• Joel Ryan

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

Image via Disney/Lucasfilm Ltd.

As a conclusion to the wildly inconsistent Skywalker saga, The Rise of Skywalker bid farewell to the characters we’ve made the jump to lightspeed over 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 removed from the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and Rey (and that might not be a bad thing).

Let me start off my saying that in my review of The Rise of Skywalker, I have nothing but admiration for George Lucas and most of the Skywalker saga (most). 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 even become a writer.

I may have walked away from The Rise of Skywalker disappointed, but I am also grateful for the legacy that is Star Wars. Imperfect in its parts, but as a whole, supremely entertaining, Star Wars has brought joy and inspiration to countless movie fans, filmmakers, and storytellers over the years.

Star Wars is one of the best stories ever told and one of the most important. Unfortunately, some storytellers and filmmakers have understood the mythology and magic of Star Wars better than others, and when it comes to The Rise of Skywalker, the chapters of Disney’s Star Wars trilogy are proof that respect for good storytelling, classic archetypes, traditions, tropes, and the fans that first fell in love with the Skywalker family are essential to keeping the Star Wars saga alive.

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

The basic plot of The Rise of Skywalker (Episode IX) picks up where The Last Jedi (Episode VIII) left off.

The survival of the Resistance hangs in the balance. Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) work with General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) to rally citizens of the galaxy to join the cause against the First Order. Rey (Daisy Ridley) continues her training under the guidance of the ancient Jedi texts “borrowed” from Luke Skywalker. All the while, the First Order continues to grow more totalitarian in nature under the might of Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who searches the galaxy for the resurgent Emperor Palpatine, who, low and behold, has found a path to resurrection through some form of cloning science and Sith magic, and now vows revenge on all who refuse to submit to his final rule.

As the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) moves to unleash his Final Order, a massive armada of Star Destroyers hidden on the hidden Sith world of Exegol, and install Rey as the ultimate ruler of the Sith, Rey and the Resistance must travel the galaxy in search of an ancient Sith artifact that will lead them to Exegol and help them defeat Palpatine, the Final Order, and the Sith once and for all.

There are a lot of plot points that go nowhere. The story doesn’t fit with the rest of the trilogy. And the movie does what it can to land the ship and wrap things up in the most cohesive way possible. Unfortunately, what we get is a crash landing on a ship that, quite frankly, wasn’t designed well enough to begin with.

The wider criticism thrown at The Rise of Skywalker is relatively applicable to the entire trilogy.

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

  • The creative team at Lucasfilm didn't have a clear vision from the beginning.

  • Disney tried to modernize Star Wars instead of respecting and adhering to the Star Wars mythology.

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.

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. It’s also a little derivative to have our heroes battling against Palpatine… again, 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 too 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 to sustain and payoff that kind of mystery.

Snoke (the supposed big bad of this trilogy) was unceremoniously killed off in Episode 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 Emperor Palpatine has returned from the dead IN THE TITLE CRAWL! It’s just stated. We’re supposed to accept the resurrection of Star Wars’ biggest bad and just move on.

Was this the plan all along? We now know from interviews that, no, it was not.

JJ Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy were figuring things out as they went along, which is probably not the best strategy for creating a consistent, satisfying trilogy.

Because of this, significant plot points and characters arcs go nowhere, get discarded, or get shoved in at the last minute, leaving us all with a sense of narrative whiplash, confused and disappointed by what we’re seeing.

For example:

With The Force Awakens, Finn was easily one of my favorite characters. With The Last Jedi, he quickly became one of my least favorites.

As a defected stormtrooper and child soldier, Finn had potential coming out of The Force Awakens, but then his story arc got scuttled in The Last Jedi. By the end of that film, 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 introduced, the filmmakers were already too deep in 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 Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) wasn’t my favorite new character from The Last Jedi, but at the very least Kelly Marie Tran deserved WAY more from The Rise of Skywalker. And it would have been nice to see a little more from Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) as well.

Again, these can be interesting characters, but if they only exist to further the plot or signal the studio’s commitment to inclusion and representation, they’re pawns more than actual people, used, abused, and discarded, and we know it.

General Hux (Domhall Gleeson) 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 (Richard Grant), 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? 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 enjoy 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 a unit 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.

Furthermore, not allowing Luke, Han, and Leia to share any screen time as an original trio in this new trilogy might have been one of the greatest misses of all.

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 appropriately.

In The Rise of Skywalker, unlike The Last Jedi, there was at least 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 moments with Rey, were wonderful.

Story beats are forced, major payoffs and reveals rushed, and significant themes muddled throughout this entire trilogy.

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

In many ways, 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. No shame if you did.

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Thanks again. Now get back to writing