Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
The success of the Star Wars franchise, particularly the mastery of the first trilogy (no, not the one where Liam Neeson dies in the first movie – the real first trilogy) stems from the creation of an original cast of characters that took what was meant to be a destined-to-fail SciFi experiment (according to George Lucas himself) and turned it into a beloved space epic featuring iconic scenes, phrases, and battles for the fate of the galaxy. Now, Disney has taken this iconic franchise and attempted to recreate the magic in the final installment of its new trilogy by digging deep into the well of nostalgia and sprinkling a few doses of new for the pleasure of old and new fans alike, with some mixed results.
The Good: Kylo Ren and Rey’s Plot Development
Adam Driver reprises his role as Kylo Ren, new-age Darth Vader and leader of the new-age evil empire, the First Order. In a cast of nostalgic old characters and semi-forgettable new characters (seriously, where the hell did Snoke come from? Disney probably didn’t know themselves so they ended up just killing him off), Driver’s Kylo Ren has emerged as the poster child of the new franchise with a deep connection to the original cast that actually makes sense, being the son of Leia Skywalker and Han Solo and a former Jedi apprentice of Luke Skywalker. He also has a deep enough degree of emotional struggle of being the commander of the dark side while resisting his Jedi heritage and a turn to the light side that gives viewers a glimpse inside his conflicted and complex character. I think it’s safe to say that Kylo Ren was by far the best character in the entire trilogy. Well-developed and masterfully portrayed, Kylo Ren stands out as a constant silver lining over the course of all three films. I’m sure you’ve seen the memes about how Kylo Ren was able to get so jacked from carrying the trilogy so hard.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have Rey whose connection to the franchise also comes full circle as she is revealed to be the descendant of Emperor Palpatine, and she is equally struggling to resist her Sith heritage and the possibility of turning to the Dark Side while endeavoring to bring Kylo Ren to the Light Side of the Force. Can we just talk for a second about how cool Rey looked as a Sith Lord? Makes you wonder what would’ve happened if she really turned to the Dark Side.
In a trilogy that seems to put little effort into developing supposed central characters like Finn, Poe Dameron, and Rose, Disney got this part right by zeroing in on the emotional struggle between Kylo and Rey in its final installment, reducing the roles of the others to where they should be – supporting roles. Unfortunately, Rey’s character seemed to lack depth and it was clear that she could have been much better written. No fault of Daisy Ridley’s by any means, as she did a wonderful job taking on the role and knocked it out of the park despite lackluster writing.
Without a doubt, one of the most interesting and unique aspects of the sequels that only intensified as the films progressed is the force bond moments between Kylo and Rey. They added a really cool and unpredictable dynamic to scenes that otherwise would’ve been rather dull in comparison. They also allowed for some really crazy and inexplicable interactions, which you can argue whether or not are actually possible, but you can’t deny that they added a completely new and different dimension that just made things a lot more suspenseful. Whenever these moments happened, they would immediately grip my attention as they would seemingly come out of nowhere and the interaction between Kylo and Rey always left me longing for more. And of course, it helped a great deal that their chemistry was off the charts. Some would disagree but I thought they fit together extremely well.
Now, this doesn’t count as plot development at all but it’d be a crime not to mention how much the action scenes have improved from the first two films. Lightsaber battles between Kylo and Rey, although the style remained mostly unchanged, seemed much more fluid and exciting. The action scenes this time around actually looked action-packed as opposed to scenes from previous films that were poorly choreographed and altogether devoid of any sense of impact.
As for the ending, I’m actually not quite sure if this is the right place to put it since it was good in some ways and in other ways, I felt like it was lacking. Following the defeat of Palpatine, Kylo Ren, who had reverted back to Ben Solo at this point, had a final moment of romance as he and Rey shared a passionate kiss with his dying breath. A lot of fans didn’t like this at all but honestly, I didn’t mind. Throughout the history of the Star Wars franchise, the concept of romance has always played some role, whether big or small. In this case, the moments between Kylo and Rey building up and leading up to this point appropriately culminated in a poetic first and final kiss. Shortly afterward, Kylo or Ben fades away into the force the same way as Obi-Wan Kenobi in A New Hope, showing that Ben Solo was also able to return to the Light Side before his death.
The closing scene with Rey standing in front of the twin suns in Tatooine was a beautiful homage to Luke’s scene in A New Hope. However, her declaration that her name is now Rey Skywalker was something that I felt a bit iffy about. As the title of the film was The Rise of Skywalker, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who expected Kylo Ren to become a more central figure towards the end of the film rather than getting the sidekick treatment that he ended up getting. It just doesn’t seem right that just because Rey didn’t want to associate with Palpatine, she could just basically ditch her heritage and haphazardly take on the name Skywalker. Once you get over it, it’s fine but it does take away meaning from the title The Rise of Skywalker as she isn’t a true Skywalker. I must say though, her burying Luke’s and Leia’s old lightsabers in favor of her own new yellow lightsabers was a nice touch. It symbolized her wanting to forge her own path rather than following someone else’s.
The Bad: Forgettable Sideshows
Now before we get into what Disney did poorly, they do deserve a pat on the back for their first shot at the franchise and attempting to take a bold and creatively new direction – namely, introducing a rogue Stormtrooper who defected to the Resistance, and then taking an even bolder approach by attempting to make him stick as a main character. Disney may have started off with an interesting concept and even teased the possibility of expanding Finn’s role in the film, but ended up dropping the ball on his character development as they flip-flopped back and forth on main and side character until eventually landing on an unfortunately uninspired supporting role. Such is the fate of poor old Finn, whom John Boyega played about just as well as one can play an ex-Stormtrooper in a film dominated by force users. If Disney had found a way to shelf Finn after the first of the trilogy, nobody would have missed him. Instead, they tried to add another layer to his importance by introducing a group of other defected Stormtroopers (whose names nobody knows and won’t care to know) living out in some remote planet where the Death Star lay in ruins. To make matters worse, there were hints dropped left and right that Finn is actually Force sensitive. Not to mention JJ Abrams also confirmed that what Finn was trying to tell Rey throughout the film is that he is Force sensitive. So you have a Force sensitive, Stormtrooper turned Resistance fighter running around and he just gets left in the dust without having that aspect of his character explored at all? Nice.
Poe Dameron also has his fair share of potential as a central character as a gun-ho, expert fighter pilot who doesn’t take any flak from upper brass, like a hybrid of Luke Skywalker’s leadership as a brilliant X-Wing pilot who loves to take the fight to the enemy’s front door with the maverick personality of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo. His role in the franchise grows more significant as Leia names him de-facto commander of the Rebel Alliance. However, Disney seems to have little interest in building a deeper storyline around Poe outside of his sustained bromance with Finn and a thinly developed, seemingly hashed-out past involving some old lover and selling some spices, making him fun to watch given his wild and rebellious personality but shallow in terms of character development.
The Ugly: Plot Holes and Lazy Writing
The return of Emperor Palpatine, along with the return of Ian McDiarmid, though it helps to tie in the whole connection of Rey being a Sith descendant, also seemed to me like Disney had given up on trying anything new after the debacle with Snoke being the new Sith Master, and gone back to what fans know and love. On the one hand, there’s nothing wrong with going back to the old, especially if you know that’s the flavor everyone likes. On the other hand, the repetition of even lines from the old movies (“The Dark Side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural”) seems lazy and makes you wonder if at this point Disney is simply copying and pasting from previous films.
Some diehard fans of the franchise may also point to the plot hole that Palpatine not dying at the hands of Darth Vader, instead dying at the hands of his own granddaughter, goes contrary to the Jedi legend of Anakin Skywalker being the Chosen One who destroys the Sith Lord. These clear missteps make it seem as though Director JJ Abrams and his staff did not do sufficient research into George Lucas’s source material and again, just copied and pasted as the film progressed. Speaking of Anakin, WHY did they not bring back Hayden Christensen for at least a force ghost appearance? If they really wanted to capitalize on nostalgia, bringing back Hayden for a scene would definitely have driven fans nuts. Instead, they used the nostalgia factor in all the wrong ways and in the end, it felt more like they were crutching on it.
Don’t even get me started on how poorly executed the final “fight” (if you can even call it that) scene with Palpatine, Rey, and Kylo Ren was. It pains me to even bring it up but it’s gotta be done. There was so much potential for an epic final battle where Kylo and Rey would use their combined powers to take down Palpatine once and for all. Although Kylo did stand side by side with Rey with a blue lightsaber of his own for a short moment (which was pretty hype by the way), his time in the spotlight was over in a blink of an eye. I mean come on, I know Palpatine is powerful and all but when you have the grandson of Anakin Skywalker and the granddaughter of Palpatine working together, they should at least be able to put up a good fight.
Instead, they did the worst thing they could possibly do. They completely sidelined Kylo Ren from the fight and what do you know – Rey activates the power of plot armor and defeats Palpatine by magically overwhelming the largest force lightning storm I’ve ever seen. Sure, she received aid from Jedi of generations past (which was pretty cool, I must admit – would’ve been cooler if they showed their faces though) but there was so much more potential for a truly epic moment and that opportunity was completely wasted.
New Story with Old Characters, Lines, and Scenes
Practicing the reverse of pouring new wine into an old wineskin, Disney’s Star Wars franchise attempts to appeal to the nostalgia of old fans by pouring doses of what they knew and loved into a new plot. However, just like pouring new wine into old wineskin, which could actually end up counterproductive, Disney’s strategy to mix the old with the new was not without backlash.
We start with old lovable Chewbacca, whom by the third installment of the new franchise has become a staple, so there is no issue with him being in this film, especially after the untimely death of his old partner Han Solo (Revenge for Han! Or as Chewbacca would say, “ARRARAGHRRAAR!”)
Good old Billy Dee Williams reprises his role as an elder, wiser Lando Calrissian from the original trilogy, which made fans of the old franchise super excited, and left some other fans who care more about plot development wondering what he was doing up until now, making Lando’s return seem like little more than shallow fan service and a desperate attempt at nostalgic appeal.
Wedge Antilles, one of the few surviving X-Wing pilots from the first trilogy, makes a one-shot appearance as part of Lando’s Rebel Alliance reinforcing the final battle against the Final Order’s fleet on the planet Exegol. Fan service for those who know the OT characters, confusing, random old guy for those who don’t.
The Final Word
Overall, Disney has done a serviceable job at adding new elements to a franchise that needs no addition and adding new meaning to old iconic characters who need no introduction. For fans of the old franchise, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is super entertaining and fun to watch but might leave you with more questions and than answers. But if you flat out ignore the plot holes, there’s actually a pretty good chance that you’ll absolutely love this film.
Now if you’re a diehard fan who gets into other source material like the novels, comics, video games, etc., the number of plot holes you’ll find in this movie will legitimately bother you. And, you can even make the case that Disney completely and utterly failed as far as staying true to the source material leading up to the Rise of Skywalker, leading to a large chunk of the Star Wars fan base who flat out refuse to accept the ending as canon.
However, for first time watchers, the final installment of the new franchise may seem like a storyline that doesn’t make too much sense with random references to the old films. So if you’re new to the Star Wars universe, it’s probably best to start from the beginning. Honestly, there’s so much more that I haven’t covered but you know what, best to just go watch it if you haven’t already and see for yourself what you think.