While seeing The Rise of Skywalker, I could not help but think of The Last Jedi. When I reviewed The Last Jedi back in 2017, I was incredibly positive about the movie. The Last Jedi was easily the smartest and most innovative movie in the franchise since The Empire Strikes Back. Rian Johnson subverted expectations and created an entirely new story out of the Star Wars saga. It was necessary for the franchise, after years of all-consuming nostalgia and a lack of innovation and ambiguity, old things finally died. It was time to begin anew.
While The Last Jedi was highly regarded amongst critics, many fans were upset by the movie. Although I disagree with much of the criticism, I totally understand why people were upset by The Last Jedi. It took real risks, and people will not always get what they want. After a film that was so divisive, J.J. Abrams and others wanted to bring everyone together and create something everyone would love.
The latest Star Wars film misses the mark by a mile.The Rise of Skywalker is a giant middle finger to Rian Johnson’s film and to the story itself. It undoes and ret-cons much of Johnson’s work rather than build on the themes and ideas that Johnson gave Abrams for this movie. The Rise of Skywalker is also a muddled plot and is downright confusing to follow. It is a weak and scared approach to what could have been a truly great ending. Rather than serve the story, The Rise of Skywalker tries to please everyone and ultimately pleases very few.
The film starts off consumed with the nostalgia the last film was so concerned about hiding, explaining that Emperor Palpatine is alive and has been hibernating for years in a hidden planet. He also is in fact so powerful he created Snoke and other villains and is pulling the strings the whole time. He also has the final order ready to go all this time, which I guess is the First Order on steroids. Not only does this make no sense from a plot perspective, but it is also completely unfair to the last film. The point of the last film was to clearly define the main characters in this story and take away the focus from the previous films. Yes, this is a crowd-pleasing move to bring back a famous villain, but it is not important to this trilogy until suddenly it is incredibly important. It is a bad decision that was compounded by worse ones.
The ret-conning of these stories continues with Kylo Ren telling Rey that she is actually Emperor Palpatine’s Granddaughter. This is ridiculous from a plot perspective and takes away much of the brilliance of allowing Rey to be free of the previous films. She is her own character who came from nothing and still could become force sensitive. Tying her to Palpatine takes away her agency as a character and makes her a byproduct of the past and the nostalgia that Rian Johnson warned about.
Part of The Last Jedi’s brilliance is how it destroyed much of the speculation and guessing that was prompted by The Force Awakens. Rian Johnson recognized that what was most important about this story was not the speculation surrounding Rey and Kylo Ren but rather these two individual characters and what defines them. Regardless of their similarities and force sensitivity, what Johnson helped us understand was that these two characters could never be on the same side. Whereas Rey’s optimism will always have her belief that the world is good and can be good, Kylo’s narcissism will always cause him to think that he can rule the world better than everyone else.
It also takes great characters like Rose Tico and other stories and just throws them in the dumpster. Kelly Marie Tran’s character gets three lines of dialogue despite playing such an integral role in the last movie. While her and Finn’s story were the weakest sections of the last movie, it is still disappointing to watch this movie shove her aside in favor of one-note characters that do not add much to the story.
Outside of the ret-conning and bad decisions, the plot is confusing. It is unevenly paced and tough to follow. The final sequence is hard to keep track of, and one character, in particular, contradicts himself and his plans so many times it is hard enough to understand what his goals are and why. There is one character who is seemingly killed on a transport vehicle only to not have been on that transport vehicle. It is never explained why that is the case despite him having clearly entered the transport vehicle.This is not the only scene that breaks with Star Wars logic. One scene features horses riding on top of a spacecraft in space.
Despite my complaints, the movie is still incredibly well made and has many moving moments. Every scene featuring Rey and Kylo together is great. Their force connection is a terrific addition to this series, and these characters make the most of their scenes together. Poe Dameron also gets a bit of a backstory, which is interesting.
While there are positives, The Rise of Skywalker is ultimately afraid of its own skin. It chose to please the crowd rather than serve the story, and the result is incredibly muddled and disappointing. What could have been a great opportunity to continue a bold and daring story, ends in submission to twitter trolls and Redditors everywhere. The film is scared of risks and suffers because of it. Like Kylo, The Rise of Skywalker tries to repair the mask of what Star Wars is supposed to be and ultimately exposes its flaws.