• Joel Ryan

The Twin Suns Set on the Skywalker Saga: "The Rise of Skywalker" Review

As a conclusion to the wildly inconsistent Skywalker saga, The Rise of Skywalker bids farewell to the characters we’ve made the jump to lightspeed with through nine films and three trilogies.

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 George Lucas and most of the Skywalker saga. Without the Battle of Hoth, X-Wings, Cloud City, podracing, and lightsaber battles, I probably wouldn’t have been inspired to go to film school or become a writer.

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.

As a whole, I walk away from The Rise of Skywalker disappointed but grateful at the same time. I may be frustrated by the new trilogy's failures, but I am also just as much a fan of Star Wars fan today as I was before The Rise of Skywalker did what it could to bring an inconsistent and unfocused trilogy to a conclusion.

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

A lot of the criticism thrown at The Rise of Skywalker you’ve probably heard before.

  • Director JJ Abrams, producer Kathleen Kennedy, and Disney played it too safe.

  • The creative team at Lucasfilm didn't have a clear vision for the new trilogy.

  • The powers-that-be relied too heavily on nostalgia and merchandizing instead of taking bold, creative risks.

  • Disney tried to modernize Star Wars and "go woke" instead of respecting and adhering to the more archetypal, ancient nature of the Star Wars brand.

Maybe it's all of the above. Maybe people are just tired of Star Wars (though I don't think that's the case). Maybe fans of the original Star Wars know what they love and are capable of identifying when the recipe they've enjoyed for decades has suddenly (and unnecessarily) changed.

Do the creative powers at Lucasfilm need fan permission to make such changes? Of course not. However, they should, at the very least, recognize what made their signature dish such a beloved classic and not blame fans for vocalizing when they're unhappy about certain forms of creative meddling.

In many ways, The Rise of Skywalker feels like an attempt to win back fans who were already starting to check out after the debacle that was The Last Jedi. This is where nods to lines of dialogue, story beats, and original trilogy characters get shoehorned in.

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 may bring a smile to fan faces, but it's not be enough to save the ship from crashing and burning on a distant planet we never really wanted to visit in the first place.

One episode isn't the problem. We'd be criticizing later chapters in a book that lacks a cohesive vision from the start. Bigger moments from previous films simply didn’t pay off because they weren't properly set up, and many characters and subplots didn’t have anywhere to go because the filmmakers just didn’t know what to do with them.

Many people have pointed to director Colin Trevorrow's leaked Episode IX screenplay that was ultimately rejected. Would his storyline have helped guide The Rise of Skywalker? Perhaps, but again, that's not the film we were given, and I for one am not interested in pulling a Snyder Cut with Star Wars by petitioning for the Trevorrow version of Episode IX.

Even though George Lucas did plenty of tampering with his original trilogy, in the end, love it or hate it, we have the film we got in theaters and a few deleted scenes. At some point, you have to stop rewriting history and simply move on.

Instead, 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 one who created Snoke and the First Order, seduced Ben Solo, and was the grandfather of Rey is a lot to throw at us this late in the game.

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 in VIII and the mystery of Rey’s parents was squashed as well. Or was it? 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.

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

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, the story "geniuses" at Lucasfilm never really own up to their previous mistakes. Instead, they pretend like this was their plan all along. We know it wasn't.

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. Cinematically? Maybe, but the problem is, these films don’t exist in isolation.

The Last Jedi ignored or discarded significant story beats to take the franchise in an entirely 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 and the mythology of Star Wars just to do something different is a risk that doesn’t always lead to the payoff 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 got scuttled in Episode VIII. By the end of The Last Jedi, I had no idea why I should care about Finn moving forward. I liked that The Rise of Skywalker connected him with new character Jannah and other stormtroopers who’ve escaped the First Order. Here, 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 the 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, who make great Lego minifigures 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 interesting 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.

-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, and the Throne Room Battle are gone.

-Also, whatever happened to the Force-sensitive kid at the end of The Last Jedi? Rey may be the last Jedi and last Skywalker, but she’s not the only Force-sensitive person in the galaxy. What comes next? Just a hint of where she and the Force are going next would have been nice.

-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 never could? In a trilogy that began with the Force "awakening", shouldn’t we know a little more about how it actually has and what’s changed? Are the storytellers trying to tell us something about the original Star Wars and its fanbase? What was wrong with the previous trilogy, its mythology, and its heroes that required this kind of "awakening"?

-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 fine. 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 this trilogy needed them to be.

Anyway, 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, 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.

In The Rise of Skywalker, unlike The Last Jedi, the was an appropriate respect 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 struggles to finish the story, satisfy Star Wars fans, respect the legacy of what’s come before, and end the saga on a high note.

Star Wars began with an unlikely hero staring into the twin suns of Tatooine and ended with a new hero of sorts appropriating the Skywalker name and staring into the same twin suns of the same desert planet.

The Rise of Skywalker is a somber sunset to a journey we’ve gone on with the Skywalkers since A New Hope. It's just too bad it wasn't as triumphant as it could have been.


But what did you think? If you enjoyed Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, let me know. I’ll be reviewing The Mandalorian next week, so they're be plenty more Star Wars to talk about in the days to come.

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Until Today, Storytellers