Spoiler-filled The Rise of Skywalker thoughts…

Back from China and hoping to get some more blogging done! After some 24 hours of non-stop travel, I got back on the 23rd and decided to stay awake as long as possible by going to see the final movie in the Star Wars Skywalker epic, The Rise of Skywalker.  Like the previous two episodes in this trilogy, I thought I would share some spoiler-laden thoughts on the movie here safely below the fold in a blog post where they can’t hurt anyone!

A word of warning, and a disclaimer, before I begin, though. My reaction to the movie was… not great. But everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and if you liked the movie, this is not a judgment or criticism of you. I’m not writing this to argue, but rather to just clear my head of the thoughts that have been spinning around since I saw the movie. Also, I really wanted to round out the posts I did about the first two movies, here and here.

And I’m not interested in arguing, either, so any hostile comments will probably be deleted and the posters blocked! Star Wars fandom has become rather toxic in recent years, and I don’t feel like indulging in that toxicity.

WARNING: Do not read further until you have seen the movie.

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Seriously, I’m going to talk about major movie spoilers, so turn back now if you’re not prepared.

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THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING.

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Okay, here we go:

A bit unsure how to even start my commentary.  The Rise of Skywalker definitely brings an end to the new trilogy, and officially the end of the entire Skywalker saga, stretched out over nine movies and some 40 years. I’ve been there since the beginning, and even remember seeing the first Star Wars in theaters when it was first released. It was a huge influence on my childhood.

In some sense, RoS is satisfying: the main villain (Palpatine) is defeated, another lost soul (Kylo Ren) is redeemed, and our heroes bring peace to the galaxy, again.  Most characters, old and new, get a chance to shine — with some exceptions we will note in a while.

But, overall, and compared with the previous two films, RoS felt “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  We rocket from location to location and battle to battle without any real import to any of them. Does anything stand out about the space station where they learned of the existence of the spy? How about the planet where they met Lando? Or the city where they brain-wiped C-3PO to find the location of the Sith base? Even the Sith planet itself was dark and desolate, without any real character to it.  I contrast these with the salt planet Krait of TLJ, and the ruined Star Destroyers littering the surface of Jakku in TFA.  Places really didn’t stand out to me at all in RoS, with the exception of the ruins of the Death Star — though this seems very reminiscent of the ruined Star Destroyers.

New characters were also given so little screen time or interaction that one wonders why they were introduced at all. Zorii Bliss, Poe Dameron’s apparent former love interest, pops in and out so quickly we learn almost nothing about her. She even keeps her helmet on the entire time, which makes me wonder why the amazing Keri Russell was needed for the role. Naomi Ackie’s new character Jannah is given similarly short shrift. It is hinted that she has a connection to Lando — a daughter or granddaughter, perhaps? — but nothing is ever really explained.  The new droid, D-O, is just sort of… there.  He serves one purpose: to get the heroes to the Sith planet, and that’s it. Then there’s Dominic Monaghan’s Resistance fighter Beaumont, who as far as I can tell has a bunch of lines largely because J.J. Abrams is his friend. (NOTE: Oh god it’s worse than I thought.)

As others have pointed out, Beaumont’s addition is rather galling because his lines could just as easily have been given by Rose Tico, who is almost completely written out of the script. Her character was divisive in TLJ, largely because of asshole toxic fans who literally drove Kelly Marie Tran off of social media. But she was also loved by a lot of people — including me — who wanted to see her be treated with at least a modicum of respect. Instead, she’s nearly invisible. The explanation given by Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio for her tiny part sounds like complete BS. Rose Tico deserved better, and her fans deserved better.  Her interaction, and possible romance, with Finn? Never addressed or acknowledged.

Lots of threads are left untied in RoS. Some of them, like the Finn-Rose romance, seem like deliberate disavowal of TLJ, and an attempt to pretend that it didn’t happen at all. Regardless of what you thought of that movie, it is bad form to just retcon away an entire chapter of a trilogy.  Other threads seem to have been left untied by simple sloppiness. When Finn thinks he’s going to die, he declares that he has something to tell Rey. What does he tell her? He never gets around to it. He’s even asked later what he was going to say, and still refuses to comment.  I’m not sure if the writers were trying to be funny with this, but considering the friendship between Finn and Rey is key to the entire trilogy, it feels like a cheap joke.

Other twists and turns are poorly handled. General Hux, revealed to be the spy in the First Order, is gunned down unceremoniously, with his motivations barely explored. It is another joke that landed poorly for me — this guy was a major villain for two entire movies! Chewbacca is seemingly killed, and then found to be alive. It is transparently obvious that this was done in the script to force Rey to have another crisis of faith.  C-3PO has his memory wiped, only to have it brought back quickly from a backup in R2-D2.  The Knights of Ren finally make an appearance, and… well, I still don’t know who they are, but Kylo kicked their asses.

Overall, there seems to be little in the way of character development in the entire story. By contrast, Finn learns to actually give a shit in TLJ, instead of just looking out for himself and Rey. And Rey makes the choice to give up on toxic Kylo in TLJ, instead of trying to save him. Nobody has a moment of revelation in RoS that feels earned.

The biggest failure of these is Kylo Ren. He apparently switches back to the Light Side almost instantaneously thanks to the death of Leia. This also felt artificial to me — the writers clearly wanted to give Leia one last moment of heroism, but had limited archival footage to pull this off.

When I first heard that they were going to use extra footage of Carrie Fisher in RoS, I was excited to see her one last time. In hindsight, I wish they hadn’t used it. Her lines are vague enough to lack any real impact. Her transformation of Kylo Ren lacks impact for the same reason. It felt like an undignified end for Fisher’s iconic role as Leia: having her words spliced together into something that they were not.

Leia’s appearance was, in my opinion, fan service for the sake of fan service. An even worse example of this was the last-minute kiss between Rey and Kylo. I know lots of people ship those two something hard, and I can imagine countless ways it would work, but the way it played out? Kylo emotionally — and physically — abused Rey for almost three whole movies, killed lots of innocent people, including people she cared about (cough cough Han), and somehow his last-minute act of heroism kindled romance? It just felt misguided and creepy to me. (And then he dies, a convenient way to try to have it both ways: Reylo and noReylo.)

Members of the toxic Star Wars fandom tried to pick apart TLJ and TFA for perceived inconsistencies; I’m curious to see if they complain similarly about RoS, because many of those inconsistencies reappear here, to an even greater extreme. The Emperor, for instance, ends up being super-Force-powered at the end of the movie, casting force lightning so powerful that it is able to disable the entire Resistance fleet, while mysteriously leaving all the Final Order ships unaffected. Both Rey and Kylo manifest a new Force healing power, without any indication of how they learned this skill. (For the record, I’m fine with new Force powers like healing appearing without explanation, but this is exactly the sort of thing that toxic fans railed on about in TLJ.)

I could probably go on longer, but why bother? Overall, my complaints all revolve around the observation that RoS doesn’t really seem to be about anything, or about anyone. It’s just a bunch of stuff that happens.  And the stuff that does happen mirrors the original trilogy so closely that one wonders why make a new trilogy at all.*

Let me end by noting a few things I did enjoy or was okay with. I was okay with Palpatine coming back as the big baddie, though even this I felt was handled poorly — his “it was always me behind the scenes” speech sounds as unconvincing as when Blofeld gave it in the James Bond movie Spectre.  I was okay with them retconning Rey’s parentage, largely because I was fully expecting it after TLJ.  I liked the ending of the movie, with Rey visiting the Skywalker home,  and declaring that her name is now Skywalker.

And the one moment that truly moved me was the appearance of Lando with the whole fleet coming to save the day.

I’ve already written my own headcanon for how RoS ended, to avoid going insane, like I did for Mass Effect 3. And just like Mass Effect 3 killed my enthusiasm for Mass Effect, I think RoS has put me off of my enthusiasm for Star Wars for quite a while.

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*  Yes, I know that the answer is “money.”

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3 Responses to Spoiler-filled The Rise of Skywalker thoughts…

  1. Blake Stacey says:

    I haven’t seen TRoS yet. I didn’t see TLJ until about a week ago, but I thought it was a solid movie, and everything I’ve heard about TRoS suggests that I would find it a disappointment.

    “Rey is a Palpatine” is one of those things that was literally, not figuratively, raised as a joke before the movie came out. A “wouldn’t that be the shocking twist” kind of shocking twist, taking all the fan speculation about her being a Kenobi or whatever and pushing it to an absurd limit. I guess I expected the “Rey’s parents were nobodies” to get retconned, but I still find it disappointing, for reasons that go all the way back to Return of the Jedi — because that’s where the Star Wars galaxy started getting smaller.

    The tradition is to hate on the Ewoks, but I don’t think they were a bad idea, just mishandled. The whole “technologically advanced super-Empire defeated by the supposedly unsophisticated native inhabitants cough cough Vietnam” thing that Lucas clearly had in mind could have worked, if their introduction had been played a little differently. The whole bit with the heroes getting caught in a net trap and almost cooked for dinner is played for broad comedy — the trap practically has ACME painted on the side — and so it’s impossible to take the Ewoks too seriously after that. All we needed instead of that was a scene where, say, our heroes find the Ewoks hunting a giant nasty forest animal and bringing it down with teamwork and clever use of simple tools adapted to the environment. No, the thing I found really dissatisfying when I rewatched Jedi as an adult was the beginning. It falls all over itself. I think it’s supposed to have the satisfying feel of a heist flick, where all the apparent losses were really gambits to put the pieces in play, and the over-elaborate scheme all clicks into place at the climactic moment. But the plan just isn’t there; it feels arbitrary and contrived, not elegant. And then it’s all just … irrelevant. Maybe that’s an artifact of the serial-adventure inspiration, but once the sail barge goes boom, it’s all done (except for a tiny bit of setup with Luke’s damaged artificial hand). Any lingering animosity between Han and Lando is resolved at the Sarlacc pit. Boba Fett doesn’t come back in the third act as the villain that Han has to defeat in a personal boss fight. The whole Tattooine escapade is cut off from the rest of the galactic drama … which leads to broader questions of structure and theme.

    Why, diegetically, did Jabba have to be on Tattooine? Nothing in the prior two movies even suggests all that strongly that he was based there (except for a scene that was wisely cut and unwisely “restored” in the Special Edition). Surely a gangster with interplanetary reach would be a more intimidating villain! Going back to Tattoine makes the galaxy a smaller place, and it undermines the original. The planet was the dusty end of nowhere, the place that Luke wanted to get away from. The more that happens there, the harder that emotion is to sustain consistently. The story with the decadent crime lord that the heroes have to defeat through subterfuge — instead of making their opening move strafing his palace with X-wings to prove they mean business and blowing up Jabba’s next year supply of spice shipments — is more suited to an urbane setting. It’s not the right fit for a planet where the way to settle a dispute in a bar is to slice off a man’s arm like a boss or incinerate a green dweeb also like a boss. You don’t set “Ocean’s 11 meets The Godfather and Cabaret” in the Wild West. If anything, it’s a Canto Bight story!

    OK, all that had a point, I promise.

    First, the franchise went back to Tattooine. Then, it made Luke and Leia siblings. (Which, also, ew.) Then we went back to Tattooine again, amid a sea of blunders in a movie where nothing happens for explicable reasons, a move that sparked years of “why did Obi-wan hide Luke on Vader’s home planet??” — just when midichlorians came along and made the Force a matter of bloodline, and when we discover that Luke and Leia’s mother and the Emperor come from the same planet’s aristocracy. (David Brin once made a wisecrack that the way aristocracies inbreed, they’re probably cousins.)

    For all the talk of the “Star Wars Expanded Universe”, it’s been shrinking since 1983.

  2. What if it’s the other way around? What if it’s Star Wars the one who doesn’t like us anymore? What if it’s just the fact we’re not seven any longer and we cannot be enchanted by SW as we once were?
    Great analysis, wonderful post.

  3. mikemonaco says:

    Good review.
    I went to an early showing with some family, including my kid, and _really_ wanted to like this movie. I actually liked The Last Jedi quite a bit, and expected the about faces but not for so many threads from TLJ to be completely dropped. There were a few decent laughs and some action, and the best I can say about it is that it tried to bring things to some kind of conclusion. I thought (as many did) the Force Awakens was pretty bad and a rehash; it’s ironic that like the first trilogy, the second installment was the best and the conclusion was mess again. I did like the new droid’s tag line (“No thanks” whenever any got physically close or tried to touch it) and it was nice to see Lando and Chewie together. I just think it’s a shame that I when grew up, Star Wars was a familiar and beloved series that I shared with a lot of peers, but now it’s just another franchise that has been wrung dry twice over. My kid will maybe remember “yeah I saw that” but that’s it. No archetypal characters that will be worth referencing, no truly memorable scenes even. Nostalgia rarely ends well.

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