SPOILER WARNING: It’s been a couple of months since Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has come out, but I’m still putting in a spoiler warning. Do not proceed if you still plan to see the film and do not want to be spoiled.
I’m going to start off this review by saying, yes, I think that Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a flawed film.
The one thing I will never overlook or forgive is the sidelining of Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran).
Yes, there is too much fan service. We will speak of this more in a moment.
Yes, they cram so much into the movie that the first viewing can give you a bit of whiplash.
I still loved it. For me, it stuck the landing when it came to both character and story arcs. If a story does that, I will forgive A LOT.
It also, almost miraculously, made me reassess my mostly negative feelings about the prequel trilogy. In fact, I think it ultimately found the perfect way to close out the Skywalker saga part of the Star Wars universe.
First, however, the fan service problem:
Certainly, reducing Rose to a cameo was for fan service. There was a loud (and toxic) part of the fandom that hated her character, and they stupidly gave into them. It made no difference. That part of the fandom still hated The Rise of Skywalker.
Then there was the part of the fandom, known mostly as “Reylos,” who wanted Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) to get together romantically. They gave them a kiss, which only made them angrier about how the story concludes.
Then there is the part of the fandom that didn’t like how another part of the fandom was romantically connecting the characters of Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac). So they introduced an ex-girlfriend, Zorii Bliss (Kerry Russell), for Poe to appease them. (Someone on Twitter hilariously characterized this as an “emergency heterosexual intervention.”) To show how they’re not anti-LGBT, they provided a two second kiss between two minor women characters that could be easily excised for the Asian market.
Come on, guys.
Fan service isn’t always bad. How lovely to see the return of Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) for instance. Or Chewie getting Han’s medal from the end of A New Hope. But appeasement never works. In every case of this kind it brought the film down.
Aside from the fan service, there were a couple of Writing 101 missteps. When C-3P0 has his memory wiped out, it was truly a poignant moment.
“Ha! PSYCHE! Of course, R2 has 3P0’s memory banks!”
“Oh, no, Chewie was blown up by Rey when she blew up the First Order transport!”
“Ha! PSYCHE! Of course, he was in another transport!”
I certainly didn’t want them to kill off Chewie, but come on, guys.
O.K., that’s a little nitpicky. Let’s get to what I loved about the film:
The film starts out with the announcement of the return of Palpatine. It’s a race by Rey, Finn, and Poe to find the planet Exegol so Rey can confront him and destroy his plans for the Final Order.
Palpatine is found by Kylo Ren, who does not want to serve any master. He agrees, however, to find and kill Rey for Palpatine. When they meet on a moon of the planet Endor, where the remains of the second Death Star are located, Kylo tells Rey that she is Palpatine’s granddaughter. During their final duel, Rey gives Kylo a mortal blow. At the moment of his mother Leia’s (Carrie Fisher) death, Rey senses she is gone and force heals Kylo. She runs away to Ach-To with the intention of exiling herself, since she now fears she has it in her to become a Sith Lord.
Luke (Mark Hammill) appears to her as a force ghost and gives her Leia’s lightsaber that she relinquished when she decided not to finish her Jedi training. He persuades Rey to confront Palpatine. Meanwhile, Kylo, now restored to his persona as Ben Solo, has a vision of his father, Han (Harrison Ford). He returns to Exegol and with Rey confronts Palpatine.
Palpatine discovers that Rey and Kylo form a dyad in the force, meaning they share a connection that crosses space and time. He uses the dyad to restore himself fully to life. Calling out to the spirits of the Jedi who still exist as force ghosts, Rey is able to destroy Palpatine by crossing both Luke and Leia’s sabers and striking him down with his own force lightning.
The effort drains the life out of Rey. Ben gathers her in his arms and gives his remaining life force to her, saving her life and ending his in the process. Because of his selfless act, he, too can become a force ghost and disappears. Just as it seems like the First Order will destroy the small band of Leia’s rebels, allies from all over the galaxy appear and help them destroy it once and for all.
Rey returns to Tatooine and buries Luke and Leia’s sabers at the old moisture farm. When asked what her last name is by a passerby, she answers “Skywalker.”
I won’t lie, I groaned during my first viewing when it was revealed Rey is a Palpatine. I loved the idea of Rey being a Nobody from Nowhere, that her force sensitivity had nothing to do with her pedigree.
But, boy, did they fix that in the third act of the film.
In the end, her pedigree doesn’t matter at all. Ben Solo’s didn’t matter at all. Both struggle with their heritage, and both choose to make it irrelevant. That is key.
I was dreading the redemption of Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, because he had committed genocide and patricide and you just don’t come back from that. They did it literally the only way it was going to work: he had to commit a selfless act and die. Even more the case than Vader’s sacrifice for his son, because he gives his very life force to Rey to save her.
I also feel like they redeemed the entire Jedi Order! Over and over again, the Jedi had failed, retreating when the going got too tough. Rey gives into the same impulse but quickly chooses to confront her worst fears. Bringing so many of the Jedi back (including some that only appear in the animated series) shows that there is no “chosen one.” They were all needed, including Ben, to bring balance back to the force.
This theme is carried through to the rebels, where no one hero, not Poe, not Finn, not Lando, not even Leia, but everyone together was needed to bring down the First Order.
I have often said in things I’ve written about Star Wars that I always felt like Leia was the eloquent argument against the chosen one trope. With The Rise of Skywalker, the entire opus is an argument against it, which is why I no longer dislike the prequels so much. It felt like the whole “Anakin is a virgin birth and the chosen one” was reinforcing that idea. Now, it’s “just another thing the Jedi got wrong.”
Do I wish other aspects of the film had been better? Sure. I wish that Rose had been included in the initial adventures with Rey, Poe, and Finn. I wish that they had spent time on Finn’s obvious need to tell Rey that he is force sensitive. They also could have spent more time on new character Jannah (Naomi Ackie), who, like Finn, was a stolen child forced to become a stormtrooper. I expect these particular aspects to be addressed in future EU novels, comics, and/or TV series. It still would have been good to have included them in the movie.
In spite of the missteps, in spite of the misguided efforts to please all the areas of the fandom, the film says the one thing it needed to say to get right: there is no one hero who will save us all. The chosen one trope is dead.
As Lando says, in one of my favorite lines in the film:
“We had each other. That’s how we won.”