Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is here! It’s the Eleventh movie in the franchise — thirteenth if you count the Ewok movies, but let’s not.
I watched it, and… well, I have things to say, of course.
If you’ve managed to avoid the Star Wars franchise: wow, you’ve managed to avoid one of the largest influences in science fiction and fantasy of the last 40 years. That’s fine, of course, but there is no short introduction that will really help you understand the Rise of Skywalker. If you want to understand, go watch A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, The Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens, and The Last Jedi, in that order, then come back here.
The Rise of Skywalker picks up an undetermined amount of time — a few months, I guess — down the line from where The Last Jedi left off. Kylo Ren is following a mysterious signal that leads him to… holy crap! No, I won’t spoil the rather hamfisted surprise.
An equally mysterious spy informs the rebels about Kylo’s find and Rey and the gang go in search of the source of the same mysterious signal. This brings Rey — still not fully trained — in direct conflict with Kylo, and things quickly escalate from there.
The plot that keeps on plotting
Rise of Skywalker is a two-hour plus movie, but J.J. Abrams and pals crammed a Lord of the Rings worth of plot in there. A lot of stuff happens. There’s a score of loose ends to tie up and a lot of things going on. The movie manages to strike a reasonable balance between all those things and the center piece of the franchise: the conflict between Kylo Ren and Rey.
That balance isn’t perfect, and the plots don’t really mesh together well. It’s like you’re watching two different movies on different TV channels and you keep switching between them. This has become a kind of staple of the franchise by now, started with The Empire Strikes Back and continued in The Return of the Jedi, the Last Jedi, and now The Rise of Skywalker. The thing is: it only really worked in The Empire Strikes Back. In the Empire Strikes Back, things come together at the end. In The Rise of Skywalker, they all do their own thing, barely speaking to each other, and only meet up after the climax.
The plot in Rise of Skywalker is messy, and people keep having to chase macGuffins. A MacGuffin is ‘object, device, or event that is necessary to the plot and the motivation of the characters, but insignificant, unimportant, or irrelevant in itself’. In this case, it’s a clue to find… a thing I won’t spoil… to find a place I won’t spoil… to then… Yeah, go see the movie. Let’s just say this movie plays out like a video game filled with too many fetch quests.
The case of the missing characters arcs
As stated before, the Rise of Skywalker ties up a lot of loose plot points. It does not, however, resolve the character arcs as well. Were you wondering how certain characters would end up? Be ready to be underwhelmed.
The action, scenery, and plot really get in the way of characters actually conversing together. It all looks epic, and it has that Star Wars feel the prequel episodes lacked, but the characters hardly interact. This cuts in two ways: it means character arcs are barely resolved, if at all, and it undermines the emotional impact of the movie’s climax.
The central pillar of The Rise of Skywalker, and maybe this entire trilogy, is the relationship between Kylo and Rey. That gets played out well, but to the exclusion of all else. As I said, the movie keeps switching between two lines of plot, and one of them is not Kylo and Rey. The result is I’d already forgotten what was going on in the ‘b track’ only a few hours after the movie.
Lest you get the wrong idea: I liked this movie. I liked it a lot. It is a fitting end to a very good trilogy.
It could have been better though. I expected as much. J.J. Abrams is good at doing things that are inoffensive, but I don’t think he’s ever created anything that was truly great — unless you think Armageddon or the new Star Trek fit that bill. I personally don’t.
For Disney this was probably what they wanted: the franchise has a built-in audience and if you don’t offend any of them, you’ll be making da big bucks. But nobody will love it either, because if some people love it, others will hate it. And, whoops, I guess people actually won’t pay as much for things they don’t love or hate.
I love Star Wars very much, so I’m pretty critical, and I feel a lot of things could have been handled much better with little effort. So, let me conclude this spoiler-free section by saying that if you like Star Wars at all, you should go watch it. It’s a good movie. It’s not great though.
On to the spoiler-filled section below.
A blast from the past
Okay, so let’s assume you watched the movie, or read the plot online.
Let’s talk about the Emperor. He’s apparently been living inside J.J. Abrams ass for a few years, or Chris Terrio’s (the other writer). For this movie they suddenly pulled him out.
There are a host of problems with the Emperor’s return and his convoluted masterplan. The plotholes are bigger than the death star and at least as big as the fleet of ships the emperor pulled from his own ass. I won’t go into them, but think about the events from the Emperor’s point of view for a second and you’ll start seeing the myriad problems.
However, those plot holes are not the biggest problem. It’s really that the foreshadowing and exposition were terrible, and the emperor had no place in Rey’s arc. There were far too few clues of the Emperor’s involvement and his master plan in the previous two movies. There was also too little explanation in this one — possibly because there was really no way to explain the whole convoluted affair.
Worse is that Rey being Palpatine’s grandchild adds nothing to her arc. She could have been related to Darth Revan (look them up) and it would have had about the same impact: none. They took the trappings from that moment in the Empire Strikes Back, but without understanding what it meant.
Darth Vader murdered Luke’s parents and his mentor, and had been torturing his best friend, and then suddenly: he’s Luke’s father, OMG! Palpatine did… nothing to Rey, wasn’t mentioned before, and everybody who did care about him is dead, and Rey is her grand-daughter!… Okay? And?
Where plot killed character
One of the other lows of the movie is Rey’s journey to the crashed death star. It’s a cool visual, and the battle with Kylo is epic, but it lacks punch. There is something going on between Finn and Rey, but there’s no depth to it, or a resolution. They just don’t spend enough time together. This could have been remedied easily. If Finn had sailed off to the death star with Rey, instead of both doing so separately, this would have given them more time together. It would have allowed a better setup of the fight that follows.
A second problem was Leia. her role was problematic, and the fact that she was CGI-ed into the movie didn’t help. She’s sort of pivotal in Kylo’s arc, but shoehorning her in did not do the movie any good. They could have let her die at the beginning of the movie and have Kylo carry around a holo-picture of her. The result would have been similar, and it would have freed up another character, who was now stuck with Leia: Rose.
A Rose By Any Other Name
Kelly Marie Tran got a lot of sh*t flung her way after The Last Jedi. That was horrible, and for that alone she deserved screen time, but more than that: her character was interesting. She could have played a bigger role in this movie. She should have. I still don’t understand what Jannah-the-converted-Storm-Trooper is doing in the movie, or Zorii-the-helmeted-rogue-love-interest from Kijimi, but either or both could have been replaced by Rose. The writers had an ‘explanation‘, and maybe they even believe it themselves. I call bollocks and say the explanation is clearly along the ‘do not offend’ line. And it falls flat on its face.
The Hux of the Matter
Finally, why did we need an General Pryde? We had a perfectly fine General Hux, who got a bad arc this movie. He could have had more interactions with Kylo Ren, anchoring Kylo more to the rest of the movie, and giving him a better arc to boot. I would have revealed him to the audience as the spy early on, to ramp up tension in every later scene with Kylo Ren. Until he was revealed as a spy at some point and killed by Ren. But no… we had another actor shoe-horned in, for… reasons.
Too much plot, too little foreshadowing, and bad character arcs. The Rise of Skywalker is a good movie, but it could have been so much better.