The trilogy no one necessarily wanted finally came to its conclusion last weekend, finally wrapping up something that was “42 years in the making.” If that were truly the case, certainly they could have figured out the glaring plot holes over that length of time.
Alas. We have been given Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (TRoS). It should be noted that director JJ Abrams, who also co-wrote the film, didn’t have Lawrence Kasdan on board – one of the OG Star Wars writers who helped him with The Force Awakens. I should also just note Kasdan didn’t co-write The Last Jedi either. Not like any of that matters because – spoiler alert – The Last Jedi was essentially retconned TRoS.
If you don’t want to be spoiled, stop reading now.
I’m not entirely sure where to start. On one hand, I did enjoy TRoS because it had a story: a beginning, middle, and end. Unlike The Last Jedi, I disliked it predominately because the status quo didn’t change – nothing happened. There wasn’t so much a story as it was a visually stunning film. TRoS does take the story, ultimately the one from The Force Awakens (minus Snoke) and replaces it with Emperor Palpatine. Aside from that, nothing much else has changed from The Force Awakens, save for Han Solo being dead and no one was looking for Luke Skywalker anymore (also dead).
There’s a lot of stuff going on in TRoS. A lot of the film does wrap up the overall story quite well: we learn the history of Rey’s parents, we learn where Snoke came from. . . and that’s about it. Maybe some part of it was my own failed expectations, or some of it was people setting bar too high, but TRoS’s “reveals” were all pretty lack-luster. For example, I feel my argument for Rey being a clone, while I would have expected it, would have also been far better than what was provided (in my opinion, of course).
So let’s take apart what happened in the film and critique it to death – because hot-damn, that’s what us fans of Star Wars do, no? I’ll break these up into four sections: The Bad, The Strange, The Good, and The Borrowed.
When the trailer dropped and Emperor Palpatine laughed at the end, I’ll admit I got chills. I was excited because Palps was back! It was a kind of confirmation that he was still “pulling the strings.” Lots of theories kicked around such as Snoke being a failed clone of Palpatine and that Palp’s spirit was living on a la the style of Exar Kun. But a physical body? That was a surprise.
Within moments of the opening scroll of the film, “The dead speak!” is read. Palpatine was inexplicably back, according to the opening scroll. We see Kylo Ren inevitably finding Palp within the first five minutes and then exposition central begins. Palpatine was hooked up to a machine and. . . he did survive the Death Star explosion somehow. Somehow, because we don’t really know anything nor is it explained fully. It is somewhat implied he’s a cloned body (with the cloning stuff around him), or that he was revived learning from his teachings of Darth Plagueis, but it really makes little sense. It’s a bad reveal as it’s never truly explained. To top it off, there were really no explanation for how he built his army, who was building it, and well, everything about him. It felt like a convoluted mess and we were only five minutes in.
In two lines, we finally get Snoke’s explanation: he was created by the Emperor through cloning and ancient Sith rituals on Exegol. But why? We don’t know. Why were there more Snokes? We don’t know. Why not have Snoke come back again after he died the first time? Who knows! Why didn’t the Emperor come back himself and rally his troops? None of it is explained. While I’m sure one could theory-craft an explanation together, at face-value there’s nothing but questions.
In line with that, the rise of the First Order is still never explained. Neither are the Knights of Ren, who were utterly useless in the film. They consistently lose track of the heroes and had no purpose the film. It’s as if they were invented in The Force Awakens then suddenly were forgotten until TRoS. Who were they? Why were they at Luke’s Jedi temple? Were they old students of Lukes? If they were ex-Jedi, why didn’t they use Force powers or lightsabers? Why were they so incompetent? What was their purpose in the film outside of selling more action figures?
Speaking of inexplicable things, let’s talk about super weapons: A New Hope had the Death Star. Return of the Jedi had a bigger Death Star. The Force Awakens was criticized for having an even BIGGER Death Star. So where can one go from there? Why, a fleet of Star Destroyers that have Death Star weapons on them, of course! Silly concepts like that happen when story ideas get written into a corner: they had already done the “biggest baddest thing” two movies ago and had to up the ante, a la Return of the Jedi. Logic (for a fantasy film) be damned, the threat has to feel higher or else there would be no dilemma for the heroes. As if a fleet of Star Destroyers wasn’t enough, of course they had to have planet killing weapons added because where else could they go after The Force Awakens? Like the Knights of Ren, it was unfortunate what happened in TRoS because the film had to ultimately try and deal with its impossible expectations and build an even bigger threat. The Emperor’s return as an old man simply wasn’t enough. The idea was so far fetched that a lot of my friends and folks on the internet even felt the appearance of the large Star Destroyer army in the movie trailer “had to be a dream.” Nope. They were legit in the movie.
Taking a step away from the Empire/First Order for a moment, General Leia died, yet Poe was second in command? Where on Earth did this come from? In The Last Jedi he was such a complete douche. His rise in rank seemed not only improbable, but didn’t make any sense. There was no character building for Poe in the film – he went from being a cocky sonuvagun to becoming the one in charge. Poe’s promotion wasn’t earned or deserved. The last time we saw him try a mutiny in The Last Jedi, he had to do it solo because no one else could trust him, nor he anyone else. Then, because TRoS only had one other character to work with, Poe made Finn a General as well. Suddenly the two young kids who have had little development in The Last Jedi are running the Resistance (and it is still not explained why the Resistance exists in the first place). The kicker about Poe and Finn’s promotion? General Lando Calrissian was with them the whole time. Why did the young blood get to take over instead of someone who had experience? Also, why was Poe being a spice runner bad? Nothing is properly established.
All three main characters: Rey, Poe, and Finn, act as if they are best friends. They act like they all have some sort of history together, like Luke, Han, and Leia. In reality, Finn and Poe know each other, but Rey never really met Poe until the END of The Last Jedi. It’s undetermined how much time is between The Last Jedi and TRoS, but we can assume not much has passed since the Resistance still believes they’re on their own against the First Order. Their first outing to the desert planet of Pasaana is the first time we see all three of them together and doing something rather than moping around like at the end of The Last Jedi. Unlike in the original trilogy, or even in the prequel trilogy, the character building in this series failed the viewers. I didn’t care about their relationships, where they came from, or what they did, because I had been given no connection to them. Hell, even Johnny Rico, Carmen Ibanez, and Carl Jenkins from the Starship Troopers film have a richer history than the three heroes in this film.
I must ask: why did this trilogy have to happen? I mean, if everything was being conducted by Emperor Palpatine, why did he do what he did? Why let the First Order rise without him as he hid in the shadows? Why let Rey run free for so many years when you were entirely capable of finding her yourself? I’m sure the easy answer would be because of Palpatine’s pride and ego: Luke once did say to him, “Your overconfidence is your weakness,” yet his overconfidence didn’t make any sense. He literally had everything and decided to bide his time rather than take everything back. Patience does not equate to overconfidence. If I try to think any deeper about it, it makes my head spin. However, it just feels that the last two films were a almost unnecessary because TRoS sort of tosses each of them aside to create a “new world” for itself. It’s both frustrating and strange.
Emperor Palpatine had a son! (or daughter?) His kid had a kid! It was Rey! Rey is Palpatine’s granddaughter! Yet no one knew about this? Who was the mother? Was his son normal then? Did he not have Force powers? I don’t understand why something as important as Palpatine’s son could just get brushed aside without any explanation. When they were revealing Rey’s backstory in the film, I couldn’t stop thinking about, “WHO IS HIS SON THEN?” Yet the film leaves us with another unanswered question. If Palpatine was alive, why didn’t he go after his son or his granddaughter sooner? Even worse, it is later revealed both Luke and Leia knew Rey was a Palpatine! Like. What.
Speaking of Palpatine, why didn’t his soul go into Rey’s body after he died like he said it would? Was it because she didn’t kill him in revenge or anger? Or was it because he technically killed himself with Force lightning? And speaking of Force lightning, did Palpatine not learn from the first time against Mace Windu? One can argue he purposefully let Mace Windu wreck his face so he could have a case against the Jedi in the Galactic Senate – that makes sense. Is Force lightning like peeing though? Once you start, you can’t stop?
Also to sort out: Finns relationship with Rey, Rose, and Jannah. Finn wanted to tell Rey he had the Force. Cool. They somewhat leave Finn’s feeling for Rey ambigious too. That’s fine. Whatever. But were he and Rose a thing? Because it certainly felt like he was hitting on Jannah a lot and brushing Rose aside. A lot. For the little screen time she got, Rose seemed written to be the emotional anchor to Finn’s danger – we knew how much danger Finn was in through Rose’s reactions. Yet I can’t confirm if they were a couple or not. The Last Jedi seemed to establish them as a pair, yet this film makes it heavily ambiguous. When Jannah comes into the picture, TRoS throws us a curve ball. Finn and her bond over being ex-Stormtroopers and quitting for the same reasons. They both go into battle together. They both almost sacrifice themselves together. That was more screen time together than Finn and Rose. Yet Rose was the one who kept caring about Finn’s well-being. Was she just being strung along? The whole thing was just strange.
And with Rose, a really strange decision was to cater to the haters and toss her aside in the film. Rose, while her character was unlikable in The Last Jedi, had a complete 180 and ROCKED it in TRoS. In fact, Kelly Marie Tran absolutely rocked it (not that she was a bad actress in The Last Jedi. Her character was just “meh”). Rose’s character begged for more screen time as they made her act and seem a lot more bad ass than in The Last Jedi. Does she still love Finn? Does Finn love her? We don’t know these things still. All I know is that it was abundantly clear they downplayed her character in the film when, in fact, I felt Kelly knocked it out of the park. I was both surprised and disappointed in Disney’s decision.
Speaking of decisions, Kylo Ren and Rey kiss. Then Kylo died immediately and I thought, “Oh. Okay.” That was it. No emotions were had, because I didn’t feel any sort of emotional weight between the two. If anything, the bad guys were dead! Hooray! And apparently overdoing it with the Force kills more people than lightsabers (see: Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, Leia in this film, for reference). And sure, Ren gave his “life” to save Rey – whatever. Apparently no one needs training to use Force powers anymore either, right? Yeesh.
Let’s also point out Threepio and being unable to talk Sith – it’s understandable that he couldn’t as he couldn’t “impersonate a deity,” in Return of the Jedi. Programs come with limitations – that’s fine. However, the lack of impersonating a deity didn’t bog down Return of the Jedi with planet-searching hunt for a black market droid mechanic – slowing down the story which ultimately brought nothing to the table: Threepio lost his memory only to regain it 20 minutes later. Was the point of the whole thing to introduce Poe’s faceless ex-girlfriend? If so, what was her point in the film? Did she only exist to prove to the audience he was not gay? Sure, she gave the team a Captains Medallion to land on the Star Destroyer – but they could’ve easily found that in Ochi’s ship with the droid D-O and save us a lot of unnecessary babbling and screen time. I mean, I’m not a screenwriter, but c’mon. It could’ve saved heavily the on the budget. Disney, hire me.
Another strange moment was Hux’s betrayal. Not only was it obvious, but it was lame. Admittedly, if anything, his and Kylo’s characterizations were the only two things that survived from The Last Jedi – Hux was upset and disappointed because whiny man-child Kylo Ren became the Supreme Leader. But of his obvious feelings from The Last Jedi, of course it would have been Hux betraying Kylo. There was nowhere else for Hux to go as a character except die as an wasted Imperial officer at the end (poor Captain Phasma). I felt he didn’t even need to justify why he was the spy – I already was comfortable with him doing it. The reveal was disappointing and his character, ultimately, was too.
The other strange development from The Last Jedi was how Luke’s X-Wing was stranded on Ahch-To. Apparently it could fly just fine! So that meant Luke could’ve left the planet at any time, right? Doesn’t that kind of cheapen the entire reason of why he was in The Last Jedi? Doesn’t that kind of undo everything about Luke? Wha? The simple scene opened up a whole can of worms which makes me question whether or not the writers even cared about continuity.
If it was so difficult to find the Sith Wayfinder (and who are we kidding here, they’re holocrons), how did Kylo Ren find the first map at the beginning of the movie? How did he even know of the existence of Wayfinders? The movie just hit the ground running and didn’t explain a thing.
The weirdest and arguably most awkward conversation goes to Lando with Jannah at the end of the film – “We’ll see where you’re from” – whaaaaaaaat? What the heck does that all mean? Way to end the film on a strange note.
Not to nitpick (lol) but even though First Order TIE Fighters were established to have light speed at the beginning of TRoS, the original TIE Fighters were established to NOT have light speed – HOW LONG did it take Kylo Ren to fly to Exegol at the end of the film? Yeesh.
Back to my Rey is a Clone theory, why did Luke’s lightsaber call to her in The Force Awakens? It makes even less sense now. It’s also still not explained how Maz Kanata got Luke’s lightsaber to begin with. Also, didn’t Luke’s lightsaber get destroyed in The Last Jedi? What crazy inconsistencies are going on here?
Lando Calrissian was the best thing about the movie, despite not being really in it. Nostalgia aside, because he was still the same ‘ol Lando, he made the film feel grounded. As JJ Abrams directed a chaotic movie with quick edits and snarky dialogue, Lando kept it cool and brought everyone together. He was the rock of the film and made everything seem. . . calmer. He was the veteran on set and I think because he was still part of the “old guard,” he stood out brighter than the rest of the characters in the movie.
As I mentioned earlier, Rose got the short end of the stick in this film. However, Kelly Marie Tran absolutely crushed it with great acting and an actual feel for the character. While it wasn’t properly established in the movie, I could feel she had a rich history and fighting fire within her. That’s a part of great acting. Just about everyone else felt bland, but Kelly Marie Tran was a gem in this film.
You know who else wasn’t bland? Kylo Ren! And he had a story arc! They wrapped him up nicely, and the character matured greatly from the last film. I appreciate how much he evolved as a character throughout the film and how his changes felt natural. It was a surprise to be sure, but a welcome one.
Carrie Fisher was fantastic. Knowing they had stock footage was certainly a challenge for the film crew, but I believe they did her right – including her death in the film.
WEDGE ANTILLES CAMEO. YEE.
The droids were great – BB-8, Threepio, and the aesthetics of D-O. D-O wasn’t really a great character, but the physical droid itself was fantastic. It felt like an old droid. I also enjoyed Threepio becoming relevant as it always felt that the droids were just side characters in these films. Finally some justice. And I’m still wondering what happened to his red arm between The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.
The cameo filled with Jedi voices at end – Yoda, Mace Windu, Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan (both actors), Ashoka, and more, were a nice touch for the finale.
Chewie’s medal, while silly and unnecessary, was still cute. The “injustice” was finally served. In the film, it does seems stupid stupid however. Like, in her will, Leia would have, “When I die, give Chewie a medal” as if it bothered him for all of these years and she would’ve just held on to it because of reasons. I mean, one touching thing to consider is you could say the medal was for Peter Mayhew, the original actor of Chewbacca. So arguably there is that sort of warm feeling to associate the medal with.
As I’ve mentioned in my Rey is a Clone theory, a lot of this trilogy had been borrowed from previously established Star Wars lore. It used to be known as the Expanded Universe, but is now acknowledged as “Legends.”
The Expanded Universe incorporated everything from television to books, comics, and video games. The whole “lore” of the EU was traced back to well-before 10,000 years before A New Hope and hundreds of years after Return of the Jedi. Some of the earlier EU came from the video game known as Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR), which is one of my favourite video games and Star Wars “movies” ever. It takes place around 4000 years before A New Hope and established the Republic and Sith Empire with a rich backstory and legacy that spanned even further than you what you played in the game. The game’s story was so rich and incredibly it became canon within the EU.
After two games, Knights of the Old Republic turned into an MMO (massive multiplayer online) game, like World of Warcraft. This game was called, Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR). It’s still thriving today, and I play it on and off from time to time. The MMO takes place around 300 years after KOTOR 2 and explores similar themes. These games, as they are so far away canonically from the films, have lore borrowed from them for the new films/TV shows. This is because there is little to no worry of anything being retconned.
Some of the lore included the Hammerhead class Republic cruiser in Rogue One, which originated from the KOTOR, a Sith planet called Korriban (turned Moraband in the TV show, which obviously inspired Exegol in the new film), yellow lightsabers (such as Rey’s at the end of the film), the Sith Wayfinder – which is without a doubt a holocron, and a massive, unlimited fleet created by dark energy known as the Star Forge.
Just quickly about holocrons (because why not?) They were first established in a comic book series from 1995 and were then featured in TV shows, video games, and books afterwards. They really took off after KOTOR as their colour and shape were really defined in the game.
Imagine seeing and reading about something since 1995, then finally seeing it in film only to be told it’s something else. Weird, no?
Holocrons aside, one bit of lore that I felt was ripped right out of the Star Wars MMO, SWTOR was The Eternal Empire – the expansions to SWTOR known as Knights of the Fallen Empire and Knights of the Eternal Throne.
The story is very similar to TRoS, but began at the tail end of 2014: The Emperor was dead. With ancient powers of the Sith, he bore himself into a new body, named himself Emperor Valkorion and slowly built a new world called Zakuul (a la Palpatine on Exegol). This world created a massive fleet that could destroy planets (like Star Destroyers). Ultimately, the “outlander” – the person without a real definition about who they are (like Rey) – had to challenge the Emperor with the unlikeliest of allies – The Emperor’s son and daughter (similar to Kylo Ren). Both the Republic and the Empire team up together by slowly piecing together a team (like Lando’s fleet) to defeat the Zakuul army – called the Eternal Empire and wipe out the Emperor permanently.
Watching the movie play out, I was floored by the similarities. Certain lines felt familiar, and the overall feel of Palpatine reeked of Emperor Valkorion. I had a friend reinforce my opinion when he mentioned the similarities to the Eternal Empire without me prompting him. It’s a bit too coincidental.
It was all very interesting.
My Overall Feeling
The Rise of Skywalker, unfortunately, ended on a whimper. With years of being teased by Disney and theory-crafting with friends, the film ending was ho-hum. While it certainly wrapped up the story, albeit poorly, I find myself asking: did this trilogy need to happen? Upon quick reflection, I’d have to say no. The new trilogy didn’t bring anything new to the table and felt like it just tried to cash in on nostalgia – which props to Disney for it.
The ending concluded similarly to both Revenge of the Sith and Return of the Jedi – showing planets being freed, Palpatine showing “your friends are dying” as a space battle happens far away from his chamber, and of course ending with Rey setting foot at the Lars’ homestead on Tatooine (for some reason) and staring off at the twin suns (and how did she know where the homestead was anyway – and why was there an old lady just wandering the desert?). Even still, the film left me with a more questions than answers. Apparently a lot of the story can be filled in with companion reading material – but as a film that’s where it falls short. Unfortunately, that also seems to be the nature of entertainment today: you have to be committed to the franchise in order to enjoy it.
As you can probably tell from what you’ve read, I’ve been committed to the Star Wars franchise since I was a wee one. I’ve read the Expanded Universe, played the games, and was really involved in all the fandom that the franchise had to offer. Disney came around and wiped the slate clean – which they had every right to. However, back then the films and EU were separated. Nowadays, it feels – like the companion reading material – that it’s all one in the same. It’s as if Disney is trying to get you into eating up the new lore by intentionally leaving plot points and backstory out from the films. It’s unfortunate, but it feels like the way it’s going now.
Leaving the theatre, I was baffled at the decision making in the film, but was also relieved: I don’t need to see anymore Star Wars films (arguably I didn’t need to to begin with) and I don’t have to be committed to anything after this. This new entertainment model of TV crossing over with film and books is still relatively new and certainly feels a bit overwhelming at times. The Rise of Skywalker felt like it required a lot of explanation that will be done outside of the film through various means.
As a stand alone film, unfortunately, it leaves me disappointed and well. . . empty. The film did not give the characters or worlds enough justice for me to care to follow. It’s disappointing because I want to care about these characters. I was invested in the Star Wars universe. Throwing away the Expanded Universe to create new films was a bold move and I am fine with it. I enjoy watching Disney borrow from it and utilize other stories – but when the stories themselves are bad – I just can’t care enough. And apparently some fans are getting tired of it all, too.
As a whole, was The Rise of Skywalker better than other Star Wars films? Most certainly. But as a comprehensive story, I’m confused beyond belief.
For those who are interested, here are my Star Wars films ranked:
1. The Empire Strikes Back
2. A New Hope
3. Return of the Jedi
4. Revenge of the Sith
5. Rogue One
6. The Force Awakens
7. The Rise of Skywalker
8. The Phantom Menace
10. The Last Jedi
11. Attack of the Clones
Until next time, keep on Space Truckin’.