The Rise of Desperation
(This review contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Rise of Skywalker)
After sitting on Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker for a few days, I have come to realize that there is more that I did like in this movie than my initial watch. Granted that doesn’t excuse the glaring problems I have with it and the more that I think about it, the more I dislike some of the choices they made. Overall, this movie was fine and I do stand by my initial 7/10 rating of the film, but I wanted to talk more in depth about the things that worked and those that didn’t
The movie starts off with the opening crawl declaring that “the dead speak!” and that Emperor Palpatine is back, broadcasting his return across the galaxy. This opening gives a lot of exposition that we are just supposed to buy into for the film but it also raises questions that are never answered. Why did Palpatine tell everyone he was back, wouldn’t it have been better to keep it a secret if he wants to destroy the entire galaxy? Palpatine appears to Kylo Ren and tells him and the audience that he is back essentially due to some Sith magic. No other explanation is given to his return, already starting the movie off on some questionable footing that we have to buy into.
Looking back, I am okay with the explanation of how the Emperor returns but it does diminish the ending of Return of the Jedi where Anakin Skywalker definitively saves his son and redeems himself by killing the Emperor once and for all. With bringing the Emperor back into the fold, it weakens that powerful moment that help define Star Wars as a deeper saga. It really seems that bringing him back was not the initial plan despite J.J. Abrams telling everyone it was, and it shows with just how lazily the Emperor is introduced to spur up some conflict.
I do love seeing Ian McDiarmid back as this character as it allows him to relish in the over the top villainy that made him so iconic in the past. But I did not feel he was properly utilized until the third act of the movie where he is actually fighting our heroes. He is just in the background as an evil presence and the story is more concerned with reaching him than actually giving us answers to questions we have about his inclusion.
The scavenger hunt element of the story did not work for me as it just boiled down to a MacGuffin hunt and wasted a lot of time that should have been spent developing Rey, Kylo Ren, and the Emperor. There are so many story blocks that prevent the story moving forward such as C-3PO not being able to translate the dagger, or the Sith wayfinder not being where they thought it would be. It makes the narrative seem so choppy and boring at times that we are not getting to the meat of the conflict.
I did enjoy seeing Rey, Finn, and Poe all together finally as there is some great chemistry among this crew. It makes me wish that were more sequences of them bickering and collaborating to solve problems together. It is to the film’s credit that it makes me want more of something, but it is sad that this the only part of the entire trilogy where we get to see this friendship form. It seems a lot of it happened off-screen which doesn’t help us feel attached when they are being split apart.
Finn and Poe are really fun characters, and it is sad to see that their arcs were never fleshed out to become fully realized. Poe is essentially the comedic relief and smooth talking scoundrel of the group, but he doesn’t amount to anything more than that in this movie. Oscar Isaac is an incredible actor and highly charismatic, and I really wish the movie treated him more as a character than as a staple of comedic relief. The scene that he shares with Zori on the snow planet is such a small but quintessential moment for him that made me want more out his development.
Finn began as a character who defected from being a stormtrooper, and in this film he runs into a group of individuals just like him which is super cool and intriguing. The movie, however, never does anything with this information or develops him more than just someone who screams at Rey or worries about Rey. There are hints that he is force-sensitive, yet another intriguing idea that is wasted in the film and in the trilogy as a whole. I loved both of these characters in the first film, but by the end of this entire story they just didn’t go anywhere as characters.
The only two characters that get any sort of development and growth are Rey and Kylo Ren, the two that have been the heart and soul of this sequel trilogy. Rey is a fascinating character with what she can do and the morals she upholds and while she is extremely overpowered in a majority of the trilogy, Daisy Ridley has done a phenomenal job of bringing this character to life. I did like seeing Rey train under Leia and I do enjoy her struggle with the dark side. I wish there could have been more of that, but alas I was pleased with what I did see.
The biggest and earth-shattering reveal in the movie is that Rey is the grand-daughter of Palpatine. This such a huge leap that the movie expects us to buy into, but it opens up so many plot-holes and questions that I can’t even process all at once. While it does explain why Rey is so powerful, it really just feels like the writers are grasping at straws to try and explain things that fans weren’t satisfied with in the previous film. I enjoyed the fact that Rey came from nowhere, but since J.J. Abrams was the one who setup the question he feels the obligation to answer it so boldly that denounces the movie of its sense of logic.
This was the reveal where I had to draw the line. The movie expects us to buy into so much with these reveals and go with them, but doesn’t give us any explanation to them. This really stems from the problem that this trilogy had no road map from the beginning of where it was going. All of these reveals seem like last ditch efforts to clean up some of the mess that was made in The Last Jedi and tie everything together. Snoke is dead and there is no big bad? Bring back Palpatine. Who was Snoke? A creation of Palpatine. People want to know where Rey comes from? She’s a Palpatine. The answers we get have not been properly scattered out throughout the trilogy, but given in one big spoonful just to appease the audience. It is lazy and just a desperate move that feels so unearned.
Kylo Ren has been the only consistency within this entire trilogy and that is why he is objectively the best part of this entire sequel story. He was damaged and broken when we first encountered him and ended up being a hero that teamed up with Rey in the end. His scene with Han Solo was perfectly emotional and fulfilling. It completed Kylo’s arc from vengeful Sith to triumphant hero. I have loved Adam Driver’s performance in this trilogy from the very beginning and his confliction, demeanor, and ultimate resolution gave me everything I wanted and more. If there anything this movie did right, it was giving Kylo Ren the story and conclusion he deserved.
The connection between Rey and Kylo Ren was another fascinating point in the movie that was set up from The Last Jedi. It was so cool to see them transfer things through the Force such as the necklace of Darth Vader’s helmet. It also leads to some very awesome light-saber battles that I loved to see on screen.The reveal that they are a Force dyad (something that is stronger together than apart) did succeed for me. The sequence at the end where they transfer the light-saber was another stand out moment that did make me cheer when I first saw it. I was okay with the Force healing ability but it does lead to another problem I have with the film.
Any moment of big tension or dramatics that the film could have had is completely undercut by cheap story mechanics especially regarding the “death” of a character. Chewie dies, but it is revealed he survived. C-3PO loses his memory, but R2-D2 has a back-up. Rey stabs Kylo Ren but can instantly Force heal him back to life. All of these deaths and revivals is just a way for the audience to feel a sense of shock or weight to the conflict, but it doesn’t work when the decision is completely reversed in the next 10 minutes. Again, it is another lazy mechanic to force the audience to feel something because the overall conflict isn’t worth investing in.
I will say that they did handle Leia in this movie very well and that is a hard task to accomplish. While some of the scenes do feel awkward given the minimal dialogue, it was a great way to honor Carrie Fisher and complete her arc with Han and Ben Solo in the film. I’m glad she was in the movie and you can definitely see that they wanted to use her more, but they did the best job with what they were given.
In regards to other legacy characters, it was fun to see Lando but he doesn’t really do much in the movie. While he does play a role in the third act, his inclusion doesn’t really amount to anything meaningful in the grand scheme of things. Luke Skywalker is a fun cameo and his comment about throwing a light-saber is definitely a jab at The Last Jedi. His pep talk to Rey is a good one, but his inclusion feels more obligatory rather than necessary. This was all just fan service without any real meaning to the larger story at hand.
The final act of this movie is quite crazy and this is where I wish the movie had done more given that it is the conclusion of the Skywalker saga. While it was a cool scene to hear the voices of the Jedi in the past encouraging Rey, I wanted an Avengers: Endgame moment where they have all the actors stand behind her as she takes down Palpatine! That would have given me more an emotional investment and been a great way to end the trilogy, but sadly this was instead traded for the reveal that Lando accumulated a whole Resistance fleet to take down the First Order. It is never explained where this fleet came from or who anybody actually is, leaving a lack of emotional weight to that moment.
The final encounter between Rey and Palpatine was exciting albeit a little bit dry considering Palpatine could have just stopped his lightning instead of letting Rey obliterate him. Rey dies and then Kylo brings her back, sacrificing himself which was a great moment for him! It really mirrored the same sacrifice that Darth Vader did for Luke, and I thought Kylo paired with Leia’s death was a beautiful way to send them off. However it is completely undermined by the kiss Rey and Kylo share. I hated that moment in the film, and it felt like another obligatory thing that J.J. Abrams had to do for the fans.
Overall, this entire sequel trilogy is a mess given that they had no plan. J.J. Abrams set up some intriguing ideas, Rian Johnson didn’t like any of that and did his own thing, and then J.J. Abrams wants to retcon what came before and give his own vision. The result is something that is so sloppy and inconsistent that I don’t feel like I would watch this trilogy back to back in the future. Even the prequels had some sort of consistency to them with an end goal in mind and the bread crumbs to lead there. This trilogy doesn’t have a vision, and it suffers as a result.
You hear that a lot of directors drop out of Marvel movies due to creative differences, but at least producer Kevin Feige knew where his story was going and wasn’t afraid to disagree on some of the choices. The Marvel universe did have some hiccups but its overall 23 film story paid off astronomically and fulfilled almost every single fan. The Star Wars franchise needs something similar if it is going to continue to thrive, otherwise fans are going to continue to be disappointed like I was.
There is a lot of fun to be had in The Rise of Skywalker and if you enjoyed this film, then great! If you enjoyed this entire trilogy, then awesome! To me, it felt like a whimper rather than a roar of a final note in this story and I can’t say that Disney did a good job with this trilogy. I enjoyed The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi for what they were, but as an overarching narrative it just doesn’t work. This film does reveal to me why peoople don’t like The Last Jedi, even though I did enjoy that film. Disney is going on a 2 year hiatus with Star Wars films, and they need to take a hard look at this franchised before going forward.
Those are my spoiler-filled thoughts on the film. I didn’t cover everything, but I did cover the things that really bothered me and hopefully you can see where I am coming from in why I didn’t like this movie! I still think you should go see it as a Star Wars fan and enjoy this franchise for what it is!
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