrooper and (essentially) a child soldier, Finn had so much potential coming out of The Force Awakens, but then his story arc scuttled in Episode VIII. By the end of The Last Jedi, I had no idea why I should care about him moving forward. I liked that The Rise of Skywalker connected him with new character Jannah and other stormtroopers who’ve escaped the First Order. Finn could have become a beacon for former stormtroopers to rally around, but by the time this subplot is even remotely developed, the filmmakers were already too deep into Episode IX to do anything with it.

· Apart from C3-PO, the droids of The Rise of Jedi are also largely forgotten, including beloved BB-8 and R2-D2. And new droid D-O serves little purpose other than to sell toys.

· The same can also be said of the new Sith Troopers and Knights of Ren, make great Lego minifigures and toys but are grossly underused in the finished film.

· Star Wars has had a habit of pre-marketing and merchandizing the heck out of new characters that the film itself fails to take full advantage of. This happened with Zorii Bliss in The Rise of Skywalker, which could have been an amazing new character, but once again Abrams neglected Kerri Russel’s talents, similar to what happened with Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma.

· Other minor characters were brushed off or buried altogether. Rose wasn’t one of my favorite characters from The Last Jedi, but she deserved way more from The Rise of Skywalker. And it would have been nice to see a little more from Maz Kanata as well.

· General Hux was never a formidable foe or commanding presence in the tradition of other Imperial baddies like Tarkin from A New Hope or Krennic from Rogue One. New First Order leader, General Pryde, however, played by Richard Grant, was what Hux should have been all along. Ruthless, commanding, and cold. Once again, this is a course correction made too late. And suddenly making General Hux a spy for the Resistance, solely because he wanted to see Kylo Ren lose, might be one of the weakest twists in the entire trilogy.

· We also see Rey and Kylo Ren do things with the Force we’ve NEVER seen on screen before. Force-healing, Force-bonds, Force-transfers. There’s a lot about the Force we see for the first time but never really learn about in these movies. Why can Rey do things that Yoda, Obi-Wan, and Darth Vader seemingly couldn’t? In a trilogy that began with the Force awakening, shouldn’t we know a little more about how it has and what’s changed?

· I did enjoy the final Sith/Jedi showdown, namely because we got to hear the ghosts of Jedi past, but the final fight, like many set pieces in the film, felt lackluster. I guess the days of Duel of the Fates, the Battle of Heroes, The Death Star Trench Run, and the Throne Room Battle are gone.

· Also, whatever happened to the Force-sensitive kid at the end of The Last Jedi? Ending the saga with Rey visiting Luke’s old home on Tatooine is an absolutely perfect finale and closing shot!!! But what comes next? I’m not asking for a follow-up trilogy, but where does Rey go now that the Sith and Final Order have been destroyed? The Force has seemingly awoken across the galaxy. Rey may be the last Jedi and last Skywalker, but she’s not the only Force-sensitive person in the galaxy. What next? Just a hint of where she and the Force are going next would have been nice.

· And I’m sorry, is hyperspace skipping a thing?

· And while I love the trio of Rey, Finn, and Poe, it’s hard to buy into their friendship being the heart and soul of this trilogy when we haven’t seen them operating as an actual trio until this movie. In fact, how many scenes do Rey and Poe actually share prior to The Rise of Skywalker? Finn and Poe together are fun. Finn and Rey are great. They may be fun characters and a great the new trio, but their only adventure together comes far too late in the game. Compared to Luke, Han, and Leia in A New Hope, the new trio never really had the chance to become what we wanted, or the trilogy needed, them to be.

As we say goodbye to these characters, the sad reality is that we will also start to say goodbye to some of the actors who portray them. After the loss of Carrie Fisher, shortly after principal photography of The Last Jedi had wrapped, we all wondered how the passing of General Leia would be handled in The Rise of Skywalker. Using unused footage and a little bit of movie magic with Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd, Leia’s final sendoff in The Rise of Skywalker was handled well. We also learn a few secrets about Leia’s Jedi training that we were wondering all along.

There was an appropriate reverence for the original trio of Han, Luke, and Leia, and each character’s brief moments in the film, including Harrison Ford’s scene with his son and Luke’s moment with Rey, were wonderful.

Story beats are often forced, major payoffs and reveals rushed, and significant themes muddled throughout this entire trilogy. Questions are answered, some better than others, but The Rise of Skywalker does its best to finish the story, satisfy Star Wars fans, respect the legacy of what’s come before, and end the saga on a high note.

Well, it hits “a” note, just maybe not the one we were hoping for, unless we focus solely on John Williams’ always brilliant score!

Star Wars began with an unlikely hero staring into the twin suns of Tatooine and ended with a new hero taking the Skywalker name and staring into the same twin suns of the same desert planet. In many ways, The Rise of Skywalker is the somber sunset to a journey we’ve gone on with the Skywalkers since A New Hope (Episode IV). It is also a heartfelt tribute (and thank you) to the fans, who, as passionate and possessive as they can be at times, have championed the Skywalker family and their friends along the way.

Will they remain loyal beyond the Skywalker Saga? Time will tell, but as a storyteller whose life was changed by The Empire Strikes Back and the world George Lucas created, I’ll remain optimistic and grateful nonetheless.

With that being said, I hope you enjoy Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and future Star Wars stories in the years to come. I’ll be reviewing The Mandalorian next week so don’t forget to check back. Thank you so much for reading. If you liked this post, tap the heart below, and if you loved it, don’t forget to subscribe to Perspectives off the Page for updates and new content.

Until then, Merry Christmas, Storytellers, and May the Force be with You!

© 2023 by The Book Lover. Proudly created with Wix.com