You’ve finally arrived.
And so has my review of The Rise of Skywalker. This article is already huge, so let’s just jump right in, shall we?
All That Matters is the Ending:
The Rise of Skywalker
There is so much wrong with the plot, its overly complicated, doesn’t make sense, and bogged down the film rather than propelled it. Yet that all goes without saying, and I could live with a bad plot, so long as the rest of the film were good. Unfortunately so much of it is terrible, first and foremost:
The Dialogue is Awful
Across the board the dialogue in The Rise of Skywalker was terrible, and largely because the vast majority was expository. From JJ Abrams’s soccer-bet telling the audience about Palpatine’s cloning experiments to Admiral Hux straight up explaining to the audience that he’s the spy, the dialogue in this story was characters explaining the story to the audience.
Maz’s dialogue was particularly painful to listen to. When Leia dies in the film, Maz’s line is essentially “LEIA WILL NOW SACRIFICE HERSELF TO REDEEM BEN SOLO!” This line only served to telegraph what should be one of the emotional high notes of the film, robbing it of its full impact. Clearly the writers didn’t trust that the audience would be able to figure out what was happening in the scene and wanted to spell it out.
Here’s a basic writing tip: if you ever feel you have to explain what’s happening in your story to the audience, then keep working on the story until you’re sure they will. Rewrite the scene, change how the scene is shot, something, anything, just please don’t explain it. There were so many confusing elements to this movie that demanded an explanation; how Palpatine returned, how he built his fleet on Exigol, why the main characters Rey, Finn, and Poe were so angry at each other the whole time. Yet we don’t explanations for that, instead we get an explanation for a scene that really didn’t need it, I think the audience would have understood what was happening to Leia without Maz’s narration.
One of the most baffling parts about the dialogue though is they somehow messed up Emperor Palpatine’s lines. His dialogue construction and speech patterns are not complex, which is part of what makes it so sinister. In Return of the Jedi the Emperor spoke very deliberately, and for someone who thinks he has all the power, that fit perfectly. He also speaks relatively softly, but the hard pronunciation of the consonants in his words gives the impression of a spitting cobra. He also prided himself on his intelligence, and when Luke was brought before him, he couldn’t help but share with Luke the brilliance (at least in the Emperor’s estimation) of his trap:
Everything that has transpired has done so according to my design. Your friends, up there on the centurion moon, are walking into a trap… as is your rebel fleet. It was I that allowed the Alliance to know the location of the shield generator. It is quite safe from your pitiful little band. An entire legion of my best troops awaits them. Oh I’m afraid that the deflector shield will be quite operational when you’re friends arrive…The Emperor to Luke
Meanwhile in Rise of Skywalker:
I created Snoke.The Emperor to Kylo Ren
That’s it? The man who loved to lord his intelligence over people, who took such great pride in his schemes, and loves to give a good soliloquy just stops his thought right there? I assume the whole point of bringing back Palpatine for The Rise of Skywalker was to anchor the film with a fan favorite character and a charismatic actor. If they were going to try and shoehorn him in to the film, the least they could have done is at least use the character to his full potential.
You are as foolish as your grandfather when he thought he could defeat me. I created Snoke, used him to fulfill my designs. I created the First Order to destroy the New Republic and hunt down Luke Skywalker. And I created you my boy, I was every voice that ever whispered in your mind. And it was I who allowed you to finally destroy Snoke, so you could take your rightful place at my side.
Now rise, and embrace the power your grandfather feared to. It is your destiny.Theoretical dialogue for Emperor Palpatine to Kylo Ren.
Another missed opportunity with the dialouge is Kylo Ren’s redemption, in which he simply repeats the same phrase he said before he killed his father, Han Solo. Unfortunately that came across as such an inorganic thing to say given the circumstances, the writers clearly just wanted to call back to Force Awakens. A more suitable line in my opinion would have been something from Han Solo:
“You know what you have to do… and you’ve always had the strength to do it, Ben.”Theoretical dialogue from Han to Ben
The dialogue is perhaps the biggest overall flaw in the film because it completely crippled the ability for the characters to truly interact with each other. Instead of having the characters talking with each other, and exploring their relationships through dialogue, they instead spend their time explaining plot points to each other. Which led to the characters being almost unrecognizable from the previous films.
The Characters Are Strangers
Immediately after the whole Lightspeed Skipping thing, which I’m not even going to get into, I was immediately struck by how different the characters felt. Rey is telling Leia that one day she hopes to be worthy of Luke’s lightsaber, when the last time we saw her she had used the thing to pretty effectively kill Snoke’s elite guards. More than that, she seemed to finally be embracing her role as the last Jedi, with her able to move dozens of boulders to free her friends and taking the sacred Jedi texts for safe keeping.
No explanation is offered as to why she feels she’s not worthy of Luke’s lightsaber. I suspect, however, it’s because that was the only line they could come up with that would fit with what few pre-recorded lines Carrie Fisher had left to work with. And they had film of her taking a saber that they could then play in reverse. In the end it felt shoehorned into the story for the sake of using Carrie Fisher’s left over footage.
Then Finn and Poe arrive, and everyone immediately starts arguing like there was a huge fight that occurred between The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker that the audience wasn’t privy to. Poe gets all bent out of shape that a tree accidentally landed on BB-8, Rey counters with the damage to the Falcon, and then Poe harangues her for training instead of fighting the First Order. Which is a valid point, why is Rey training? What is Leia teaching her exactly? We’ve already established Rey as a badass.
Who knows, and who cares, because Somehow Palpatine Returned (real gem of dialogue that is) and we’re off to collect McGuffins to stop him. The story then proceeds at breakneck speed to get all the dominoes in a line for its overly convoluted plot, and our characters all essentially ciphers until we get to around the midpoint. When we finally get to a point where our characters can actually interact, nobody’s motivations make sense.
Poe and Finn are constantly butting heads, even though in the last two films they were the best of friends, and I have no idea what the source of the conflict is. Poe gets upset that Finn wants to tell Rey something but won’t tell him, which actually makes sense since what the hell does Finn want to tell her? The way the dynamic plays out in the movie it comes across as Finn wanting to confess his love for Rey. While that would make sense since Finn was seriously into Rey in The Force Awakens, Poe never showed any romantic interest in Rey so why would Finn not want him to hear?
Of course John Boyega then came out and said that what his character was really trying to confess is that Finn is Force-sensitive. Which for one thing is a big flaw, if the actor has to explain what’s going on after the fact because no one could figure it out, that’s a bad thing. And two, why would Finn not want Poe to hear that he’s Force-sensitive?
Later when they arrive at the remains of the Death Star and Rey runs off, Poe admits to not being Leia and Finn angrily responds with “You got that right!” Which comes out of left field and I have no idea where this conflict originates from, or what purpose it serves in the narrative.
Then of course there’s Rey, whose character is almost impossible to pin down in the film. She’s hardly given any time to process the fact that she’s Palpatine’s daughter, and spends most of the film just plain old angry. She’s angry at Poe, she’s angry at Finn, angry at Kylo Ren, and angry at herself… and most of the time I didn’t understand why. There are a couple of times this comes across as genuine, such as when she think she’s killed Chewie or when facing off against Kylo Ren. Most of the time though, I just didn’t understand why she was treating her friends like crap.
Maybe this characterization would have made sense had Rey been forced to confront the consequences of any of her actions, rather than being granted instant do-overs.
The Pacing is Terrible
Which brings us to the one of the most crippling problems with the film: the pacing was wildly inconsistent. Everything happens so quickly that neither the characters nor the audience are allowed to experience the emotions of the moment. Over and over again when The Rise of Skywalker had the potential to evoke a strong emotional reaction it almost immediately walked it back.
The first instance is when we think Chewbacca has been killed by Rey on accident; a truly horrifying moment for both Rey and the audience. I loved this scene, Rey gives into her anger and accidentally kills a beloved friend, setting the stakes for the rest of the movie: a real possibility that Rey might fall to the Dark Side. Meanwhile we as the audience have to wonder, how could Rey come back from this, will she be able to forgive herself or will that death send her spiraling further?
Oh wait, doesn’t matter, Chewbacca is still alive. Less than five minutes after we think he’s been killed it’s revealed that he’s just fine, immediately defusing that tension. I’m not saying they needed to leave Chewbacca dead, I’m actually glad they didn’t, but there was absolutely no reason to show the audience he was alive so quickly. The reveal could easily have waited until their raid on Kylo Ren’s flagship later in the film.
There’s another great moment when Rey and Kylo are fighting on the remains of the Death Star. Driven by her hate, she seizes upon Kylo being distracted by the voice of his now dead mother, and drives his own lightsaber through his abdomen. Again, great performance by Adam Driver here, he looks so utterly confused… and sad. This is where a moment of quiet was badly needed, for both the characters and the audience to absorb what was happening.
Instead of immediately feeling remorse, Rey should have then held her own lightsaber up in preparation for finishing him off. The story has been trying to sell her on being this close to falling the Dark Side, and this was the moment to put its money where its mouth was. On the other side you could have had Kylo accept his fate, perhaps even thanking Rey for stopping him, and that after everything he’s done this is what he deserves. Then have Rey realize what she’s about to do, and come to her senses.
Instead immediately after stabbing him she heals him before any of us really have a chance to understand what the hell she just did: embrace her hate and turn, if only briefly, to the Dark Side.
The next scene from the final battle of Exegol is one I truly mourn for because, for a brief moment, it actually brought me close to tears. At the end of the film, Poe gives one of the most emotional speeches I’ve heard in a Star Wars movie. As he watches his friends dying all around him, realizing how wildly outnumbered and outgunned they are, his comms flooded with screams for help and people begging him to do something, Poe admits defeat. And all Poe can do is beg for forgiveness as he faces the bitter truth that he brought his fleet, his family, and his friends to a battle that couldn’t be won.
And it was at this point the movie should have cut back to Ben and Rey being force drained (or whatever was happening) by the Emperor. Let the audience think, for at least a few minutes, that this battle is lost. Similar to what Return of the Jedi did, at a comparable point in its story Han Solo, Leia and the ground team had been captured by Stormtroopers, the fleet was surrounded and the Death Star had just been revealed to be operational, and Luke was standing by helplessly watching it all happen. There has to be something at stake, a possibility of the heroes losing, in order for the audience to feel fear and create the tension a good story needs.
Instead not even two seconds after Poe’s speech, Lando Calrissian arrives with a huge fleet to rescue the heroes, immediately deflating the tension again. Then it tries to have its cake and eat it too by introducing the ridiculously overpowered Emperor’s lightning disabling the entire fleet only moments later, only to again immediately render it moot when Rey kills the Emperor. The Rise of Skywalker lacked the courage to make its audience feel any kind of strong emotion, other than nostalgia. Without the fear of failure and without feeling any strong attachment to our characters, we got one of the most anticlimactic finales in Star Wars history.
The Ending is a Confusing Anti-Climax
The Emperor is dead by his own lightning (is it like peeing, he just can’t stop once it starts?), his fleet trapped on Exigol and being blown out of the sky, and Rey falls dead. This is one of the film’s most powerful moments, and it’s a shame lacked the courage to let Rey make that final noble sacrifice. Instead of giving Ben Solo a nice clean redemptive arc with his final sacrifice, he’d have to live with what he’d done and try to find a way to live up to the standard of the woman who’d died to save him. Instead we see Ben Solo emerge from the crevice he was thrown down earlier, and at this point we all know what’s coming. Again, Rise of Skywalker couldn’t take even a few minutes to let us believe that Rey was dead. He gives her his life force or whatever is happening, they kiss (which is actually a moment I liked if only because of Adam Driver’s incredible performance of giddy happiness) and then he falls over and becomes one with the force.
Our characters return home and share a big old group hug, even though they were at each other’s throats the entire film and never really resolved whatever conflict they were having. There’s a big celebratory montage of course, JJ’s Soccer Bet is there, as is Rose, and Chewbacca, and all the others. All that was fine, and I think I would have liked the film better had it simply ended there, but instead we get this strange epilogue.
Rey returns to Tatooine and buries Luke’s and Leia’s lightsabers in the sand.
Nobody likes living on Tatooine, the Star Wars canon has made that abundantly clear over the past nine films and countless books, comics, and TV shows. Anakin Skywalker spent his youth as a slave on Tatooine and then watched his slave mother die at the hands of the monsters that live on the planet. Luke Skywalker spent his life longing to leave the planet and described it as being the farthest point from the bright center of the galaxy. And meanwhile Leia didn’t live there, the closest she got to the planet was when her ship was captured in orbit during A New Hope.
So why is Rey taking their lightsabers there and burying them? I can’t believe any of the characters would have wanted that, least of all Rey. She knows better than most the trauma that comes from being a slave, of living on a desert hellscape dreaming of something better. When she dies, will she want her lightsaber buried on Jakku? I doubt it.
The reason this happens is, of course, far more cynical: the studio was going all in on the whole “End of the Skywalker Saga” marketing ploy, and wanted that final shot of Rey looking at the same twin suns as Luke. I even understand the desire to want to loop it all back to Tatooine and link everything back together. As much as Lucas’s now infamous line of “It’s like poetry, they rhyme” sounds hokey, to a certain extent its true, repeating patterns is a pleasing artistic framework regardless of medium. However, with no story or character driven reason for this to be occurring, the whole thing falls flat and turns into a confusing mess.
And that’s before some weird lady shows up out of nowhere and asks Rey who she is for no apparent reason. (Seriously, Luke’s farm was in the middle of blood nowhere, where the heck was she even hiding?) Then Rey tells her she’s Rey Skywalker, because they needed to force the title to make sense somehow. I get what they were going for, and I even like the idea, that the family we’re born to doesn’t matter as much as the family we choose. However this scene comes across as so forced that it completely undermines that message. Again, I think having Rey simply tell her “It’s just Rey” would have been a far more powerful moment that would have been representative of accepting herself, leaving behind her obsession with finding who she belonged to.
The title of the movie though, they had to make that work, fine. They very least they could have at least given us a moment where Luke and Leia, and hell why don’t we get to see Ben’s force ghost, telling her she’s a Skywalker. Or hell, I’m okay if you want to go and rip off The Iron Giant and say “You are who you choose to be.” Or even better, instead of “I am all the Jedi” during her conflict with the Emperor, how about “I am a Skywalker.”
Unfortunately I think The Rise of Skywalker will go down as the most cynical Star Wars movie. I’m no fan of the prequels, in fact I still don’t really enjoy them, but at least they were trying to tell a story. There was artistic merit behind the ideas, even if they were horribly executed. Even Rogue One and Solo attempted to tell unique stories and took some risks trying to expand the narrative breadth of the Star Wars canon. By contrast, Rise of Skywalker was clearly a committee designed camel, specifically manufactured to try and appeal to as many people as possible.
The movie’s utter refusal to make the audience feel uncomfortable, even temporarily through fear or anger at the events happening on screen, by constantly undoing its most emotional moments makes it clear they had no artistic vision here.
This was a script whose foundations were marketing ploys, what would look good in trailers; nostalgia, trying to spark the same excitement the original trilogy created; and fear, fear that doing anything the audience didn’t expect would hurt sales (and it ended up doing less at the box office than both Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.)
In the technical details, this was probably the best Star Wars movie: the sets were incredible, the costumes, the cinematography were all superb. The trouble is that none of it meant anything…
Because the story had nothing to say.