The Saga Ends: A Star Wars- The Rise of Skywalker Review
It’s been a long time coming, but it’s finally here: The Star Wars Saga has come to an end.
I remember a time when Star Wars was only a thing of the past; when I was first introduced to the trilogy on VHS, that was it, there was no more. Star Wars began and it ended.
It wasn’t until several years- and three special editions- later that it was announced that Star Wars would return, in the form of the prequels. And honestly, the prequels were a mixed bag; they had their good moments (Jango Fett, Duel of the Fates, the fall of Anakin) and they had their bad (Hayden Christiansen, Jar Jar Binks, and commentary on sand… oh, and Hayden Christiansen). But as I’ve always said, even bad Star Wars is still Star Wars; even at the franchise’s worst, it’s still better than a lot of other science fiction films.
But with Revenge of the Sith, Star Wars ended again. And that was that. Sure, the franchise lived on in books and comics, in video games and cartoons like Clone Wars, but the cinematic journey was done.
And then Disney stepped in. I remember the excitement when Disney bought Lucasfilm and announced a new trilogy, because finally, finally, the series would be exploring what came after Return of the Jedi.
I remember when I first saw The Force Awakens. I think I ended up seeing it 6 times in theaters. It was a fantastic adventure, albeit a little too derivative of A New Hope. It brought the galaxy back into a familiar conflict, and brought our favorite characters back along with some new faces.
But it was The Last Jedi that really sold me on this trilogy. It was divisive, to be sure, but it was bold enough to grow beyond the boundaries set in place by The Force Awakens. Instead of being a retread of the familiar, instead of following the path that some die-hard fans wanted it to, it chose to explore the humanity behind our heroes, and the realism of the galaxy far, far away.
Certainly, The Last Jedi angered a great many fans (including a few of my friends), but I found it to be exactly what this franchise needed to succeed beyond this trilogy- a breath of fresh air. The Force Awakens was too similar to A New Hope; consider the live action remakes Disney has been churning out. At best they satisfy, hitting the notes you want them to hit, that you expect them to hit. But none of them are profound. The Last Jedi was. It made you reconsider so much about the characters. And sure, that was to the disappointment of a small group of fans who went in expecting to get exactly what they wanted, but it’s just dumb to go in with those kind of expectations in any movie. As Rian Johnson said recently, “Even my experience as a fan, you know if I’m coming into something, even if it’s something that I think I want, if I see exactly what I think I want on the screen, it’s like ‘oh, okay,’ it might make me smile and make me feel neutral about the thing and I won’t really think about it afterwards, but that’s not really going to satisfy me.”
But I’m not here to talk about those movies. Let’s talk about The Rise of Skywalker. The end of the saga. I honestly tried to go into this one with no expectations whatsoever. I’d seen headlines calling it a mess, saying fans hated it, but I ignored them. I sat down in the theater and waited for the opening crawl to begin. The guy next to me asked if I was ready for this movie; he seemed a little unsure himself. But I was ready.
And then… A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…
The Short Review
I think the best way I can describe my feelings about The Rise of Skywalker is this: it is probably the closest thing to what I wanted when Disney first announced Star Wars would return to the big screen. It is a damn fantastic Star Wars flick. It doesn’t deliver 100% as a sequel to the other two, but on it’s own it is possibly the best of what Disney has made since buying Lucasfilm.
The Long Review
I was a little apprehensive when J.J. Abrams was announced to conclude this trilogy. My concern wasn’t that he wouldn’t make an enjoyable flick; I’ve yet to see an Abrams movie that I didn’t love. But I was concerned with how he would handle The Last Jedi, as clearly that movie changed the game for movie three.
I imagine Abrams meant for Snoke to ride out the trilogy. I imagine he meant for Rey to have a more impressive lineage than a couple of “nobodies”. I imagine he planned for a different journey for Luke Skywalker. And I was, honestly, concerned that he would do everything he could to undo what Rian Johnson did.
And, to be frank, there are those who will see this movie that way. With Luke telling Rey that he was wrong to hide himself on Ach-To, Abrams clearly is rewriting the story back to how he envisioned it. With the reintroduction of Palpatine, he is essentially replacing Snoke. Sure, you can see it that way.
But the original trilogy pulled that shit too. Let’s not forget it; George Lucas didn’t originally conceive Vader as Luke’s father- otherwise Obi-Wan wouldn’t have said Vader killed Luke’s father (a line that Return of the Jedi retconned just as quickly as Abrams retconned some of the previous film’s work). Re-envisioning the previous movie is a staple of Star Wars, so it is pointless to be pissed about this trilogy doing it.
But more on that, I don’t feel like this movie spent it’s entire run time course correcting from where Johnson left us. I think it grew from it. At first glance, Luke retcons his entire stance in The Last Jedi, but it isn’t because they are trying to erase that story; it is because Luke learned from it. He learned that he was wrong to seclude himself from the rest of the galaxy, and he is imploring Rey not to do the same. Likewise, even if I feel Abrams planned for Snoke to stick around, I can’t see how he would have planned for anything other than Palpatine to be pulling his strings; this conclusion would not have worked with Snoke standing in Palpatine’s place.
The Only One We Ever Feared
Abrams said two key things about this movie in regards to The Last Jedi. He told us that Rian Johnson’s movie didn’t derail any of the plans for the final installment, and that The Last Jedi allowed them to be bolder with this story. That’s enough to make me believe that for all the turmoil fans put themselves through, freaking out about that movie, this was always the endgame.
Sure, it was a little clunky to announce the return of Palpatine in the opening crawl; I personally would have preferred to see or hear the broadcast of Palpatine’s statement of revenge rather than read about it in the newspaper, but it gets the story started. And I’m sure fans would have liked to have had some sign or whisper of Palpatine’s presence in the other two movies; that’s one of the reasons I say this is a better movie on its own than as a sequel to what came before it. But there were signs, my slippery friend, and more than whispers. There was Kylo Ren talking to his grandfather’s helmet, telling it he would finish what Vader started (when we all knew Vader became a hero in his final moments). And when Snoke tortured Rey, the music that played over him wasn’t his own evil theme, but Palpatine’s. “I have been every voice you’ve ever heard inside your head,” says Palpatine, in a line that could have come off as corny as Blofeld telling Bond “It has always been me, the author of all your pain.” But it works. It really works; it shows that when Kylo spoke to Vader’s helmet, it was Palpatine who spoke back to him. It was Palpatine who spoke to Ben when Luke was training him. It was Palpatine commanded Snoke like a puppet. Star Wars has always needed a villain, and Palpatine has always been it; did you think it would be different in this trilogy?
Of course, Palp’s re-emergence meant that Kylo Ren couldn’t rise to be the villain I thought he would be, but it was necessary for Ben Solo. Ever since The Force Awakens, I felt that Ben was going to get, for lack of a better term, the Prince Zuko arc (and hell, Rey is definitely the Avatar); he was the big bad who would be redeemed. Like Vader before him, Ben would ultimately turn to the light again, which meant the series needed an overarching villain to fight against when Ben threw away his red lightsaber (can I say that I loved that scene, how it paralleled with the moment he killed his father? Talk about some story symmetry).
I also think in the many iterations we’ve seen of Palpatine, from the corrupted senator to the Sith lord to the Emperor, this version is by far the most terrifying. Very nearly a horror movie monster, Palpatine became evil in it’s purest form in this film, aided by some stunning visual work. The whole climactic sequence (while, yes, a little derivative of Return of the Jedi) was just breathtaking to watch. It was the kind of sequence that this trilogy- that this saga- deserved to end on.
The movie glosses over the “how” of Palpatine’s return/survival (clones? dark side powers?), but much like Professor X’s return in Days of Future Past, it doesn’t really matter how he returned, it just matters that he returned.
In terms of the other villains of the film, I want to touch on General Hux for a brief moment. Initially it caught me off guard that he was the spy for the Resistance, since he had basically been Hitler in The Force Awakens. But after seeing his reaction to Kylo Ren becoming the Supreme Leader, it makes a little sense; he doesn’t want the rebels to win- he just wants Kylo Ren to lose.
I have always loved C-3P0, but I tell you what, if you had told me he would be one of my favorite characters in this movie, I would have still been surprised. But the golden droid really outclassed himself in this movie; he brought his classic humor to every scene he was in, and some genuine emotion, too.
Of the human characters, however, I think Poe really was my favorite character. I’m glad Abrams didn’t kill him off in The Force Awakens as was planned. Poe steps up as a leader and really carries a lot of this movie.
But of course, Rey is the real star here. I didn’t mind Abrams retconning “Your parents were nobody” into them being nobody because they chose to be in order to protect her. I always thought there was more to Rey’s backstory than that. As Rian Johnson said, that was the worst thing she could have heard in the moment; it wouldn’t have mattered that she was a Palpatine until she knew Palpatine was back.
Coming to terms with her heritage, however, really made us understand her, too. It helps us understand why she has always been so powerful in the force with very little training. It made us understand why she was so drawn to the dark side, as Luke saw (and made us understand why Luke was hesitant to train her; it wasn’t because she was powerful like Kylo, it was because she was powerful like Palpatine).
And honestly, that something that this movie does a great job of; it connects a lot (but not all) of the puzzle pieces from the previous two entries. But wait, didn’t I say it isn’t the best sequel? I did, and I stick by that; Rise of Skywalker works the best as it’s own entity. When comparing it to the previous two movies, it feels a little bit separate. When it connects into the other movies, it does so well, but for the most part it doesn’t feel like it connects to the other two movies. But that’s not entirely a problem; it allows this movie to be its own thing, rather than a third of a whole.
Another thing that this movie does so well is General Leia. With the exception of maybe one or two shots, it is impossible to tell that she wasn’t alive to be in this movie. Certainly any shot from behind her is probably a double, and I think they had someone else do some lines for her, but they made her presence known in this movie, and it wasn’t just getting her into a scene to show she’s still there. They made her a proper character in this movie, despite having to work with material that was already shot from the other two movies. That was entirely well done.
It was great seeing Lando again, and definitely welcome to have him in the movie since all the other original characters are either gone in the story or gone in real life (rest in peace, Carrie and Peter). Likewise, I really enjoyed a lot of the new characters, particularly C-3P0’s “oldest friend”, Babu Frik.
Oddly, though, other characters like Rose Tico and Finn felt a little underused (especially when it came to the relationship between Rose and Finn; it was there, just briefly). Sure, Finn is in most of the movie and plays a pivotal role, but honestly his story arc ended in The Last Jedi when he came full circle from being a stormtrooper to being ready to sacrifice himself for the Resistance. Likewise, while it is always great to see Meriadoc Brandybuck, I can’t really figure out why Dominic Monaghan is in this movie, as he is pretty much a background character.
But we can’t talk about the good guys without mentioning… Ben Solo. Yes, back to Ben. I loved that the movie continued to evolve the force connection between Ben and Rey, now being able to transfer objects between them (remember, we did technically see this in The Last Jedi when a wave on Ach-To splashed onto Kylo and he had water on his glove). I always felt he was angry, but never felt he was an evil character; his anger led him to villainy, and Palpatine/Snoke fueled his rage. But seeing him let go of his anger and choose the light once more was a very satisfying arc. Seeing him standing beside Rey, ready to take on Palpatine, was thrilling. And seeing him give his life force for Rey, well, that was his destiny fulfilled.
Of course, it isn’t Star Wars without… well… a war. And this movie has it. The final space battle is nothing short of epic, with literally hundreds of ships turning up to fight the Final Order.
And that’s something easily said for the whole movie. There’s plenty of action, plenty of spectacle, and plenty of effects that make this movie simply stunning to watch. One of my favorite parts was when the Emperor shot lightning into the fleet, it was just powerful as hell. And the whole visual of the Sith planet was breathtaking.
John Williams’ score for this movie is beautiful as always (although I need to stop listening to the soundtracks for The Mandalorian and give this one a proper listen before I can really write about it). I noticed a few moments where Rey’s theme eerily dances around Palpatine’s, and when Ben returns, Kylo Ren’s theme is somehow made to feel more heroic. If this is to be the last Star Wars score by Williams, he’s definitely finished the saga with a bang.
All in all, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the culmination of everything I had hoped for when Disney first announced that a new trilogy was on the way. Force Awakens was a little to derivative, and The Last Jedi a little too divisive, but this one, as Goldilocks would says, was just right. It found the balance, if you will (or if you won’t) between what its predecessors had accomplished. The Last Jedi, for me, will always be the Empire Strikes Back of this trilogy; it was the movie that did the character work to bring us this conclusion. But Rise of Skywalker is the best of them all.
J.J. Abrams and his team delivered a final movie worthy not only of concluding this trilogy but also this saga. And while there will always (at least for the foreseeable future) be more Star Wars, this truly is the end of an era. And it went out with thunderous applause (at least, from me).
I’m sure I will have more to say on this movie for days- and years- to come. There’s a ton that I haven’t touched on, and several more viewings to be had before I have all my thoughts in order. But for now…
May the Force be with you.
As always, I now need to rank this movie in the list of all the other Star Wars movies. As always, this list is subject to change at my whim.
- The Rise of Skywalker
- The Last Jedi and Empire Strikes Back (tied)
- Return of the Jedi
- Rogue One
- The Force Awakens
- A New Hope
- Revenge of the Sith
- Attack of the Clones
- The Phantom Menace