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  • Joel Ryan

The Suns Set on the Skywalker Saga in a Bittersweet Farewell

Updated: 6 hours ago

As the conclusion to the wonderful and wildly inconsistent Skywalker saga, The Rise of Skywalker bids a very fond farewell to the characters we’ve come to love and traveled with across the galaxy for nine films and three trilogies. And now, forty-two years later, the Skywalker saga has finally come to an end, and I can’t help but feel a little sad to be saying goodbye.

We know this isn’t the end of Star Wars, and if The Mandalorian is any indication of things to come, there’s plenty to get excited about with Star Wars moving forward. 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 it be known that in my analysis of The Rise of Skywalker, I have nothing but gratitude and admiration for the entire Skywalker saga, including Episode IX. Without the Battle of Hoth, X-Wings, Cloud City, podracing, and lightsaber battles of all nine films, I probably wouldn’t be the storyteller and artist I am today.

Of course, we can single out individual moments, characters, and even entire episodes of the saga that we’ve enjoyed more or that have worked better than others, and there are plenty of praiseworthy moments to analyze and 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 ultimately 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 a I was before, moved by what I believe is an entertaining conclusion an otherwise incredible saga. I recognize that that’s not exactly glowing praise for The Rise of Skywalker, but it’s also not scorn either.

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

The Rise of Skywalker has been largely panned by critics but liked by most people I’ve talked to so far. Compare that to the The Last Jedi (Episode VIII), which was praised by critics but hated by many fans, some of whom are still angry with director Rian Johnson and the direction he chose to steer the saga’s sequel trilogy.

Everyone will have their own opinions, and it’s probable that The Rise of Skywalker will divide 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 imperfections and enjoy the often-bumpy ride that is The Rise of Skywalker and sequel trilogy.

The critics aren’t necessarily wrong in their analysis of The Rise of Skywalker, but neither are fans for enjoying it either.

A lot of the criticism thrown at The Rise of Skywalker will argue that director JJ Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy played it safe and relied on nostalgia (once again) instead of taking creative risks and doing something bold in this final chapter in the Star Wars saga. But then again, reliance on nostalgia was established early on with The Force Awakens, so are we really surprised that this trend continued with The Rise of Skywalker and Abrams’ return to the director’s chair?

Yes, The Rise of Skywalker gives us a lot of what we’ve already seen before, but Episode IX also didn’t have to reinvent the wheel or do something daring to satisfy fans or end the Skywalker saga on the right note either.

In The Rise of Skywalker, nods to lines of dialogue, story beats, and original trilogy characters are there to honor the fans who’ve been with Star Wars from the beginning. These moments and brief 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, Chewie finally getting his medal, composer John Williams cameoed as a cantina bartender, and almost every Jedi in the Star Wars saga back (at least vocally) to encourage and empower Rey in her final fight against Emperor Palpatine.

As far as plot goes, The Rise of Skywalker finds Emperor Palpatine returning from the grave through some combination of mad cloning science and dark Sith magic reminiscent of Voldemort’s resurrection. Having amassed a fleet of planet-killing star destroyers on the hidden Sith world of Exegol in the Unknown Regions of the galaxy, Palpatine intends to unleash the “Final Order” on the galaxy and install Rey as the ultimate ruler of the Sith with her turn to the dark side. As Kylo Ren seeks out the legendary dark lord of the Sith 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 time is a pretty big reveal. Okay, it’s a little derivative to have our heroes battling against the ultimate dark lord of the Sith in the final film in the trilogy… again (this goes back to what I was saying before about more of the same), but the fact that he was the who created Snoke and the First Order, seduced Ben Solo, and was the grandfather of Rey is a lot to take in.

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 this mystery. Snoke (the supposed big bad of this trilogy) was unceremoniously killed off and the mystery of Rey’s parents was seemingly squashed. Episode IX tries to resurrect these plot points to the level of significance once again. Sometimes it works, other times it feels more like a patched-up cloning experiment gone wrong.

The Palpatine twist in The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t come as a rewarding reveal or twist at all, more of a rushed plot point gotten out of the way as early as possible because the filmmakers didn’t have time to properly build up to it.

We learn that Palpatine has returned from the dead in the title crawl of The Rise of Skywalker! That's it! It’s just stated and we’re off and running. Was this what was intended at all along?

Yes, The Rise of Skywalker keeps the story moving, and I did enjoy the quest to find the Sith wayfinder that leads to Exegol, but the Emperor’s return is the kind of big reveal that should come as an inevitable payoff that’s been consistently 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 Kylo Ren destroyed his helmet and Luke tossed his lightsaber over his shoulder. As a result, The Rise of Skywalker spends a lot of time trying to pull the story back from where The Last Jedi had taken it, course correcting, and patching holes along the way, particularly in regards to Rey’s parentage, Finn’s arc, the origin of Supreme Leader Snoke, the redemption of Ben Solo, the legacy of Luke Skywalker, Leia’s connection to the Force, and the very nature of the Force itself. Unfortunately, a lot of the 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 alienated by some of Episode VIII’s narrative 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 solid piece of filmmaking in and of itself, and that might be true. The problem is, the saga films don’t exist in isolation.

The Last Jedi ignored or walked away from 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 investment or satisfaction.

This is ultimately one of my biggest takeaways from the sequel trilogy: it seems to lack a clear vision and consistent thread to unite Episode VII, VIII, and IX. 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.

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 didn’t go anywhere in Episode VIII. By the end of The Last Jedi, I had no idea why I should care about him moving forward. I loved 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 rely behind as they resist the evils of the First Order, but by the time this subplot is even remotely developed, the filmmakers were already too deep into the film to do anything substantial with it.

  • Apart from a few nice C3-PO moments, 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, which were really cool-looking and make great Lego minifigures but grossly underused in the finished film. At least the Ewoks contributed more to the plot of Return of the Jedi.

  • 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 even I felt she deserved more from The Rise of Skywalker. And it would have been nice to see a little more from Maz Kanata.

  • General Hux was also 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 moments in the entire trilogy. Petulance isn't a recipe for a great Star Wars villain. It's just pathetic.

  • 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 what has 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, Battle of the Heroes, The Death Star Trench Run, and the Throne Room Battle are gone. Even the Millenium Falcon chase on Jakku in The Force Awakens had more going for it.

  • 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? It's the Holdo-maneuver 2.0.

  • 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 are wonderful. 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, Leia’s final sendoff in The Rise of Skywalker was handled beautifully. 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. And ultimately, The Rise of Skywalker does its best to finish the story, please Star Wars fans, respect the legacy of what’s come before, and end the saga on a satisfying note. I think, for the most part, it does that.

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 suns of the same desert planet. In many ways, The Rise of Skywalker is the somber yet satisfying sunset to a journey we’ve gone on with the Skywalkers since A New Hope. 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.

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!