– review by Han Spinel (views are my own, and reflect first impressions)
The Rise of Skywalker had some incredible moments and settings, amazing special effects and space battles, and certain characters really shined in this finale and farewell to the Skywalker Saga. Unfortunately, I found the editing to be far too frantic in its pace, which resulted in the emotional and narrative weight of the story to rely on nostalgia rather than the narrative build up with dramatic conflicts, consequences, and payoff. It would not surprise me if a ton of story is sitting on the cutting room floor for reasons that are beyond me. Finally, I’m personally disappointed that what I thought was going to be the conclusion of the Skywalker Family story, ended up being switched to the Jedi vs Sith, but in a new family light, the Sith vs itself. In my humble opinion, there were ugly aspects and implications to the lore of the Force and the Skywalker family following newly introduced canon, which appears to be contradicting itself in the Sequel Trilogy as well as the Skywalker Saga and franchise.
So let’s talk some of the good, bad, and ugly.
First, the good and in no particular order:
Exegol-an incredible new and already iconic setting. This place was rich with history, and hidden within the Unknown Regions. Filled with giant statues of the dark lords of old, it’s internal arena and dark throne will be talked about for some time. This was some world building that the Sequel Trilogy needed since beginning with Jakku and the graveyard of giants. Exogol also served as the setting for another stunning space battle including an armada of “people” joining the fight to take down the Final Order fleet.
C-3PO-this was peak Anthony Daniels; delivering already memorable one liners, and true to character-always getting into the middle of the very things he wishes to never be involved with. I was laughing out loud several times, from 3PO coming up with a second-too-late alternative to resetting his memory, to lamenting the fact that he still had the translation embedded within his system. The droids, in general, were fantastic in TRoS including the new D-O. This little guy was so full of joy and I adored Rey oiling it’s squeaky wheel, and how happy this simple act could make a droid. JJ has an incredible way of incorporating the droids as casted characters, something that flourished in TFA with BB-8, but was sorely missing in The Last Jedi.
Lando Calrissian-it cannot be overstated just how Lando, Lando was in this film. His charm, smile, laugh, and presence drew me into the story without hesitation. I loved meeting him once again behind a mask, revealing his rebellious smile beneath. It was an incredible send-off for one of the most intriguing characters introduced in the Saga, and seeing him leap frog Poe to rescue Finn and Jannah in the speedy Falcon was truly goosebump-inducing.
Rey- Daisy might have given her best performance of the Sequel Trilogy in this one. She felt more in charge of her destiny than ever before, definitely a Luke-is-a-bad-A-now vibe from RotJ. Rey also had great personality in the first act, and her dynamic with Poe being turbulent mixed with her intimate closeness to Finn was a really fun dynamic, and long overdue. We got to see a lot of different notes from Rey, and it was exciting to see her have a protective history over the Falcon (remembering Han), and the Jedi texts (remembering Luke). Rey’s specific interactions with Leia felt organic, though at times forced. Her duel with Kylo Ren on the Death Star 2 wreckage was pretty epic, and I loved watching her display her Force leaping ability in addition to a physical and emotional weight behind each saber swing.
Finn-large and in charge; Finn’s commanding presence shined in this final act. One of the major complaints from fans of Finn in The Last Jedi was his personal arc in the film, his injuries being treated as a joke while special care and attention were given to the villain’s wounds, and the tone deaf portrayal of his capture on the Supremacy. Further, his child-soldier story seemed to be ignored completely in TLJ, where Rose had to lecture Finn about the horrors of war associated with children-a lesson he was not in need of learning what so ever. JJ and co. Seemed to understand just how important this character is to the story and the saga, being an unchosen hero to reclaim and defend the honor of the heroes before him. He was a leader for the trio, and his skills as a soldier were in full display; commanding Poe to have patience when Rey confronted the serpant, and knowing when to cut losses on Passana to escape and fight for another day. His Force sensitivity was definitely one of the few established narrative pay offs in this film, and I can only hope that they follow up with FS Finn stories galore in the future. He and Rey represent the future of the Jedi and leaders of the Force, and this is truly an epic combo that needs to be firmly established in future timelines. FinnRey is a combo beloved by so many fans excited about the diversity within Star Wars. I simply enjoyed Finn’s heart in this one, and his being the glue of the heroic trio.
Poe-similar to Finn, I enjoyed seeing our favorite pilot hit the ground flying so to speak. Poe seems at his best when he’s able to cut the tension with humor, and he returned to The Force Awakens form to do just that. It was great to get this style of Poe back because one of the major complaints from fans of Poe in The Last Jedi was how his jubilant character turned to skepticism with a reluctance to work as a team-a lesson he didn’t appear to be in need of learning. The trio dynamic was finally provided and long overdue having glimpses of such in The Force Awakens, but kept at bay from what we often refer to as the “Force plot” of The Last Jedi, perhaps a huge mistake in retrospect considering the special dynamic these three have on screen together. Though many argue that the ESB split up its heroes, it only did so for the second act, not the entire movie like TLJ. Poe is a significant cog to returning Star Wars to the trio dynamic it’s become known for, and TROS definitely delivered on this aspect.
Babu Frik-nothing to dislike about this character, and just like D-O, the little fixer has the stamp of JJ Abrams all over them. Perfectly unaware of how cute and hilarious he is, Babu fires on all cylinders.
—And now for some bad:
Ben Solo-the story of Ben’s redemption was muddled for me: he killed his own father, ordered his mother’s death, and committed to killing his uncle, killed the supreme leader to become the supreme leader, taunts and manipulates Rey toward the same dark side that did all of the above, but then is distracted by his mother, killed by Rey, saved by Rey, and then finally turned around by his own memory of the murdered Han Solo? This certainly can’t be JJ’s “reverse Darth Vader” Adam Driver hinted at only weeks before. I was one of the few on our blog that still thought a redemption story was inevitable for Ben, but this is not reason in itself that a redemption arc is satisfying. My argument was that Ren had superseded the evil Vader inflicted by killing his own family, and thus his redemption cannot narratively give back to his family like Anakin’s did for Luke. If instead Ben paid it forward by reconciling his narrative foils and sacrificing himself for the man he chose not to be, Finn, this may have resonated in a more meaningful manner for some. As it is, the memory of Han Solo speaking with Ben was definitely heart felt, but in my humble opinion it was misplaced and makes the murder of Han Solo rather meaningless. For example, was it necessary for Ben to murder his forgiving and loving father in order to have a guilt-driven memory of Han forgive him again later?
Finn and Jannah-This was billed as a powerful connection, and genuinely set up through a great moment of shared experience for having both defected the First Order in an inexplicable way (suggesting that Jannah too is Force sensitive). However, the editing kept this a fleeting moment and it didn’t quite take root to grown beyond this. What’s interesting is that it appears as though it was originally meant to: we have learned since that Lando has a daughter kidnapped by the First Order, and that this daughter was likely Jannah. We speculated that Finn might find his long lost sibling in Jannah akin to Leia in RotJ and working off of the symbolism of his trooper number FN-2187 (Leia’s prison cell number), but sadly this didn’t come to fruition (yet?). Finn and Jannah achieve a major victory for the Resistance together and this was fantastic, including a dramatic rescue led by Lando and the Falcon, but just as soon as it started it felt over, and reconnecting was focused back on the trio only.
Poe and Zorii-the same as Finn and Jannah applies; a great glimpse into history paired with potential for future story. But the editing of the film didn’t leave time for Poe to contemplate or consider that Zorri was likely annihilated on Kijimi. I found this odd since the editing didn’t leave room for characters to process and emphasize the high cost and stakes of war, but left in time for innuendo. Also, many were excited that Poe could be a face in the franchise for a gay leading character, and so the choice to specifically make his past romance with a white woman is surprising in some ways, but considering Disney pulling their “lesbian kiss” from other markets, not surprising in the slightest.
Nobody’s ever really gone-my English Professor once told me that you get three exclamation points in life, so choose when to use them wisely. The same could be said about fake out deaths in stories, but TRoS used all of them plus some. Chewie! Psyche. Zorri on Kijimi! Psyche. Rey killed Kylo! Psyche, we foreshadowed Rey saving Ren when she heals a serpant (Lol). Palpatine killed Kylo Ren! Psyche AGAIN, there was a bouncy castle..
And for some ugly aspects to the lore and mythos of the Force, as well as narrative conclusions to the a saga:
Palpatine-being back from the dead, and without the power (or legs, unclear) to walk without the assistance of a coat hanger, transmitting messages across the galaxy and alerting everyone to his presence is a little out of character if you ask me. This all coming from the same character that hid in the shadows for who knows how long waiting patiently to strike and take over all who oppose him. I found Palpatine requesting that Rey kill him so that he can semi-possess her as empress was also out of character. And if you take the argument that he couldn’t rule the galaxy from his coat hanger, he regains his physical presence and gets back into character with wanting all the power for himself. But then even this ends up contradicting earlier plot points, because he is magically unable to possess Rey after she finally does kill him. I thought this was originally a unique trap for the protagonist, and one I honestly expected Finn to play a part in resolving as an unexpected power in the Force, but one that was solved by retconning and forgetting about itself instead. Some will argue that Rey didn’t “kill” him since it was his own lightning, but then are we to assume the most diabolical villain in Star Wars did not learn his lightning-messes-up-my-face-when-reflected-by-a-lightsaber lesson?
Shmi & Padme-without even a solid and memorable reference feels pretty criminal.
Force-teleportation: I hope this is specifically reserved to the connection and bridge that Snoke created between Rey and Kylo. Even then, this moves far beyond Telekinesis and effective provides any Jedi the ability to instantaneously 3D print any object at any time. This is contrary to the philosophy of the Force, which connects a user to the natural world around them. If a Force user can reach through space and time, they become genies out of the bottle with snap your finger abilities opposed to sentient beings that are highly in tune with nature.
Who is Finn?
Finn’s role was not only supposed to be important, but the question of “who is Finn?” Was just as important as “who is Rey?” according to JJ Abrams himself, saying that Finn’s backstory would be explored in The Rise of Skywalker. The spoiler alert here is that there are no spoilers, the current edit didn’t even attempt to ask who is Finn? As mentioned above however, Finn and Jannah were likely siblings in an earlier draft of this story, and the stolen children of Lando. So why and when was this story cut from the film?
In retrospect, changes must have happened very late in the game as John Boyega was essentially a one-man hype machine for TROS before official marketing began. That is, until he saw the film himself – switching gears completely and telling the interviewer that he planned on hyping the film up until the release, but now decided to let fans see it and decide for themselves.
We also seem to be missing an extremely shocking and huge moment of Finn in this cut, as John alluded to something incredible happening on set from his Instagram.
Who is Luke Skywalker?
This is apparently the question Kathleen Kennedy asked JJ Abrams in order to entice the director to take on arguably the tallest task of his already acclaimed career in reintroducing fans to the galaxy far, far away (no offense, Trekkies).
For a film that gave Luke approximately 1 minute of screen time, The Force Awakens didn’t begin answering this question with Luke himself. Instead, we are told from the onset and opening crawl that the hero to defy an entire Empire has literally vanished from the fight. But surely there must be some narratively good reason? We are later told by Han Solo that one of Luke’s students turned on him, and in response Luke went searching for the first Jedi temple. That student of course was Ben Solo, his sister’s only son; his best friend’s only son. So why would the first Jedi temple help things? We never actually get a question to that story line in The Last Jedi and the narrative is changed completely.
The reason detailed in The Last Jedi, is that Luke “failed” his family by “thinking [his family’s] choice was made,” when “it wasn’t.” In other words, Luke Skywalker gave into his fears and the dark side, and gave up on his family too soon. This is the antithesis of his defining character arc in the Original Trilogy: which was to never give into the dark side and he never gave up on his family even when everyone else had given up on his father too soon.
Anakin Skywalker’s dying declaration – “Luke, you were right about me. Tell your sister, you were right,” underscores the significance of Luke’s decisions. In this moment, Luke becomes the symbol of everlasting hope. Yes, Luke eventually sacrifices himself for family and friends in TLJ, but remember that he admits to Leia he has no part in being able to redeem Kylo Ren, his mistake is now forever set in stone and led to the murder of Han Solo.
So what TROS failed to do was retroactively contextualize his moment of failure presented in TLJ, and if The Rise of Kylo Ren comic series doesn’t stop short of absolving Ben of his wrong doings, then the Sequel Trilogy’s coup de grace to Luke Skywalker was that he was wrong about his family, such that when Ben decides to be good it had nothing to do with Luke’s positive influence and undying love for family. Yikes.
And people wonder why Mark Hamill might take issue with his representation in the Sequel Trilogy. Luke may have just as well been safer getting absorbed into “Legends” canon, though some people swear up and down that Luke in TLJ was the greatest Luke moment of all. Not for me, and apparently not for Mark.
Who is Rey?
This question was allegedly at the heart of The Rise of Skywalker during writing, despite the notion(TM) that Rey was a nobody introduced in The Last Jedi. Rey [intentionally left anonymous] told us from the beginning of the The Force Awakens official trailer that she was “no one,” which in storytelling terms is precisely the technique one uses to introduce a “someone” to the audience (see: Strider, aka Aragorn Son of Arathorn, rightful heir to the throne of Gondor and Kingdom of Men), and also a trick used in classical mythology.
The Rise of Skywalker emphatically and finally addresses the issue by explaining that Rey is the descendant of Palpatine. The reveal itself is laughable, “you’re a Palpatine,” as if she’d just been told she’s a human raised by elves and not actually an elf. And the fact the exact same line is spoken aloud a second time moves beyond bizarre. Regardless of its Buddy-the-Elf delivery, this is contradictory to earlier story developments when canon referred to Rey as the “descendant of light.” Palpatine is many things, but light is not one of them. Piling on top of this is the fact that several female protagonists discover the truth in their journey all on their own, but here the men of the story all held the knowledge and decided when to reveal it to the heroine.
And how is this supposed to make any narrative sense when Maz says to Rey, “That lightsaber was Luke’s and his father’s before him, and now… it calls to you…. because you’re a Palpatine!” And when Maz explains to Rey that whomever she’s waiting for on Jakku is never coming back, but that there’s still someone who could, Rey answers without pause, “Luke…. because I’m a Palpatine.” And finally, when TFA script depicts Rey and Leia’s “first meeting,” Leia hugs Rey with a “mother’s embrace” because she is a Palpatine? Walking out of the theater, I said aloud, “there is no way JJ Abrams wrote this as an inevitable solution to his own set up in TFA.” I still believe this, but can’t explain it.
Somehow, the TLJ and TROS departed from elements of mending a broken Skywalker family in TFA, and in the end, leaving behind the duality of the Skywalker family to focus on the newly formed duality of Palpatine’s family- Palpatine vs. his grand daughter. It would appear the sole purpose for the Skywalkers was to distract Palpatine long enough for him to have children of his own that would inevitably lead to his demise. The Skywalkers certainly couldn’t do it.
I probably need to sit on it for a bit, but Rey felt very selfish to me in this following the first act; smiling to her friends’ faces when they insisted that they go together and then leaving on her own behind their backs, continuing to lie to others about her Force connection to Kylo Ren, and Rey kissing and embracing the man who tempted her to the same dark side. This same man tried to kill the people she loves most several times, and the same dark side that saw Ben Solo kill his father. This plot point left many fans in disarray as it seems to support a dangerous narrative of accepting the emotional abuse and manipulation of a partner.