After more than 40 years since the legendary Skywalker surname first made its way onto the tongues of nerds everywhere, the 9-film epic saga has concluded. Does The Rise of Skywalker successfully cap off both this new trilogy and the Skywalker saga?
Whether you’re an Original Trilogy purist or a Sequel Trilogy apologist, Star Wars fans from all walks of life were delighted to hear the news that another trilogy of films was set to release, beginning with 2015’s The Force Awakens. The film ended its theatrical run with generally positive fan and critic scores on Rotten Tomatoes while netting Disney $2 billion at the worldwide box office. Despite the numbers, the general consensus among fans was that the new film felt like a rehash of 1977’s A New Hope.
Flash forward to 2017 with director Rian Johnson stepping in for JJ Abrams and the numbers tell a different story. Though critics seemed to enjoy the film (91% on Rotten Tomatoes), the film divided the fan base mightily, as shown with a lowly 43% score on Rotten Tomatoes. The Last Jedi would also take a financial hit, dropping nearly $800 million worldwide from the gaudy numbers The Force Awakens accrued. Internet chat boards and forums blew up with toxic posts. Was Star Wars as a franchise now in trouble?
Billed as the conclusion of the Skywalker Saga, Episode 9 (again directed by JJ Abrams) looked to turn the tides by book-ending three separate trilogies. Despite a number of cool scenes and sequences, The Rise of Skywalker did not properly “end” this story.
Although Abrams was on the record of saying that his original plan for the new trilogy was set and carried out in each film, it’s extremely evident that his statement is untrue. At no point did this trilogy feel cohesive. The differences between plot, direction and character arcs are vast when comparing each of these three films. The Rise of Skywalker felt like the theater projectionist accidentally sped up the playback speed. We’re never given time to breathe. The classic scene wipes that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing when viewing different worlds and settings were grossly overused.
JJ also seemed to try to make up for things Rian Johnson did in TLJ, seemingly undoing and even mocking his vision of Luke Skywalker. When first introduced in TLJ after his epic reappearance at the end of TFA, Luke crassly discards his lightsaber. A passing line from TRoS and a now Force Ghost Luke has him saying something to the effect of “A Jedi’s weapon should always be treated with respect”. That very line tells you all you need to know about what JJ thought of TLJ. He desperately wanted to “make things right” with the fans while trying to play in the Disney/LucasFilm sandbox, resulting in a movie that didn’t deliver.
When we look back at Rey from her introduction to the end, the sheer “OP” level of her Force powers was poorly discussed and explored. Sure, you can argue that Luke didn’t have much training before becoming a Jedi, but Luke wasn’t Force-grabbing flying ships and shooting lightning from his fingers. Where (and when) did Rey learn these new powers? Introducing new Force powers is an extremely awesome concept; however, with no context behind their origin, they seem unearned, almost like a video game cheat code.
This film gave no real feeling of danger for the main characters. When you think they’re killing off Chewbacca, he appears in the next scene. When you think C-3PO’s memories are gone forever, there’s a work around. When you think Rey, Finn and Poe may have some difficulty against stormtroopers, they mow them down with ease. Even the lightsaber duels felt boring. Whether or not you liked The Phantom Menace, a large percentage of people would agree that the battle between Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Darth Maul was a spectacle. In TRoS, they felt bland and run-of-the-mill.
Can we talk about the reappearance of everyone’s favorite Sith Emperor for a minute? It’s wholly unbelievable to think JJ actually had him planned to be the final villain. At no point in TFA or TLJ were we led to believe Palpatine was still lurking in the shadows, and for good reason. We knew going into the trilogy that classic characters were returning to marshal in a new era with new heroes and villains. We got the tease of Snoke in TFA. He and the First Order, successors of the old Empire, were to antagonize the new heroes and rebels. But when Rian Johnson killed him off in TLJ, things drastically changed.
Colin Trevorrow was set to direct TRoS before JJ eventually was brought back to “course correct”. With his new “big bad” killed off, it seems he was forced to go to the well one more time and fish out Palpatine. Though the scenes with him are intense and ghastly, he feels largely out of place after sitting out the past two films. His inclusion felt extremely forced and desperate.
Speaking of feeling forced, the “Reylo” will they/won’t they arc was pure fan fiction. Despite the connection between the pair and their ability to communicate and even touch through the Force, they had no real chemistry or reason for ever pursuing anything romantic. The plot to find the Sith wayfinder ws dragged out and wasted time, killing any chance of getting more backstory on Palpatine and what exactly he’s been up to over the past 30 years. We’re shown glimpses at various beings in tanks with what looks to be a possible cloning facility. We even see Snoke clones in the tanks, yet they’re never explained or referenced.
The revelation of Rey’s parentage and lineage again felt like a rip off of the Original Trilogy; this time making the main hero a grandchild instead. The similarities between the Emperor’s throne room set in Return of the Jedi and the saber duel between Rey and Kylo were blatant. Kylo’s death and “redemption” was a carbon copy of Vader’s. In all, this film and trilogy didn’t do much to set themselves apart from their predecessor. There just wasn’t much “new”.
Perhaps the biggest slap in the face to the OT and its legacy is Rey’s claim on the Skywalker name. Throughout the film and trilogy, her relationships with both Luke and Leia had no substance on screen. There was no bond between them, at least none that was properly shown. She has no right to that name.
As both this era of Star Wars and this review come to an end…it wasn’t all bad. The Palpatine scenes were interesting despite the issues highlighted in this review. The visuals were fantastic. There were some emotional scenes. And there were EWOKS (yay!).
The issues that plagued this film plagued the entire trilogy. The ties to past characters to play off of nostalgia severely hindered the ability to be something new. The “world” of Star Wars is infinitely large. There are so many incredible stories, characters and planets to discover. Disney/LucasFilm succeeded in taking an entire universe and making it finite. Everyone knows everyone no matter where they go. This shouldn’t be the case.
It’s time for something new. With a series like The Mandalorian being an uber hit, it’s apparent that the future of Star Wars should be in long-form storytelling. Rather than a 2 hour film every 2 years, let’s have 8-10 hours of story over a few months. Let’s dive into characters, explore worlds, and get back to what Star Wars was. The OT wasn’t flashy; it was dirty and gritty. It didn’t rely on CG animation. It made you feel like you were there. It made it feel tangible. Both this new trilogy and even the prequel trilogy relied too heavily on CG and technology that they got away from the core of what Star Wars was. After all, it was “A long time ago”.
So as Skywalker has “risen” and ended, the fandom looks to the future. What will come next? Will there be a new trilogy? Will there be more prequel-era spinoffs? Time will tell. And as our favorite Wookie once eloquently stated: “AAARARRRGWWWH.”