Well, I’ve allowed this film to soak in after viewing it back in December. After seeing The Last Jedi, my skepticism was extremely high. I wasn’t sure how The Rise of Skywalker was going to recover from a creative direction that veered sideways. I think Ruin *cough*, I mean Rian Johnson took too many risks that nearly cost the franchise half of its fanbase. But given the framework from the previous Star Wars film, J.J. Abrams did an okay job all things considered. He somehow managed to pull off a decent recovery and end on a high note, and I left the theater with a smile on my face.
That being said, I kept my expectations as low as the belly of the Sarlacc Pit.
The film’s greatest strengths lie in the stunning visuals of nostalgic callbacks we all knew and loved from the original trilogy. But ironically, it is also the only thing that saved the sequel trilogy. Had it not been for what happened in The Last Jedi, there shouldn’t have been a need to rely on nostalgic callbacks to save the trilogy from a fan exodus. The hundreds of Imperial-era star destroyers armed with planet-destroying supercanons hovering through the storm clouds of Exegol was enough to tickle every nerd’s fancy. The arrival of thousands of starships from all over the galaxy led by Lando Calrissian’s triumphant entry was also a joyful callback to Return of the Jedi akin to Gandalf’s arrival in Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers. And I must say, the sight of Emperor Palpatine in his prolonged state of life-support sets an unusually demonic tone for a Star Wars film.
I have to admit, ever since Disney bought Lucasfilm back in 2012, I had a strong feeling Emperor Palpatine was due to return. If anyone had ever read the Dark Empire comics from back in the 90’s, a return of a cloned Palpatine would come as no surprise. There is little explanation as for how he survived the fall in the Second Death Star, but I’m sure more films in the making will expand on that later on. The fact that he ‘created Snoke’ as a mere puppet echoes his ability to pull the strings behind the scenes the way he did in the prequels, yet we have no recollection of how Snoke found Ben Solo and turned him into Kylo Ren. Perhaps this will be revealed in another yet-to-be released film or television episode?
On top of Palpatine’s return comes the moment of truth we’ve been waiting for — who are Rey’s parents? Ever since The Force Awakens, Rey has been speculated to be Luke Skywalker’s daughter or even a descendant of Obi-Wan Kenobi. The Last Jedi seemed to imply that her origin had no real significance and she came out of nowhere. But as it turns out, she is the granddaughter of Palpatine himself. If anything, it kind of explains the unearned, unlimited power she possesses. It was also cool to see Rey use Force-abilities never before seen in Star Wars cinema such as healing powers. But now we’re left with the lingering thought that Palpatine actually had sex at some point, which we now can’t un-think. You’re welcome.
The Rise of Skywalker was crammed so full of action sequences there was barely any time to mentally process what was happening. Our beloved protagonists were off lightspeed-skipping on a wild mynock chase for a Sith artifact that would supposedly lead them to Emperor Palpatine. It’s pretty much Where The Hell Is Carmen Sandiego in space. Before you’d have a chance to breathe, a cluster of TIE Fighters and flying stormtroopers would jump out of nowhere before we had time to think about what the next mission objective was.It’s easy to notice an underlying creative rivalry between J.J. Abrams and Johnson if you were to watch the last two films back-to-back. You can see it in the scene where Luke Skywalker’s Force-ghost appears to Rey after she chucks Anakin’s lightsaber saying, “A Jedi’s weapon deserves more respect!” What better way redeem Luke’s controversial arc in The Last Jedi than to have him admit, “I was wrong!” And while Chewbacca’s perceived death was pivotal in advancing Rey’s brush with the dark side, the ‘psyche’ moment felt like an unnecessary practical joke made to somehow mimic the tug-o-war over Anakin’s lightsaber between Rey and Kylo from the previous film.
And shooting TIE fighters with bow and arrows while riding space horses? Really? I guess we shouldn’t complain since a tribe of Ewoks did help defeat an entire infantry of stormtroopers in Return of the Jedi.
Although the film was a hot mess, it was a beautiful hot mess nonetheless. Adam Driver’s performance as Kylo Ren is his best in the entire trilogy. His redemption and encounter with a vision of his deceased father Han Solo is a moment that gives you all the feels, though it does not bear the same weight as the departure of key characters you’d see in Avengers: Endgame. The amount of plot points could have easily been stretched into 2 films. If the audience had more developed reason to become attached to Rey and Kylo’s characters in the last two movies, the redemptive qualities would have been delivered far more powerfully. But I guess it’s not fair to compare a trilogy to Marvel’s cinematic universe where most characters have 23 films of development.
In light of the bittersweet ending to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, we are left with many more unanswered questions. What about the Force-using slave kid on Canto Bight at the end of The Last Jedi? How did Maz Katana acquire Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber that was lost in the chasm of the Bespin Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back? Which also brings me to my next point about Finn. Why was he here this whole time? While the introduction of the former stormtrooper characters on Endor’s ocean planet Kef Bir was interesting to see, the implication that one of them was linked to Lando Calrissian could have easily belonged to Finn. Now we are left with no satisfying conclusion to Finn’s story arc and we’re now supposed to care about another supporting character who came out of nowhere — which seems to be a recurring theme of the sequel trilogy.
What I most appreciated about the ending of The Rise of Skywalker is the message that, no matter where you come from, nobody is beyond redemption. Rey may be a descendant of Emperor Palpatine, but she ultimately chose to find her identity in what is good — hence why she adopted the name Skywalker.
But now that this trilogy is done and dealt with, we can go back to more important things. Like watching The Mandalorian.