WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS
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By now, the discourse surrounding Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is reaching a fever pitch. Everyone who’s wanted to see the movie, has, and over the coming holiday break, those who have yet to see the movie, will. Pretty soon, everyone will have their chance to weigh in on what the final chapter in the Skywalker Saga really means.
I myself have had almost a week now to do just that: give my opinion on the movie. And while I’ve certainly written about in other respects, I’ve struggled to write about what I think of the movie. About what it means to me. To the point that now, I’m coming to the conclusion that it doesn’t really mean much of anything. Not to me anyway. And that’s a pretty sorry state to find yourself in as a Star Wars fan at the end of a nine-film saga spanning generations.
I’ll admit I could see The Rise of Skywalker again. I should, in fact, see The Rise of Skywalker again because I’m still uncertain if I fully understand what happens in The Rise of Skywalker. That’s part of the problem – it’s a confusing movie. Right from the top, the opening crawl covers enough information to fill a first act, and much of it could do with further explanation. The biggest unanswered question is how Emperor Palpatine, the Sith Lord once known as Darth Sidious, has actually returned. The Rise of Skywalker glosses over this important bit, offering a classic line of Palpatine’s from Revenge of the Sith as its sole explanation for what should be a vital plot point.
That encapsulates a lot of the problems with The Rise of Skywalker – things happen because this particular story needs them to, not because they make much sense in the grand scheme of the saga or in the journey of Rey. Speaking of Rey, the sequel trilogy’s brave heroine, she gets plenty of heroic moments in The Rise of Skywalker and is now the Jedi so many have wished to see her become. Daisy Ridley is sublime in the role, and she does some of her finest work as Rey in this film. Sadly, the hamfisted insertion of Palpatine into this final trilogy rears its ugly head again. Yes, the rumors are true – Rey is the granddaughter of Palpatine.
It’s at this point I should probably mention how I much I love The Last Jedi. It’s an important to distinction to make, apparently, so I’ll point out I fall into the camp of Star Wars fans who found what Rian Johnson did with The Last Jedi to be some of the most radical but also incredible storytelling Star Wars has experienced in years. I loved the idea that Rey truly did come from nowhere, that the person now symbolically carrying on the Skywalker legacy is an anybody rather than a somebody.
But Rey isn’t just anybody, she’s the only living relative of the most powerful Sith in the galaxy. You get it? That’s why she’s so gifted and powerful. Not because she herself is extraordinary, but because she’s descendant from someone else extraordinary. It’s frustrating, and it is by no means the only way in which The Rise of Skywalker undoes or ignores parts of The Last Jedi. It’s hard to watch the movie and not feel as if many of its decisions are in response to how loud and angry some sections of the Star Wars fandom became about The Last Jedi. Even if it that wasn’t the filmmakers intention, it’s how the final product reads.
So, was there anything I liked about The Rise of Skywalker? Yes, actually, quite a bit. That’s partly why it’s a shame I find myself so disappointed with its big reveals. Getting to watch Rey, Finn, and Poe all interact together was fantastic, and it really highlights what the first two films were missing out on by keeping them apart. Giving C-3P0 a sizable role is wonderful, and the new droid D-0 is pretty great, too. Billy Dee Williams just slides right back in to the role of Lando, as does Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine. It’s just that Lando’s part in the story feels more organic. Domnhall Gleason has a surprising standout moment that’s going to keep Hux a fan favorite for years to come. Keri Russell’s Zori Bliss sure makes for some cool cosplay, but it’s her puppet co-star, Babu Frik who’s a real scene-stealer.
The handling of Leia’s role in the The Rise of Skywalker is incredibly well executed. I’m honestly shocked by how seamlessly they worked her into the movie considering the limitations they were working with. The short flashback to Luke training her as Jedi is so, so satisfying to actually see. Leia’s death is the only piece of her story that feels rushed, but they manage to make the scene hurt like it should thanks in large part to performances from Ridley, Adam Driver, and Harrison Ford. Yes, Han’s back, but he’s just a memory, a recollection Ben brings to life briefly in the moments after he senses his mother’s death. Chewbacca also gets to have an appropriately emotional, grief stricken response to Leia’s death that helps to sell it even more.
Driver, especially, gives a fantastic performance as Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, but it’s limited by having Palpatine around. There’s a version of The Rise of Skywalker where Driver gets to be the main villain for much of the film, but here, he’s playing errand boy for Palpatine. Still, Driver is a good enough actor that he makes Kylo and eventually Ben’s parts in the story resonate, and he along with Ridley act the hell out a pretty silly climax.
The Rise of Skywalker‘s story structure is more or less a string of fetch quests, but they do lead to an epic final battle that ticks all the necessary boxes: explosions, lasers, ships shooting other shoots. It’s bombastic, chaotic, and thrilling, but like so much of The Rise of Skwalker, it’s all shock and awe. There’s no real substance here, no bigger ideas to mull over after all its all over. The Rise of Skywalker complicates the saga more than it resolves anything, and where The Last Jedi moved the franchise into exciting new territory, this film plays it safe.
I will see The Rise of Skywalker again. I probably should have seen it again before writing this review. After seeing it again, there’s a chance I may even like the movie more than I do right now. But even if I don’t, I’ve come to terms with how little that actually matters. I’ve survived the Special Editions and the Prequels, and as they say, this too shall pass. I still love Star Wars and I’m not going to stop loving Star Wars. I’ll be back for future movies, and I look forward to future TV shows, comics, books, and video games that will possibly clear up some of my confusion about The Rise of Skywalker. But in the end, that’s where The Rise of Skywalker leaves me – confused, disappointed, and yet still hopeful that next time it will be better.